Schindler’s Jews return to Krakow

Most years they meet at Oskar Schindler’s tomb in Jerusalem.In April of next year they will come to Krakow to honor the man who saved them or their parents and grandparents from the Nazis. Next year’s gathering of what are known as “Schindler Jews” will be even more special than usual.

Those coming to Krakow, the site of Schindler’s first factory in Nazi-occupied Poland, will be celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday. Schindler died in 1974. The amazing story of a German member of the Nazi Party who rescued more than 1,000 Jews during World War II became known worldwide through the Thomas Keneally book, “Schindler’s Ark,” and the Steven Spielberg movie, “Schindler’s List.” The movie was shot in Krakow. The Krakow City Council is so excited about the gathering’s possibilities for promoting the city that it has joined with the Schindler descendants’ group to co-sponsor the event. Krakow officials plan to invite some of the stars from the movie to the event, a highlight of which will be an exhibition on the history of the Schindler Jews at the Palace of Art.

Schindler arrived in Krakow soon after Germany started World War II by invading Poland. In December 1939 he bought a bankrupt enamelware factory from a Jew named Abraham Bankier. He ran it on cheap Jewish labor.After the liquidation of a ghetto in Krakow’s Podgorze district in 1943, Schindler obtained German occupation authorities’ permission to establish an arm of the infamous Plaszow concentration camp at his factory.Those working there escaped the main camp’s inhumane conditions until 1944, when the Nazis ordered them transferred to Plaszow. Schindler then established an arms-making factory at Brunnlitz. He received permission to use as his workers many of the Jews whom the Nazis had sent to the Plaszow camp.

It was then that Schindler drew up his famous list, comprised of the names of about 1,100 Jews whom he told the Nazis he badly needed for his factory. The Nazis sent them there. Three hundred women from the famous list were accidentally redirected to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Schindler stepped in to rescue them, bringing them all back to Brunnlitz.Schindler not only risked his life several times to save many Jews, but he also spent huge sums to bribe members of the Waffen SS, which ran the Nazi concentration camps, into leaving his workers alone. The government of Israel and many Jewish organizations have honored Schindler. In 1962 he received the Holocaust-memorial organization Yad Vashem’s “Righteous Among the Nations” medal. It bears the Talmud inscription “whoever saves one life saves the entire world.”

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