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Oskar Schindler and Frank Foley

John Simkin

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Couple of articles in today's Guardian

Oskar Schindler


As a Nazi party member credited with saving more than 1,000 Jews from the Holocaust, Oskar Schindler was nothing if not a complex personality. But newly unearthed evidence suggests that he may have been far more complicated - and rather less heroic - than the character immortalised in the Steven Spielberg movie Schindler's List.

According to a new biography of the German industrialist, there was no Schindler's list, the legendary document containing names of Jewish employees at his Polish factory who were designated as "essential workers" and thus spared from the concentration camps.

In fact, Schindler was in jail at the time, and others compiled the lists, according to David Crowe, a North Carolina history professor affiliated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

"Schindler had almost nothing to do with the list," Professor Crowe wrote in yesterday's New York Times. He added that Steven Spielberg was "a very wonderful, tender man _ but Schindler's List was theatre, and not in an historically accurate way."

Schindler is also accused in the book of having headed a German unit responsible for planning the Nazi invasion of Poland - a far graver allegation than the fact, already known, that he had spied for Germany in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s.

He was described by several of his former employees as an angel. But he was viewed so ambivalently by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust remembrance authority, that it failed to grant him the official status of "righteous gentile" until 1993, when Mr Spielberg's film was already in production, Prof Crowe wrote. That appears to contradict the Oscar-winning film's claim that he was granted the status in 1958.

Even so, the revelations - published in Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of his Life, Wartime Activities and the True Story behind the List - do not undermine the picture of Schindler as a man who discovered morality within himself as morality crumbled around him.

He oversaw the moving of hundreds of his workers to Czechoslovakia, where they were in less danger, and where he supplied them with food and healthcare. He is also widely considered to have been involved in the rescue of Jewish prisoners being transported by the Nazis.

But several of the nine separate lists enshrined by history as Schindler's list were actually compiled by Marcel Goldberg, a corrupt Jewish member of the security police, Prof Crowe reports.

Schindler was hardly in a position to oversee any of the details involved: he had been arrested on suspicion of bribery by SS officers investigating corruption charges against Amon Göth, the concentration camp commander played by Ralph Fiennes in the film.

That predicament too may have resulted from noble actions: in the movie at least, Schindler bribes Göth precisely to facilitate his plan to protect his workers.

"Schindler clearly didn't write a lot of the list," Dr Ernst Asmus, a Schindler expert at the German Historical Museum in Berlin, told the Guardian. But he was "personally responsible for the fact there was a list" insisted Thomas Keneally, the Australian author whose 1982 novel Schindler's Ark inspired the film.

He said last night that he was unhappy about the way Prof Crowe's book had been presented as if it "contradicts the Schindler legacy instead of confirming it _ the idea that there wasn't a list is ridiculous."

Earlier this year, Keneally wrote that Schindler had pleaded "with the SS guards who had been ordered to exterminate the camp to depart in honour, and not with blood on their hands _ Schindler was playing poker against the SS garrison of his factory-camp, and all the prisoners knew it. But it worked. The SS fled west towards the Americans in Austria."

The Schindler who emerges from Prof Crowe's work is far from humble, and seemingly obsessed about enshrining his place in history. But he frittered away his life after the war, to the point where he was reduced to scrounging money from those he had saved.

Since his death in 1974, his legacy has already lost some of its lustre, not least at the hands of his wife, Emilie, who in the months before her death in 2001 gave interviews condemning him as an amoral womaniser who had denied her the credit she deserved for her role in helping to save almost 1,200 Jewish workers.

Yet Prof Crowe is "not even altering the story," the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel told the New York Times. "He's complicated it. He's made Schindler more human, and also more extraordinary."

But the biography, based partly on documents discovered in a suitcase in a German attic, demonstrates how much the author considers to be the artistic licence that was employed by Keneally and Spielberg.

Michael Berenbaum, a former president of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which Spielberg founded, said: "I have no doubt that Mr Crowe knows more about Schindler than Schindler knew about himself and his own activities. The result only sharpens our appreciation for Schindler's works and deepens the mystery as to why he did what he did."

Frank Foley


The man billed as Britain's answer to Oskar Schindler was finally honoured by Britain yesterday, 60 years after he helped up to 10,000 Jews escape from Nazi Germany.

Frank Foley worked as an intelligence chief in the 1920s and 30s at the British embassy in Berlin, where the current ambassador, Peter Torry, unveiled a plaque in his honour.

Publicly, Foley headed the embassy's visa section and had no diplomatic immunity. But secretly he was station chief in Germany for the forerunner of MI6, gathering information on the Soviet Union and later Hitler's Nazi regime in the run-up to the second world war.

Once the pogroms against the Jews began in the early 30s he "tore up the rule book", says Michael Smith, author of a book on Foley. He ignored strict regulations and issued thousands of visas to Jews trying to escape persecution. Smith says that the German authorities clearly knew who he was, "and it is a miracle that he still got away with as much as he did".

Ida Weiss, a 33-year-old Jewish woman, lived in Vienna but was refused a visa by the British embassy there. She travelled to Berlin after hearing a rumour that it was possible to get visas "under the counter".

"When she arrived in Berlin the queue of people waiting for visas completely encircled the Tiergarten office twice round," said her son Peter Weiss, a guest of honour at the unveiling ceremony.

Ms Weiss was penniless but Foley hid her in his home for three days while he got the paperwork, and bought her train ticket out.

"On the day she left for Belgium, Foley took her to the station to wave her off. The last thing he said to her was 'God speed.' She never saw him again."

After Foley's death in 1958. a grove of pine trees, each bought by a survivor, was dedicated to his memory in Israel, and in 1999 Israel awarded him the title "righteous amongst the gentiles," its highest honour for non-Jews.

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