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Oskar Schindler was a German entrepreneur and Nazi spy from Sudetenland who helped save more than 1,200 Jews during World War II and the Holocaust. He employed the Jews in his enamelware and, later, ammunition manufacturing plants in Nazi-occupied Poland. Schindler’s heroic efforts feature in the 1993 film Schindler’s List.

Biography of Oskar Schindler’s Early Life

Oskar Schindler was born in Zwittau, Austria-Hungary, (now Moravia in the Czech Republic) on April 28, 1908. Johann Schindler, his father, owned a farm machine business. Franziska Schindler, his mother, helped raised Oskar and bore Elfriede, his sister, in 1915. He attended local primary and secondary schools before enrolling at a technical school. In 1924, the school expelled him for forging a report card. He eventually finished his courses, but neglected to take the Abitur exams he needed to qualify for university.

Schindler took trade classes instead and worked at his father’s business for three years. [1] Schindler married Emilie Pelzl on March 6, 1928, and they lived in the upstairs section of Oskar Schindler’s family home for seven years.[2] He quit his job at his father’s company soon afterward and began working at Moravian Electrotechnic and managed a driving school for a brief time.

Oskar Schindler joined the Czech Army and served for 18 months, becoming a Lance-Corporal in the 10th Infantry Regiment. He then returned to work at Moravian. The business went bankrupt around the same time his father’s closed and Schindler remained unemployed for a year. In 1931, he started working at the Jaroslav Simek Bank of Prague until 1938.

In 1931 and 1932, Schindler was arrested for public drunkenness several times and began an affair with his friend from school, Aurelie Schlegel. He and Schlegel produced one daughter in 1933 named Emily and a son in 1935 named Oskar Jr., who Schindler claimed was not his. [3] The same year Oskar Schindler’s alcoholic father left his mother and she died only a few months later.[4]

An Abwehr Spy

Oskar Schindler started to work for the German Armed Forces’ Office of the Military Foreign Intelligence, or the Amt Auslands/Abwehr, in 1936.[5] They assigned him to the Abwehrstelle II Commando VIII in Wroclaw, or Breslau. He took the job to pay off his many debts from alcoholism. He gathered information on troop movements, military installations, and railways. He also recruited Czech spies to assist in the invasion of Sudetenland by Nazi Germany.

On July 19, 1938, Schindler was arrested and imprisoned for espionage, but the Nazi government released him a few months later under the Munich Agreement. He took a few months off after being released. In January 1939, the Nazis promoted him to second in command of his Abwehr unit. Schindler and his wife moved to Ostrava and he continued to collect information regarding Polish railways and military activity prior to the invasion of Poland. He worked with the Abwehr until autumn 1940.[6]

A Change of Heart in Poland

In October 1938, Germany annexed Sudetenland. Five months later, in February 1939, Oskar Schindler officially joined the Nazi Party as an opportunistic businessman. In October, he relocated to Krakow, Poland, after the Nazis successfully invaded and took over the country. Then, in November 1939, Schindler purchased Rekord Limited, a Jewish-owned business manufacturing enamelware, and renamed it German Enamelware Factory Oskar Schindler, or Emalia.

Oskar Schindler did not intend to save Jews by employing them, but managed to save more almost 1,200 from certain death.

Schindler took advantage of the Nazi program to “Germanize” Jewish and Polish-owned businesses. He controlled two more factories in Krakow, but only Emalia utilized Jewish forced laborers. In 1944, about 1,000 of his 1,700 employees at Emalia were Jews who formally lived in the Krakow ghetto before it's closing in March 1943 and their subsequent relocation to the Krakau-Plaszow labor camp.[7]

Since Schindler still maintained his Abwehr ties and contacts, he could obtain many items on the black market that other business owners could not find. He also used his connection to protect his almost 1,000 Jewish workers at Emalia. He provided large bribes of luxury items or cash to keep his Jewish employees from being taken to concentration camps. Schindler also continued his extravagant lifestyle with several more affairs. His wife joined him in Krakow in 1941.[8]

Saving Jews with Schindler’s List

Oskar Schindler expanded his enamelware business to include the manufacturing of armaments and other essential wartime goods. This allowed him to claim the Jewish workers were necessary to the war effort and their position in the factory irreplaceable, saving many from being taken to more dangerous concentration camps.

In August 1943, the Nazis declared Plaszow a concentration camp and Schindler convinced officials to make Emalia a Plaszow subcamp. Schindler accepted 450 more Jews into the factory to protect them from the brutal reality at Plaszow.[9] He was arrested several times throughout the Nazi-occupation for black market activities and suspicions of his sympathies for the Jews. The SS never convicted him and he began to work directly with the underground Jewish resistance in Poland.[10]

In July 1944, the Red Army approached Poland and the Nazis started closing and relocating Jews from concentrations camps in the East to the Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz camps in the West. Schindler received news his enamel factory would be shut down and his Jewish employees taken to one of the death camps. The same source suggested that Schindler should move his workers to Brüunlitz in his home country and begin manufacturing anti-tank grenades rather than enamelware, making his Jewish employees necessary to the war effort.

On October 15, 1944, the 1,200 Jewish workers on Schindler’s List headed to the Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz concentration camps.[11] The more than 700 men went to the former and the over 300 women went to the latter, where they spent a week in fear of being led to the gas chambers. Schindler transported the 1,200 workers along with 250 wagons loaded with raw materials and machinery.[12]

The Brüunlitz plant only produced one wagon of live ammunition after being open for eight months.[13] When Nazi officials became suspicious and went to investigate, Schindler simply purchased goods from the black market and resold them after the inspection. [14] He bribed and lied to keep the more than 1,200 Jews safe from certain death at one of the remaining concentration camps. Schindler continued to feed the refugees with his own money until the Red Army freed them on May 9, 1945.[15]

Post-War Life and Death

Oskar Schindler’s bravery is documented in the award-winning film, ''Schindler’s List''.

Oskar and Emile Schindler moved to Regensburg, Germany after the war. They immigrated to Argentina in 1949 before official separating in 1957. They did not divorce and Schindler returned to Germany without Emile. Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, honored Oskar Schindler as Righteous Among Nations in 1962 and Emile received the same honor in 1993.[16]

Oskar Schindler died on October 9, 1974, in Hildesheim, West Germany. He is the only Nazi Party member to be buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem for his heroic deeds during the Holocaust.[17] Oskar Schindler’s story is famously recounted in the film Schindler’s List released in 1993 and directed by Steven Spielberg. [18]



Crowe, D. M. (2007). Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List. New York: Basic Books.

Thompson, B. (Ed.). (2002). Oskar Schindler. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.

USHMM. (2017). Holocaust Encyclopedia: Oskar Schindler Biography. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.[1]


  1. Crowe, 2007
  2. Thompson, 2002
  3. Crowe, 2007
  4. Thompson, 2002
  5. USHMM, 2017
  6. Crowe, 2007
  7. USHMM, 2017
  8. Crowe, 2007
  9. USHMM, 2017
  10. Crowe, 2007
  11. Thompson, 2002
  12. Crowe, 2007
  13. USHMM, 2017
  14. Thompson, 2002
  15. USHMM, 2017
  16. USHMM, 2017
  17. Thompson, 2002
  18. USHMM, 2017

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