Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
Menu
June 01st 2010 print

Brett Jenik

Myth, Reality and Oskar Schindler

Contrary to Thomas Keneally’s glorification of Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s Ark, famously filmed as Schindler’s List, the available evidence shows that Schindler was but a small-town crook who found his true place in life only as a secret services agent of the Nazi regime, before and during the war. He was clever or lucky enough to cover his tracks successfully, with the help of some of the participants. That such a thing could have happened at all was only possible because in the postwar turmoil nobody worried about him much. He was small fry to start with, and in spite of the fact that both Czechoslovakia and Poland put him on their lists of wanted war criminals, the Iron Curtain ultimately helped with concealment. There were weightier matters to worry about. (For details of Schindler’s life this article is to a large degree indebted to a book by the Czech historian Jitka Gruntova, Legendy a Fakta o Oskaru Schindlerovi, Prague, 2002, not yet translated.)

The whole thing could have died in that way but for Thomas Keneally. In his own account, he came across the story by chance, when talking to a Jewish shop-owner in New York, Leopold Pfeffenberg, who told him a beautiful story of a good German who saved many Jewish lives. There was potential in such a story and Keneally certainly made good use of it. That the story was too good to be true obviously didn’t ring warning bells. If handled properly there was a great deal of fame and money in it. Keneally did handle it properly and he got both, in ample measure.

Keneally obviously didn’t spend much time checking his facts. Had he written the whole thing as a work of fiction, there would have been little harm done. Fiction is fiction, after all. (In fact it seems he had some qualms at the beginning. The first edition of Schindler’s Ark described it as a “novel”. This disappeared in subsequent editions.) What he did was to present it as literature of fact. And that is the trouble. Just about everything he wrote that can be checked is wrong, down to small details.

To start with, Keneally obviously didn’t bother to use a map. One look would have told him that Zwittau is not situated “in the mountain range known as Jeseniks”. The Jeseniks are elsewhere, on the Czech-Polish border. The hilly massif where Zwittau is located is the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. With this goes another easily avoidable gaffe. When describing the arrival of the first transport of 687 men (not 800 as he says; the list of names exists) into Schindler’s new factory in Brünnlitz, in Chapter 32, he does it with a flurry of details, in the following way: “They were at the Zwittau depot. They dismounted and were marched through the town not yet awake … Three or four miles out into the hills, following the rail siding, they came to the industrial hamlet of Brinnlitz.” Both Brünnlitz (not Brinnlitz) and Zwittau are located on the main highway and railway line connecting the two largest cities in the country, Brno and Prague. Anybody driving a car or going by train can clearly see the factory some two or three hundred metres distant. The distance from Zwittau to Brünnlitz is sixteen kilometres (or ten miles). To walk several hundred starved men who had just endured two days in cattle trucks for sixteen kilometres would end in trouble. A great many of them would not make it. Furthermore, the way is not “out into the hills”. Zwittau is on a high plateau, with no hills to speak of around it. In fact the road and rail towards Brünnlitz go down from the plateau, through the deep valley cut by the river Svitava. And why on earth would they have to walk there? The factory lies right along the railway line, with the rail siding from the nearest station going to its gate. (That’s where they in fact went. Keneally was aware of the existence of the rail siding; see his description of the arrival of the Goleshow transport in Chapter 36.) This sort of nonsense shows also a cavalier attitude to detail and gives a taste of what to expect.

Another thing which becomes apparent on reading Keneally’s narrative is his shaky grasp of history. The most striking example is his description of Czech-German relations at the time of the establishment of the new Czech state, after the collapse of the multi-cultural Austro-Hungarian empire. He writes: “the German speakers took their minority status with some grace, even if the Depression and some minor governmental follies would later put a certain strain on the relationship”. This is nonsense. Germans were hostile to the new state from the start. There were conflicts and disturbances everywhere in the German-speaking areas and the new government had to occupy them with military force. The situation in Zwittau is described by Gruntova in the following way:

In 1918 there were attempts by the Germans in Zwittau to make the whole German-speaking region part of Austria. Shortly after the establishment of Czechoslovakia, they tried to form an independent, self-ruling entity, with Zwittau as one of the proposed centres. They created the German Council, which refused to be part of Czechoslovakia, and they formed armed units. In response, on the 10th of December 1918, a five-hundred-strong army detachment and six machine-guns arrived in Zwittau. The mayor of the town, Carl Lick, lodged a protest but submitted. The army disarmed the Germans and secured public order … The Germans in Czechoslovakia never really accepted the existence of the Republic and remained hostile to it for the whole period between the wars.

Here is how Gruntova describes the establishment of the first Czech school in Zwittau, at the beginning of 1919: “The anti-Czech agitation increased, and enrolment had to take place in the area of the local military command, because it had not been possible elsewhere. Even so, the local Germans organised protest meetings against Czech schools.” Some grace indeed!

These facts are readily available in serious history books. Isn’t Keneally aware that it was these doings that led to the massive deportations after the war, in which some two and a half million ethnic Germans were despatched from Czechoslovakia to Germany, with the approval of the international community? These were the fruits of German activities before and during the war.

Another example of Keneally’s limited knowledge of history is in Chapter 2, about an alleged German atrocity in 1939, at Tursk, in Poland. There a supposed SS artillery unit, he says, drove some Jews into a synagogue and shot them. Keneally is apparently not aware that the decision to establish SS army units was made only at the very end of 1940, more than a year after the event he describes. Until then the SS functioned only as Hitler’s security unit, as its name, “Schutz Staffel”, indicates. The story is also doubtful for another reason. German army units were not known for massacring Jews. That was done by SS special units later.

