Introduction: A Shining Example
Oskar Schindler was in his early thirties during the start of World War Two
Handsome and charming,
Schindler gives the camera a
devilish smile. (Memoirs of
Emilie Schindler)

A hero is a person who rises from the opposition to do a courageous act that will benefit many, but may endanger his own life. He is someone who makes a conscientious decision to do what he thinks is right despite what others may think.

Oskar Schindler fits this criteria. During World War Two, Oskar Schindler, through cunning and courage, saved the lives of 1,200 Jews.  For six years, this German industrialist became "resolved to do everything in [his] power to defeat the system." (page 133, Keneally)  While others committed unconscionable atrocities, Schindler listened to his conscience.  While others turn away in fear, Schindler faced the danger.  While the outside world looked on with indifference and incredulity, Schindler refused to be indifferent; he instead took action.
Oskar Schindler charming the ladies.
Oskar Schindler charming the ladies. circa 1940s
(Memoirs of Emilie Schindler)

Would Oskar Schindler strike you as the heroic type? During a major part of Oskar Schindler’s life most people would have given a definite No. He was an unfaithful husband and a voracious womanizer. He was excessively vain and extravagant. Among his other vices, he was an alcoholic, a black market racketeer, and a gambler.   He was also a member of the National Socialist Party - the Nazis - and conspicuously wore a swatsika where ever he went. Virtue was not his middle name, and the Nazis were not exactly the most celebrated group in history.

The motives surrounding Schindler’s entrance into World War Two were also rather questionable.  During the beginning of the War, Schindler had come into Poland like a Civil War carpetbagger, hoping to take over a Jewish business for the victorious German government.  To operate this business, he welcomed the use of Jewish slave-laborers from the Cracow ghetto.

“[Schindler] joined the SS party because he was an opportunist.  He wanted to become rich, so he knew that the Jewish people would be sent to the ghetto. He knew he would be able to get a beautiful apartment, which was what he wanted.  He knew he was going to get a business, which was what he wanted because he wanted to make money . . . He knew he was going to get those things, because he knew the Jewish people were going to work as slaves.” (Rena Finder, May 11, 2000)
Oskar Schindler, the profiteer, however, never did amass great wealth and profit.  Instead Oskar Schindler, the German Nazi, became penniless while protecting 1,200 Jewish men, women, and children from the horrors of the Final Solution. Schindler, for almost six years, used his factory - his supposed ticket to the riches - to create a haven of security and decency for virtually 1,200 strangers - people, whom his own race despised and wished annihilated from the face of the earth. Eventually, all these people whom he saved from mass genocide, would filially refer to themselves as Schindlerjuden.  Schindler himself would reciprocate by calling them his "children."
Schindler and his Jewish workers give a toast.
Paris 1949. Schindler and his Schindlerjuden are
gathered together to give a toast. (Thomas 

Oskar Schindler, probably the unlikeliest hero in the world, held the record for saving the largest number of Jews from death in Nazi occupied Europe.  What Schindler did was remarkable, yet almost childishly simple in concept.  He was able to open his eyes and see what was happening around him.  And what he saw was the Nazis sadistically murdering people while an indifferent world looked on; he simply refused to do the same.

"Oskar Schindler is a shining example that one person can make a difference . . . [he] has proven that each and everyone of you, each and everyone one of us, has the power to make a decision to choose to participate; not to stand by when you see horrible things happening, but to take action; to say no. . .  (Rena Finder, May 11, 2000)

Next - Part One