Updated: Nov 16
Time is short. Eternity is long. It is only reasonable that this short life be lived in the light of eternity.
~ Charles Spurgeon
Have you ever gone to a graveyard and wondered about the life stories of the folks who are buried there? Each one of them must have had dreams and ambitions that either came to or failed to reach fruition. Some of them might have been famous, others just a shrinking spot on our historical rear-view mirrors. Do you feel it too? Do you also lie awake at night, revisiting the tragedies and success stories of documented human history? Does your mind constantly flit between the familiarities of the present and the irreversible and controversial past left in our wake?
Over the last few years, I feel like I am finally seeing the world in its true state and not through the kaleidoscopic lenses of my former cognitive biases. Human morality is an absolute joke, and after taking a good look at the history of the wars we have waged in the fight for power and control, the lives we have taken in the name of justice and liberty, the people we have oppressed in the name of equality and the laws we have altered to benefit the oppressors, it is really hard for me not to curl up into a ball and want to isolate myself from people in general. The Nazi reign and persecution are by far the most heart-wrenching, nausea-inducing and shameful acts that I have studied, and the more I read about the Nazi propaganda & agenda and the mass genocide of around 6 million Jewish men, women and children, the more I realized that each one of the Nazis who had killed people were once children, devoid of such a carnal taste for blood. Somewhere between diapers and the Swastikas sewn onto their uniforms, these men and women lost their humanity, and it is this very transition that escapes my comprehension. How and at what point did these human beings lose the very thing that makes us different from every other species - an intellectual and empathetic conscience?
However, I am not here to instil in you, my reader, a sense of despair in humanity’s moral decline. I am here to talk about a few amazing people in history who felt the way I do now and risked everything to preserve life because they understood the value of a single life. One of those folks is a Nazi man, called Oskar Schindler.
For those of you who have begun to smile, my guess is that you have probably watched Steven Spielberg’s incredible 1993 movie called ‘Schindler’s List’. For those of you who seem puzzled or even horrified that I would give honour to a patriot of the Nazi Party, allow me to explain. Because of this man’s extraordinary change of heart and empathy, there are more than 1000 Jews who survived the horrors of the Concentration camps. In short, Oskar was a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party who saved the lives of around 1200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factory that he ran in occupied Poland and other locations. Using his incredibly extensive set of connections, there was nothing that was closed to him as he had sympathizers and fans amongst all ranks of the German forces. Initially, he had just run the factory to make money in the barter trade and build his reputation and wallet during the peaks of the Nazi reign in Poland. However, by July 1944, as Germany began to lose the war, the SS began closing down concentration camps and deported the prisoners westward, murdering many in Auschwitz and the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.
In a sudden change of character and heart, Schindler convinced the camp commandant, Amon Göth, to allow him to transport his factory workers to Bohemia and Moravia, in order to spare them from certain death in the gas chambers. In order to broker their release, using the names provided by Jewish Ghetto Police officer, Marcel Goldberg, Göth’s secretary Mietek Pemper compiled and typed the list of 1,200 Jews who travelled to Brünnlitz in October 1944. Schindler continued to bribe SS officials to prevent the execution of his workers until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, by which time he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers. Finally, as shown within the movie, on 7th May 1945, Schindler and his workers gathered around a radio on the factory floor to listen to the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill announced that Germany had surrendered and the war in Europe was over.
One of the most powerful acting scenes of Liam Neeson in the movie was when he announced that he had to flee Germany because he was now going to be hunted and the Jewish workers were free to go. He tearfully continued in his broken confession to the crowd that if he had not hoarded and wasted his money the way he did, he could have purchased and secured the lives of many other Jews, and that the cost of his Gold Nazi Pin alone could have been traded for 1 or 2 more Jews. I don’t think there are many movies that cover the Holocaust tragedies that trigger such retrospection as this Spielberg classic did and when I got to read about the real-life account of Oskar Schindler and his wife; I realised how much I have left to learn about the value of individual human lives and the urgent need to build up my love for the surrounding folks in my life, even if we are at odds.
Truth be told, part of the reason why I strayed away from my regular writing theme was because I tend to get so caught up in life that I forget that there is an entire world outside my comfort hobbies, with so much of history to reflect and learn from. I do hope you enjoyed this brief article about Oskar Schindler and I would like to end this article with a heartwarming fact about this incredible story -
“As a member of the Nazi Party and the Abwehr intelligence service, Schindler was in danger of being arrested as a war criminal. Bankier, Stern, and several others prepared a statement he could present to the Americans attesting to his role in saving Jewish lives. They also gave him a ring, made using gold from dental work taken out of the mouth of Schindlerjude Simon Jeret. They inscribed the ring with the verse “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”