Keneally is equally off the mark when writing about Schindler’s early life. He says that young Oskar attended a grammar school, from which he progressed to a Real-gymnasium. In Czechoslovakia, grammar schools did not exist. The secondary schools of this type were called gymnasiums. And the Real-gymnasium was not “intended to produce engineers— mining, mechanical, civil” as he writes; that was the job of the universities. The Real-gymnasium was a normal secondary school which put more emphasis on maths and science, while its counterpart, the Classical-gymnasium, taught Latin, Greek and classics, apart from core subjects common to both.

In any case, Oskar failed Year 9 and had to repeat it, after which he left school altogether at the age of sixteen and went to work with his father, who was an insurance agent and a sales representative. The address book of 1911 says of him that he had a commission store of agricultural and industrial machinery and accessories—not a farm machinery plant as Keneally says. This information would most likely be part of the legend Schindler created about himself.

Keneally puts some emphasis on the information that young Oskar had two Jewish friends, sons of Rabbi Felix Kanter (Keneally spells it Kantor), their neighbours. This is obviously intended to demonstrate that he was not anti-Semitic at heart, to prepare ground for the story. But that would not be so unusual. As Gruntova points out, Himmler himself complained that every SS man had at least one Jewish friend, one “good Jew”. The German Jews were the most assimilated of all European Jews. My own observation is that anti-Semitism rises with the proportion of Jews in the population. The Germany population was 0.7 per cent Jewish, a low figure, and anti-Semitism was not widespread by European standards—not until Nazi propaganda had its effects. But even then, official party policy and people’s feelings were not the same thing. In Eastern Europe, the Balkans and France, all of whom had greater proportions of Jews, anti-Semitic feelings were much more intense.

In the case of Czechoslovakia, national sentiments may have played a role. Most of the Jews there claimed German nationality and sided with the Germans in the conflicts within the Austro-Hungarian empire. That would clearly aggravate anti-Semitic feelings.

As for the Kanters, Keneally writes that they moved to Belgium and that Schindlers never saw them again. But Gruntova discovered, in the 1939 list of Jews in Zwittau, one Augusta Kanter, widow of a rabbi, living on 16 Iglauer Strasse, in the neighbourhood of the Schindlers. Since all the information about Schindler’s life in Keneally’s book originates from Schindler himself, the question arises: Why did he lie about the Kanters? Up to 1939 he was living in Zwittau, and it is inconceivable that he would be unaware of the existence of Mrs Kanter next door. Was he trying to conceal their fate, possibly so as not to be connected with it in some way? Or did he even have a hand in their destruction? He was a member of the Nazi party, after all.

Keneally seems to be led to many of his lapses by uncritically believing too much of what Schindler told about himself. Into this category would also belong the tales of young Oskar and his motorcycles, rare machines and races nearly won against the European best—just the sort of stories such characters like telling about themselves. “In the last year of his high school,” writes Keneally, “Oskar was riding around Zwittau on a red 500cc Italian Galloni.” In fact Oskar never made it to the last year of high school. From 1924, when he left school after repeating Year 9, he was travelling with his father through the countryside. In 1927, when he was nineteen, he left his father and started working as a travelling representative for Moravian Electrotechnic (MEAS).

Keneally writes that Schindler’s motor racing took place in the summer of 1928, before his marriage. But Oskar was married in the early spring of that year, on March 6, well before the motor racing season started. From his wife he received a dowry of 100,000 korunas, big money for the time, about eight years of average income. According to his wife, he bought himself a luxury car and blew the rest. Keneally writes about a promised and unpaid dowry of half a million reichsmarks—a fantastic sum, out of reach even for a very rich farmer. He does not explain why the dowry would be in German currency.

A few months after his marriage, in the late summer of 1928, Oskar started his military service of two years. Keneally writes that after his military service, “he got a job even in the midst of the Depression as a sales manager with Moravian Electrotechnic”, in 1930. He attributes that to Oskar’s excellent qualities. In fact, Oskar was employed by the company from 1927, and they re-installed him in his old job after his military service, as was customary. In any case, the company folded in the following year. After that he was unemployed for about a year, and started a chicken farm, which he closed down a few months later—for lack of returns. Then he got a new job with the Jaroslav Simek banking house, Prague, again as a representative. He was also selling lottery tickets.

Gruntova discovered that Oskar had two illegitimate children with one Aurelie Schlegel, from Zwittau, Lehmgasse 2: son Oskar, born on December 21, 1933, and daughter Edith, born on February 21, 1935. He is not registered as the father, yet paid maintenance to their mother—for example, in 1944 forty German marks each month. Given his income at the time this is a ridiculously low figure, not even enough to buy food rations.

Keneally by and large skips the thirties, probably because Schindler didn’t want to draw attention to them. And no wonder. Gruntova found that his local nicknames in Zwittau were “Gauner-agent”, “Gauner Schindler”, or “Schindler-swindler”. (Gauner translates as crook, rogue.) Between 1931 and 1938 he had six convictions on his criminal record: five for brawling, resulting in fines, one in 1938 for dangerous threats, swindling and brawling. For this last one he did two months in jail. During that period he apparently committed other offences which for some reason are not included in the record. According to court records, in 1933 he was accused of theft in company, and he was detained from February 17 to March 21. Records show that the case was sent to higher court. The only thing Keneally has to say about this period of Oskar’s life is that he was a salesman, with his order book open and his pen flying. Hardly, given the evidence.

Keneally writes that Oskar was recruited into the Abwehr in 1939, at a party in Ostrava. He was misled. Oskar was not “the most non-political of businessmen who takes things as they come”. In fact, Schindler was no businessman in any meaningful sense (except possibly a failed one—the chicken farm) as his inept attempts, after the war, at running businesses in Germany and Argentina demonstrate. He was a salesman, and a known crook.

