Originally created 01/30/05

Research lists Schindler truths



ELON, N.C. - David Crowe began researching Oskar Schindler with an open mind, wondering how much of the Academy Award-winning movie about the European industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews could possibly be true.

Early findings shook the historian in Mr. Crowe: Schindler spied on Czechoslovakia for the Germans, aided in the invasion of Poland and fathered two children out of wedlock.

He also truly saved more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust, spending his personal fortune to feed and house them as World War II raged to an end. In turn, those "Schindler Jews" cared for their savior after the war, when he became an alcoholic with little money, Mr. Crowe writes in Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List.

"The bottom line is, does he deserve the accolades? Absolutely," Mr. Crowe says.

Mr. Crowe's book is hardly the only one written about Schindler - at least six other books have been published, including his wife, Emilie's, memoir; Ann Byers' book for young adults, Oskar Schindler: Saving Jews From the Holocaust, comes out this spring.

However, Mordecai Paldiel, the director of the Righteous Among the Nations Department at Yad Vashem, describes Mr. Crowe's work as the definitive story of Schindler. Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial foundation in Jerusalem, has the world's largest repository of Holocaust information.

It draws on new records that Mr. Crowe uncovered during his research, including Czech secret police files that documented Schindler's work for German military counterintelligence.

Mr. Crowe, a history professor at Elon University and a member of the education committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has written other books, including one on Gypsies in Eastern Europe and Russia. His biography of Schindler also will be published in German and Dutch.

Mr. Crowe's book and Schindler's List - the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie based on the 1982 historical novel by Thomas Keneally - reach the same conclusion. As might be expected, however, Hollywood's version of the Schindler story simplifies the transformation of a man whose passage from spy to savior still confounds.

One of the most memorable scenes in Mr. Spielberg's movie occurs when Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, confers with kindly clerk Itzhak Stern (Ben Kinglsey) about which names to put on a list of Jews to be saved from the Plaszow labor camp near Krakow, Poland.

The Nazis had given Schindler permission to take 700 Jewish men and 300 women from the Krakow plant to a new one in Brunnlitz near his hometown in Czechoslovakia. In reality, the list was composed while Schindler was behind bars, accused of bribing the commandant of the labor camp, Amon Goth.

Also, Stern did not write the list. According to Mr. Crowe's book, it was drawn up by a far less sympathetic individual - a Jew named Marcel Goldberg who worked for the German noncommissioned officer in charge of transport at the camp. It was a common practice for the SS to use Jews as administrators at camps.

Schindler had passed on word of some general groups of people he wanted included, but Goldberg composed the actual list.

"So the question among the Jews became, 'How do you get on Goldberg's list?'" Mr. Crowe said.

Mr. Crowe believes Goldberg selected people with prewar connections and those whom his family knew, and the decision made at Plaszow about who to put on the list was not final. During a stop at a camp called Gross Rosen for processing, 20 to 25 Plaszow men were removed from the list and left behind, replaced by Jews from Gross Rosen.

"The word is out among the Gross Rosen Jews that this is a list of life," Mr. Crowe said. "At Gross Rosen, Goldberg lets it be known that he's in control of the list. People swarm around him."

Eventually, 1,000 Jews made their way to Brunnlitz in early 1945. Schindler and his wife were there, and, for some reason, three more ransport trains full of Jews also showed up.

Schindler and his wife were struggling to feed the Jews already at Brunnlitz and could have turned the cars around. Instead, they accepted them.

Schindler easily could have shut down his factory in Krakow and ridden out the war on the money he made there, Mr. Crowe said.

"But he orchestrates a situation where he is able to convince authorities in Berlin to move his factory and move 1,000 Jews in the process," he said.