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Biography of Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler was born in 1908, in Zwittau in Moravia (then Austria-Hungary, now Svitavy in the Czech Republic). At the age of 20, he married Emilie Pelzl, a daughter of wealthy farmers. Oskar worked at his father's factory of agricultural machinery until it bankrupted due to the economic crisis. He then worked as a sales representative of one of the plants in Brno. In 1935, he joined the Sudeten German Party (SDP) and soon became a member of Abwehr, an intelligence and counter-intelligence service of the German armed forces. He was arrested in 1938 for his activities in this organisation, which he carried out in Czechoslovakia and Poland, but was soon released after the Third Reich annexed the Sudetenland. He then joined NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party).

After the German troops entered Krakow (6 September 1939), Schindler was assigned to this city, where his task was to engage in business activities. He soon became the trustee of a pot shop in Krakowska Street and the former factory of enamelware “Rekord” in Zabłocie District. He developed the plant's operations, transformed it into Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (DEF) and then, using capital raised from Jews, expanded it greatly. Since then, DEF did not only produce enamelware, but also worked for the German armed industry. Thanks to these operations, the plant had a good chance of survival, because, at the time when the action on the fronts intensified, the military industry could count on special privileges. The factory's income came mainly from production for the army, but it also benefited from sales on the so-called black market, for which Schindler was arrested several times. Thanks to his connections with high-ranking representatives of the Nazi system in the General Government, every time, he managed to get out of trouble. Every year, DEF employed more and more Jews, and Schindler was initially driven in this regard only by economic considerations. In 1943, at the back of the factory, he built a camp for his Jewish employees, where several hundred prisoners were quartered. In 1944, when the front was getting closer to Kraków, Schindler evacuated the production and the factory's workers to Brünnlitz in Moravia, where it operated until the arrival of the Red Army (8 May 1945). Jewish workers gave Schindler and his wife a letter informing of his activities during the war so that he could travel safely – first to Konstanz and then to Munich.

After the war ended, Schindler maintained contact with Jewish survivors, who supported him financially individually and through Jewish organisations. With this support, he went to Argentina, where he ran a farm, but it soon collapsed. After some time he returned to Germany, where he settled permanently. His fate and work were promoted by former Jewish workers from Krakow; at their invitation, he traveled to Israel on numerous occasions. In 1963, Oskar Schindler received the title of Righteous Among the Nations (awarded by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem). He died in 1974 in Hildesheim, Germany, and, following his wishes, was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion.

The book by Thomas Keneally Schindler's Ark contributed to the creation of Schindler's legend, but it was not until Steven Spielberg's screen adaptation of this novel in the feature film Schindler's List that he gained worldwide fame.