Schindler joined the Sudeten German Party, a de facto local branch of the German Nazi party, in 1935. In 1938, police officer Rudolf Huschka, of German nationality, reported to the Czech counter-espionage agency that Oskar Schindler was trying to recruit him as a spy for Germany. Schindler had already been under suspicion for some time. As a result of Huschka’s report, Schindler was arrested on July 19. The police report from Zwittau states: “By the discovery and arrest of Oskar Schindler a nest of spies was neutralised.” Records of the interrogation survive. Schindler admitted working for the Abwehr from July 1, 1938. This seems to be untrue; Schindler would admit the truth only if it was already known. Elsewhere in the records he admits being in contact with the Abwehr from the winter of 1936–37, when he visited Germany. He also reveals the name of his accomplice. He said he joined the Abwehr because he needed money.

He was in detention until October 1938 when, as a result of the Munich agreement, he was released and expelled to Sudeten territory. On November 1, 1938, he applied for membership in the Nazi party. Already before that date he was seen in action with the Ordners, the Sudeten version of the Nazi Stormtroopers. There is a strong probability that at that time he took his revenge on the unfortunate Huschka, who was arrested right after the German takeover of the Sudeten lands and disappeared, presumably executed by Nazis. Such at least was the local rumour among the German population. Records did not survive the war. None of this is mentioned by Keneally. He seems to know only Schindler’s own version of events.

The above disposes with another part of the Keneally’s tale. Not a good boy who works hard to help the family business (non-existent), and a man of commerce, but a rather dissolute individual of dubious character. And not an apolitical fellow, but a Nazi and a spy for Germany long before the war started.

Another chapter in Schindler’s life was about to begin. After participating in the destruction of Czechoslovakia, Abwehr man Schindler and his wife relocated close to the Polish border, to Moravska Ostrava, at that time still part of the rump of Czechoslovakia. There he continued with his Abwehr work, as Gruntova convincingly documents by quoting from records of the interrogation of war criminals, his former colleagues. Until July 1939 he worked as a civilian employee, then became a full agent of the Abwehr in Ostrava. His work was praised and he was rewarded several times. He had a group of Czech men working for him, and indications exist that he was in charge of a local branch or sub-branch of the Abwehr, whose activity concentrated on the occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia and preparations for the attack on Poland. Evidence is scanty, because at the end of the war Germans destroyed so many records. There are indications, though, that he took part in the premature attempt, by German special forces, at occupying the border mountain tunnel near Jablunkov on August 26, 1939. During this period, through his Abwehr work, he made important contacts for his future activities. His work against Czechoslovakia and Poland was the reason why each country put him on its list of wanted war criminals.

The German attack on Poland started on September 1, 1939. According to Polish sources, mentioned by Gruntova, Schindler appeared in Krakow on September 6: too early for any prospective entrepreneur, but exactly right for members of the German secret services. Postwar statements by detained Nazis who knew him there, as well as his exemption from military service through the war, demonstrate that he did secret work in Krakow, and that the role of an industrialist possibly served as camouflage. The idea that Schindler was only a nominal member of the Abwehr, and that during his stay in Krakow he limited himself to supplying Canaris and his staff with information about the activities of their opponents in the SS, is only Keneally’s assumption, unsupported by any trustworthy source.

The de-Semitisation of Polish industries offered a chance which a man of Schindler’s past and character would not miss. A trusted agent of the secret services would be in a position to have his pick. At first he got the wholesale business with kitchen equipment on 4 Lipova St, whose owner was Salomon Wiener. The son of the owner interfered and was, on Schindler’s orders, beaten up by an SS man. But the main acquisition came shortly after. Two months after his arrival in Krakow he was the owner of a factory making enamelled kitchenware.

Owning this factory brought Schindler into contact with Krakow Jews, contacts that would prove to be very useful to him at the end of the war. But to own a factory is one thing; to run it is something quite different. Contrary to what Keneally writes, Schindler had no knowledge of running the production of anything. There were, of course, the previous owners and managers, and they would be well aware of the perils of their situation. To co-operate with this character who was no fanatic in his sentiments and who was willing to offer relative comfort to those Jews who would manage the business for him, was a sensible course of action. In this way the nucleus of Schindler’s trusted group of Jewish collaborators was established. Abraham Bankier, former co-owner of the factory, took the opportunity. According to Keneally, he provided Schindler with money, helped with contacts, even on the black market, and gave advice on where to get cheap labour: the Krakow ghetto.

While Schindler, whose life experience was in wheeling and dealing, may have treated his trusted men relatively well—after all, it paid to do so—what about his Jewish labour force? Keneally is completely taken in by the legend that there was no beating or starvation in the factory in Krakow. Polish workers who supplied provisions to those of their Jewish workmates who could pay, testified that beatings did take place. Gruntova quotes their stories. For example, the going rate for a Jew caught making soup on hot pipes was fifty lashes. Prisoners were beaten for various reasons, or no reason. After the war two brothers, Bernard and Ferdinand Sperling, were sentenced for beating Jews. Both followed Schindler from Krakow to Brünnlitz. The illegal Council for Help to Jews (Zegota), was aware of hunger in Schindler’s factory. One member, Wladyslaw Wojcik, stated that only from the beginning of 1944 did Schindler allow, from time to time, a horse-drawn wagon with bread and wooden clogs to enter the factory.

One of the Schindler’s chosen, Itzak Stern, who was vice-president of the Jewish Agency for Western Poland, and a member of the Zionist Central Committee, may have helped Schindler make contacts with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Joint) in Budapest, and possibly with other Jewish organisations. It has to be kept in mind, however, that contacts with Jewish organisations were nothing new and go back to pre-war years. Nazi–Zionist co-operation resulted in smuggling some 60,000 Jews to Palestine. The contacts continued during the war, and were the policy of the day for secret service personnel. Even the SS sold Jews for profit. The emigration of twenty-eight Dutch Jews brought 1,290,000 Swiss francs to SS coffers. Heydrich, in January 1942, made $9,500,000 on an emigration deal. Such deals were growing in 1944 under Himmler as well. So Schindler’s activities were in no way unique.

In early 1944 things on the front were not going well and the Germans decided to move armament factories to safer places. Schindler’s factory, Emailia, was one of those ordered to be moved. (It was not his decision, as Keneally and others imply.) He had enlarged the factory and was now making ammunition for anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, of 37mm calibre. (Keneally constantly refers to 45mm calibre, a calibre that was unknown in the German army.)

We have come to the so-called “Schindler’s list”. Keneally has it that Schindler made a list, containing 1200 names, of people who were to be moved from his factory in Krakow to the new place in Brünnlitz. This is just plain invention, denied by David Crowe (Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List) as well. (Where would the 1200 names come from? Schindler’s factory in Krakow employed between 600 and 650 workmen, more than half of them Polish civilians.) Gruntova found what really happened. When the camp attached to his factory in Krakow was closing down in September 1944, most of the prisoners were sent to the concentration camp Plashow and from there to Mauthausen. The remainder were sent to Gross-Rosen camp, from where most of them were transported to Brünnlitz, after a new transport list was put together there.

What actually happened in Emailia was witnessed by a young civilian worker, M. Sandecki, future chess grandmaster of Krakow:

On the day when the prisoners were being taken away, Schindler was standing by the gate and calling out names. There was great tumult and noise, because everyone wanted to be included. Those chosen by him were taken into the building. The rest were loaded into prepared wagons and taken away.

When asked how many were selected by Schindler, Sandecki replied: “Fifty to sixty people, no more.” This was also confirmed by one of the selected, Henryk Mandel. These fifty to sixty people are the only ones who can be called “Schindler’s Jews”. They were the only ones he chose personally, the ones he needed for his factory, or in whom he had some special interest, most likely through his Abwehr activities. The rest of those who were sent to Brünnlitz were chosen by the authorities. “Schindler’s list” is a hoax, invented by Schindler. (It was also refuted by Crowe.)

Keneally seems to make much of the fact that prisoners were eager to be sent to Schindler’s labour camp. Again, there is nothing special in that. Every labour camp was much sought after, for obvious reasons: food rations were higher, discipline less strict, there was a better chance of survival than in the monstrously overcrowded camps like Mauthausen. Prisoners have ways of knowing such things. And more to the point, in every labour camp the owner was interested in the wellbeing of his labour force; they were his source of income. Schindler would have been no exception.

Much later, in 1999, when the legend was fully established, a suitcase was found in Hildesheim in Germany which contained, among other things, a list of prisoners from the camp in Brünnlitz. This caused sensation. The original Schindler’s list discovered at last! Gruntova subjected the list to critical analysis and concluded that it was just a normal list of prisoners in the camp. One on the list was Paul Stagel, who came to Brünnlitz at a later date, with the so-called Goleshow transport of January 1945. That page has a date on it, April 18, 1945, therefore it cannot be the selection for the transport to Brünnlitz, which took place in September 1944. Gruntova believes that the holders of the list, the Stuttgarter Zeitung, are aware of the later origin of the document, and that they exploited it to create sensation.

About the way in which the real list of 687 men for Brünnlitz was made, Gruntova quotes the testimony of Henryk Mandel:

All transports from the camp were put together by the OD man Marcel Goldberg … People were giving him diamonds, and when Goldberg came to Brünnlitz, I saw that he had a whole bag of diamonds. [These diamonds were said to be carried for him by Schindler.] At last he made the transport list for Brünnlitz. Then the Plashow OD men began to press him to include them on the list. Goldberg started to cross some and to place others.

(OD men were trustees, working in camp administration.)

No wonder Marcel Goldberg changed his name after the war and went into hiding. The story was confirmed by, among others, another prisoner, Dr Alexander Bieberstein: Goldberg “placed on that list many Jews in exchange for enormous bribes. Through him, predominantly rich OD men and other prominent prisoners appeared on the list. To get more places, Goldberg transferred part of the Emailia workers to evacuation transports.” Therefore it seems that the list is really “Goldberg’s list”. It is possible that Schindler knew about Goldberg’s activity and co-operated on the creation of the list. He wanted his own experienced workers on it. But in the end he could not prevent Goldberg overruling him and replacing many of them with the camp OD men—who could pay.

Then there is the story about the additional transport of 300 women from Auschwitz, another example of Keneally’s limited knowledge of history. He writes that to get the women, Schindler had to bribe the Auschwitz commander, Rudolf Höss. But Höss had left Auschwitz earlier, so Schindler could not have dealt with him at all. In reality Schindler had little to do with the selection and despatch of the women to Brünnlitz. The women were selected in Plashow by the supplier of labour, the SS, under normal conditions. Strong and healthy women were chosen, to make up numbers decided beforehand. Schindler had little say; his involvement is his own invention. The women were earmarked for Brünnlitz to make up the planned complement of 800 men and 300 women. In Auschwitz they were only quarantined before being despatched to their place of destination. The transport was on its way on November 10, 1944, and Schindler was released from prison and returned to Brünnlitz on November 8 and 9. He would hardly have had time to do all the things Keneally credits him with.

Another clear invention in Keneally’s narrative relates to the transport of 100 men from Goleshow. When they were unloading the half-frozen prisoners from the wagons on the siding to the factory (Keneally is aware of the existence of the siding here), he writes: “Oskar was not on the siding. He was inside the factory, where a warm corner … was being made ready”. But there are several credible witness statements to the effect that in January, Schindler was not in Brünnlitz at all. He was in Moravska Ostrava, where his Abwehr job was. Which also makes it doubtful that he could have made the alterations to the transport document he is credited with. In fact it is quite likely that the transport landed in Brünnlitz precisely because it was the only camp with male prisoners among the branch camps of Gross-Rosen concentration camp in the Sudetenland. The other fifteen camps were exclusively for women, as was the Bruntal camp, where the transport was sent originally, possibly by mistake. That makes Keneally’s assertions about Schindler very nearly wrestling the prisoners from Nazi clutches sound unrealistic. It has to be kept in mind as well that Brünnlitz camp was still 100 men short of its planned complement of 800.

Part of the legend as presented by Keneally is that once established, the factory in Brünnlitz never produced any ammunition. Gruntova, in Chapter 4 of her book, demonstrates the virtual impossibility of such a thing. She quotes eyewitnesses who testified that production did take place, on a normal scale. This is clearly another example of Schindler creating an alibi for himself after the war. And this would also suit those prominent Jews who had to consider the possibility that their work could, after the war, be interpreted as a form of collaboration with the enemy. Keneally should have been aware that this form of sabotage would, in the wartime conditions, be well nigh impossible.

Keneally is rather enthusiastic about the treatment of prisoners in Brünnlitz and about the relaxed atmosphere there, with no beatings. Not so, says Gruntova, and quotes eyewitnesses. One of them, a former Serbian POW, Palkovljevic, describes what he saw: “when they brought potatoes into the camp, interned Jews fell on them with the intention of eating them. SS guards turned on them with clubs and, in front of Schindler, killed four or five of them.” Palkovljevic adds that in 1945 Schindler cleverly changed his behaviour, and helped some of the prisoners with food. These were said to be the Jew Dortheimer, his wife, and four other Jews, who helped Schindler escape to Germany unpunished after the war. There are others who talk about beatings for various reasons, for example for smuggling food into the camp. The reality of camp life in Brünnlitz can be seen from the fact that after the liberation, prisoners themselves brutally killed the two camp capos, in revenge for cruelties suffered at their hands.

About Schindler giving food to prisoners there are contradictory testimonies again. Some praise him highly, others are less enthusiastic. One of these, Bluma Reichertova, who came to Brünnlitz with the transport of 300 women (and who remained to live there), did not remember any touching scene on arrival, as described in Keneally. What she says is this: “Woman he liked, he certainly gave her some food, but we others got nothing.” What food found its way into the camp was the work of Schindler’s wife who, unlike him, was constantly present in Brünnlitz. She was the one who took an interest in the prisoners and who, in Christian charity, went out of her way to procure food and medication for their needs. There is no evidence that Schindler took part in any but a few selected cases. That he spread stories of himself providing food for “his” prisoners is another example of his effort to create an alibi for himself.

The overall situation in the Brünnlitz camp is best demonstrated by comparing the mortality rate there with that of the other fifteen branch camps of Gross-Rosen. There is a common grave behind the wall of the local cemetery, containing forty-two bodies. Of these, two are the camp capos killed in revenge by the prisoners after the liberation. Most of the rest are victims of the January transport from Goleshow. Figures are not clear, but twelve to nineteen are those who died in the camp. From the two autumn transports of 687 men and 300 women, ten to eighteen died there. This makes it 1.01 to 1.82 per cent in six and a half months. Comparing this with the worst of the other camps, Libava, where mortality was 1.8 per cent in thirteen months, we can see that Brünnlitz may have had the highest mortality rate of all the Gross-Rosen camps. And that may not be the end of the story. Gruntova quotes former prisoner Bluma Reichertova as saying about the SS commander of the camp, Josef Leipold: “How many people he sent to their death … It was said in the camp that prisoners were taken away somewhere, and executed there. He did awful things.”

One of Schindler’s stories was that he provided weapons for the underground organisation in the camp. Again, Keneally seems to take the bait. The source of these weapons he says was the commander of the SS and police in Moravia, Max Rausch. (Keneally spells it Rasch.) Gruntova found that Rausch was an alcoholic, who believed in secret weapons and who kept exhorting his subordinates to dedicated struggle. His office was not in the Brno castle, as Keneally says, but in the town. (This indicates that Schindler knew him very little and was making up the story.) But the same Rausch, in the postwar process, when his life was at stake and he defended himself in any way he could, never mentioned supplying any weapons, the one thing that could have helped him. He was executed, and so Schindler could invent anything without fear.

In the category of pure fairy tales belongs the story in Keneally of Schindler, with several prisoners, travelling in the first days of May with a truck to Brno, about sixty kilometres distant, to get a load of cigarettes from a warehouse there. This sounds preposterous. Brno was occupied by the Russians on April 26. They would have had to travel against the direction of the retreating German army, cross the front into Russian occupied territory, and return along the same road. Wow! James Bond was a dilettante. Anyway, one suspects that Schindler would have had other things to worry him at that time, such as saving his own skin. All this quite apart from the fact that the camp was run by the SS and it is highly unlikely that they would allow the prisoners to leave the camp.

What sort of man was Oskar Schindler really? Very likely not what Keneally makes him to be. Keneally was in no position to check many of the stories he was told, but in some cases a bit of care and common sense would have helped him avoid obvious nonsense, like the cigarette truck story. Many things had emerged already and there is much that is known.

Schindler was clearly a crook and a Nazi at an early stage. His Abwehr career perfectly suited his talents. He was a near failure before that, a known swindler and drunk, and he reverted to type as soon as his Abwehr job disappeared. Schindler also enriched himself on confiscated Jewish property. He stole from Poles as well. Gruntova tells of furniture and valuables stored in Brünnlitz, taken from the castle of a Polish nobleman. All was transported to Brünnlitz in sealed wagons, marked as “industrial machinery”. In this Schindler was much like his friend Amon Goeth, whose SS career was wrecked by such things. He may have been smarter, just. Or luckier—there is evidence that the Gestapo was preparing charges against him but the end of the war intervened. He also exploited slave labour. In this he was much the same as many other industrialists at the time. He claimed that he saved lives in this way. So did the others. Even IG Farben, employer of slave labour on a massive scale, claimed that it saved lives by doing so. And on the evidence, the stories about supposedly better conditions in Schindler’s camp compared to others appear to be inventions.

The head of the Polish aid group for the Jews repeatedly declared after the war that he never heard of any angel-like Schindler. Polish parliamentarian Stanislaw W. Dobrowolski refuted the Schindler legend out of hand and declared: “I confirm categorically that none of our permanent contacts ever heard of any humanitarian gestures of the owner of the factory … neither during the war nor after it.” During the process with Amon Goeth, after the war, none of the Jewish witnesses ever mentioned Schindler and his good deeds. So apart from the testimonies of people close to Schindler, there is no reliable evidence to support the legend. And these testimonies are suspect, because those close to him were quite possibly the ones with things to hide. There is a possibility that Schindler didn’t feel very safe himself and in 1949 removed to Argentina, the country most favoured by ex-Nazis.

On November 7, 1945, a list of Abwehr agents who used to work in the area was published in Ostrava. The first named was Oskar Schindler, alias Osi. From the interrogation of the agents of the Gestapo, Abwehr and SD, it emerges that Schindler was throughout the war, even to the very end, in lively contact with the Ostrava offices of the Abwehr. This must have been the reason for his constant prolonged absences from his factory, which was managed for him by others. In 1946 he figured second on Czechoslovakia’s list of wanted war criminals.

There remains the crucial question of the glorious testimonies on behalf of Schindler and how trustworthy they are. It is known that Schindler cultivated a small number of prisoners, partly to run the factory for him, but also in connection with his Abwehr work. Towards the end of the war he added some to protect himself. The testimonies seem to come mainly from among these small groups. They were, many of them, people who could be called prominent prisoners, whose position in the camps was often rather ambiguous. Or they were people Schindler was using for his ends. For that reason their testimonies should be treated with caution. There is so much in the Schindler legend which is intentionally untrue, that to believe the rest is risky, to say the least.

Gruntova notes that not everyone was so enchanted. In her book she names a Czech reporter who told her, in 1994, that during his visit to Israel he met people there who did not value Schindler according to the prevailing opinion. When asked why they remained silent, their reply was: “Perhaps it must be so.” The strength of an established myth? Or could it be that speaking against the legend was not exactly healthy in Israel? (Or elsewhere?) Gruntova tells about the obstructionist behaviour of Jewish organisations after the first edition of her book was published. She raises the question of the strange coincidence of the legend’s appearance and the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. She asks whether there could be any connection.

Schindler was obviously an agent of the Abwehr, who through his secret service work was in contact with Jewish agencies in Budapest, surely with the knowledge and on behalf of the Abwehr. A member of a security organisation could not do this sort of thing without the approval of his superiors. There is also unconfirmed talk of him taking part in a mission to Turkey. His wife says he did, but she knew only what he told her, and that cannot be relied upon.

The Abwehr was surely aware, from about 1943, that the war was lost. Schindler was not stupid, and this raises the question of whether his actions in helping some Jews towards the end were not just part of his preparations for the coming defeat. With this is also connected the issue of Jewish collaboration with the Nazis, acknowledged, among others, by Hannah Arendt, Simon Wiesenthal and Rabbi Moshe Schonfeld. The first transport to Brünnlitz was laced with the camp aristocracy, many of whom would have had things to hide. Most of those close to Schindler and his factory actively participated in the war production and there was a possibility that they could find themselves in a precarious position after the war’s end. Given the circumstances, it is only logical to expect some sort of mutual understanding, an exchange of testimonies.

Schindler was a Nazi, but he was also a swindler, who would be clever enough to con his way out of danger, given a bit of luck. In Krakow he lived in an environment where details of his true past were not known, so he was free to remake his life story. Some of the stories were just plain adolescent boasting, as in the case of motorcycles and racing, but later, as the need became more urgent, the “saviour” and “production sabotage” stories took over.

One important thing must not be overlooked. Schindler was in no position to save any lives, even if he wanted to. He did get some people released from prison for huge bribes, and used them for his Abwehr work afterwards. As for the rest, there was no ark he could fill with “his Jews”, to save them from German clutches. The decision to move the factory was not for him to make. Like any other industrialist, he needed the Jews as a labour force. The prisoners were allocated to the industrialists. That did not constitute saving lives. Germans detailed the healthy prisoners as a labour force, and it did not make any difference to whom they were allotted. If Schindler did not get them, they would have been snapped up by someone else. Also, and equally important, by the time the first of the prisoners arrived at his new factory in Brünnlitz, the killing of Jews was at an end. (Whether they were aware of it at the time is another matter.) Himmler’s order of October 1944 stopped the extermination program. And while some killings still took place in November, that was the end. The demolition works at Auschwitz started in the same month. The only danger to Jews after that date was from epidemics and starvation, due to the crumbling of Germany and the evacuation of eastern camps into the grossly overcrowded German camps like Mauthausen. So the “saviour” legend appears to be without substance, invented to save Schindler himself and a few others.

On the other hand, many of the pro-Schindler testimonies sound sincere. A prisoner could believe at the time that his life was saved by working in a factory. It is only logical to expect that Schindler, that seasoned trickster, would be intent on cultivating this impression at the time, by feeding his workers stories of his efforts to extricate them from the Germans. In this way many of the Jewish prisoners could believe that without Schindler they would be dead.

Gruntova considers Keneally’s book to be a bad one. To me it is mind-boggling that such a compilation of inaccuracies, half-truths and plain untruths could be so successful, and turn a relatively little-known Australian writer into a world celebrity. The book pretends to speak about real events, but fails miserably. The whole Schindler case appears to be the story of a conman who made it beyond even his wildest dreams. How it must have amused him when, after his return from Argentina, he applied for compensation from the German government for his factories in Krakow and Brünnlitz—properties stolen in the first place, and from the Jews! And it appears that he actually got it!

Gruntova is a conscientious historian who has put an enormous amount of time and effort into her book. She started working on it when she was researching the camp in Brünnlitz and was provoked into writing it by obvious untruths in Keneally’s work. Her book contains a huge reference section, which in itself offers a wealth of information. For that very reason it deserves to be translated into English, at least in order to provide a counterweight to the misleading book by Thomas Keneally.

The Abwehr–Jewish contacts are the most historically interesting part of the whole story. What was the real role Schindler played in them? And where did it lead? Spies rarely retire. Was his trip to Argentina really innocent? Or was he recruited to help with locating ex-Nazis for Jewish agencies? Eichmann himself? That would explain many things, particularly the easy acceptance of the legend as it stands. Who knows? Maybe someone will come up with new discoveries. Truth has the knack of percolating to the surface.

Schindler and Intelligence Services

This is an extract from Chapter 3 of Jitka Gruntova’s Legendy a Fakta o Oskaru Schindlerovi, translated by Brett Jenik, and published here with the permission of Jitka Gruntova.

According to testimonies received by the Polish reporter Janusz Rozsko in 1994, Schindler did really save people, for money. Certain people are said to have bought their freedom. Mrs Hana C, grand-daughter of Aleksandr Pekalsky, from whom Schindler rented land in February 1942, remembered from stories told by members of her family, her godfather Kazimierz Imelinsky and uncle Czeslaw Mochnacky, at least twenty cases of people ransomed through Schindler. One of them was a young man, for whose release they paid Schindler an astronomical sum of money, but the deal did not end there: the ransomed man was after his release forced to sign a contract for co-operation with the German intelligence services. Mrs Hana C said also that Schindler invited the freed people to his table, but then wrote reports on them to the Abwehr.

The activity of the Abwehr in occupied Poland was directed by Abwehrleitstelle (head office) at the military command Oberost in Spale (later transferred to Krakow), which directed about ninety branches. There are known cases when the Abwehr did help some Jews to go abroad, which of course cost something. The Abwehr had no problem with this, because it issued all documents, including passports and visas. From May 1944 the Abwehr was absorbed into the Main Office of Reich Security, which included the SS and which, from the beginning of 1943, was directed by Dr Ernst Kaltenbrunner. To this belonged also the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), which was an organisation for political intelligence, dealing with the most important cases and, for example, issuing reports about public opinion, and also following the activities and private lives of important statesmen and politicians. Formally it formed part of the SS, whose leader was Heinrich Himmler. The territory of the whole of Upper Silesia was under the office named Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsfuhrers SS–SD–Leitabschnitt Kattowitz. Under this office were branches, so-called Aussenstellen, for example in Katowice, Gliwice and elsewhere, which sent regular reports. Leitabschnitt Kattowitz produced weekly reports. Security services had in various places, inside different social groups, numerous informers following everything that happened in their area. Their task was to talk to people to learn their opinions and refer it to higher places. SD co-operated with the Gestapo and with the Criminal Police. Jan Serringer, who was from May 1939 to April 1945 active with the Gestapo in Moravska Ostrava as a Criminal Secretary, told in his postwar interrogation about confidants who worked for other services: “from official talk between officers of SD and Abwehrstelle I learned that in their offices worked as a confidant a certain Schindler, who owned some factory confiscated from Jews. This man was in permanent contact with ing. Gasner from Moravska Ostrava” …

In July 1945 Schindler wrote the already mentioned report for Joint (deposited at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem), in which he mentions his contacts with the Budapest Jews during the war—these were supposed to commence in 1942, and to end with the “collapse of the Budapest front”. Understandably he does not mention his activities for the Reich’s intelligence services, but he mentions the names of people who were connected with it …

Vienna dentist Dr Sedlacek represented the Jewish organisation Joint in Budapest; Sedlacek allegedly wanted a letter from Palestine to be delivered into Plashow camp. The commander of the camp, Amon Goeth, was introduced to Dr Sedlacek at his later visit, and Goeth made it possible for Dr Sedlacek to enter the camp. Dr Sedlacek visited Schindler in Krakow allegedly six or seven times when, apart from letters, on three occasions he also brought money for the support of Krakow Jews. The deliveries went to Dr Hilfstein, Bankier, Salpeter and Stern. Sedlacek delivered to Schindler an invitation to Budapest from Joint and organised a visa for him. In Budapest, in Hotel Gellert, Schindler met two Budapest Jews who represented Joint, but their names Schindler forgot. To these two Jews he delivered several letters from Krakow Jews (Dr Hilfstein, Stern and Bankier) intended for Palestine. During the stay in Budapest Schindler also met with a reporter of Austrian origin, Dr Schmidt, who was later said to be arrested by the Gestapo in Budapest.

About the Hungarian negotiations some of the participants gave testimonies after the war. In 1962, during one of Schindler’s visits to Israel, Samuel Springman, a Hungarian Jew, said:

I am not one of Schindler’s men. My acquaintance with him started during the meetings in Budapest. First meeting took place in one of the Budapest hotels. Schindler looked around to check whether he was not followed, and reported to us what was happening in the camps. Information he gave to us was passed further to the rescue department and he also met Hans Branden. He expressed willingness to go to a meeting with Steinhardt. That was in the middle of the war and we got information from him about what was happening there.

One of the informed prisoners, Izak Stern, said:

Schindler departed for Hungary. He made all sorts of contacts with the rescue departments in such a way that he could save anyone possible. He was the only German who told the rescue department in Budapest what was happening in Poland and other countries occupied by Germany.

In his memoirs Izak Stern specifies the time of Schindler’s trip to Hungary—he says it took place in “July–August 1943” and Schindler was dealing, among others, with Dr Kastner. Schindler obviously had reasons to be silent about the names of Kastner and Springman. Nor did he mention the meeting with Hans Branden. This was nothing unusual after the war—Nazis did not remember anything.

During one of his visits Dr Sedlacek was allegedly accompanied by a Jew, who was in possession of a Swiss passport. I cannot exclude the possibility that it was Rudolf Kastner—he used to travel to Switzerland often and made a similar visit on April 16, 1945, to Terezin, where he was the first Jew to come as a free man, in civilian clothes and accompanied by high-ranking SS officers from Eichmann’s office, on the orders of Standartefuhrer Kurt Becher, who at that time held the position of extraordinary commissar for all concentration camps in the Reich. Kastner visited Terezin in company with Obersturmbannfuhrer Hermann Krumeye and Eichman’s adjutant Hauptsturmfuhrer Hunsch, inspected the camp, and expressed interest in some prominent prisoners—to one of whom, and also to one of his women acquaintances, he said, “You will soon be free, the camp will be surrendered without fighting” and asked them to tell that to other prisoners. Terezin command already earlier forced six leading Zionist activists to write, with the date May 23, 1944, a letter to Rudolf Kastner describing Terezin in rosy colours. None of these men survived the autumn of 1944. Kastner obviously was not fooled, in spite of being shown, during his visit, a similar film about the life in the camp, because he had accurate information about life in Terezin and about the liquidation transports.

The assumption that Rudolf Kastner also visited Krakow and the concentration camp at Plashow is supported by similar behaviour from the Germans—here too came at first letters from prominent prisoners and representatives of the Zionist movement, with whom Kastner could, unlike at the later visit to Terezin, have a meeting during his visit in the camp. During our meeting in 1998, the historian Miroslav Kryl suggested that what Terezin was in the Protectorate, Plashow was in Poland—a camp for “showing”.

In 1944 there took place secret negotiations in Budapest between deputies of Himmler, Kurt Becher and Adolf Eichmann, and representatives of Jewish organisations. SS Sturmbannfuhrer Kurt Becher, who was for some time head of the economic department of the SS in Hungary, presented a plan to Himmler for the exchange of Jews for trucks. Jews could be traded for other goods as well, especially raw materials. Detailed conditions of this exchange were stipulated by Eichmann. Becher testified after the war that he received these instructions from Himmler: “Get from the Jews everything that is possible. Promise them what they ask for. We will see what can be made of it.”

Already in the spring of 1944, agents of the Abwehr were organising direct contact for functionaries of Jewish organisations in Budapest with the SS men Wisliczeny and Krummey. Schindler too had contacts with the Budapest Jews; he allegedly visited Hungary several times and met there, among others, Dr Rudolf Kastner. Negotiations, particularly with Kastner, took place on April 1, 1944, about the first deal—the other side was represented by Wisliczeny—of the emigration of 100,000 Jews for $2 million. A further meeting took place on April 25, in which Eichmann negotiated with another representative of Budapest’s Jews, Josef Brand, to whom he offered to rescue one million Hungarian Jews for 10,000 trucks and 1000 tons of coffee. He even sent Brand to start negotiations in Turkey. Brand supposedly flew on May 19, 1944, by special plane to Istanbul together with Bandi Grosz, a Jewish agent, who worked for German, Hungarian, but also English and American secret services. But the main role in the mission to Turkey belonged to Grosz, who admitted in Israel in 1954 that the fundamental aim of the trip was to open contacts with representatives of Western powers. The Jewish deal was only a cover.

British documents published later, together with a memoir by Josef Brand, gave further information. Bandi Grosz took an offer to Istanbul for Hungary to switch to the Allies (under the condition that the Soviet offensive would stop at the Hungarian border), and an offer of the head of Himmler’s security service in Budapest, Gerhard Clages, for a meeting between German intelligence officers and Americans to negotiate a separate peace. If this failed, Grosz was to organise a meeting with British officers, through the intermediary of the officers of the Jewish Agency. According to Grosz, “The Nazis knew they had lost the war. They knew that with Hitler they could not achieve peace. Himmler wanted to use all possible contacts to be able to negotiate with the Allies.”

The Nazis were playing a complicated game, with the purpose of gaining alibis for after the war. Bandi Grosz was supposed to deal with the Western Allies about a separate peace, but his attempt failed. Josef Brenda was captured by the British in Istanbul and was not allowed to return. It can be assumed that agent Oskar Schindler, who at an unspecified time allegedly made a trip by a car to Turkey on a diplomatic passport, did not go there as a tourist, but in connection with Himmler’s plans. But this may be only a fairy tale, just more of his boasting, because in his report for Joint from July 1945, he denies this trip.

Schindler’s “testimony” can be misleading even in this case, because he wrote the report in his defence, in order to present himself as a protector of Jews during the war, and he needed an alibi—his work for German intelligence was not a suitable argument. Schindler was starting the game of an agent who is trying to save his neck and it is understandable that he passed over many things—or just “forgot”. His wife in her memoirs insisted that Schindler was in Istanbul and was dealing there with Joint—but her testimony is not reliable. Mrs Schindler usually repeated what she was told by her husband. It is not likely that Schindler would hold a sufficiently important rank to be entrusted with negotiating—although he could have made the trip as a courier with the task of delivering a message.

It is also quite possible that Schindler took part in the Turkish mission together with Josef Brand and Bandi Grosz. About Schindler’s trip we know that he supposedly went by car, so he did not necessarily go alone. Schindler was said also to have contacts with the Intelligence Service, which would be a good “recommendation” for negotiations with the Western Allies. Even if Schindler’s contacts with the English intelligence services are mentioned only in testimonies of former prisoners Ismar Fischer and Leopold Fischgrunt, the later also confirming Schindler’s trips to Turkey, these cannot be considered sufficiently reliable sources, but we know that Schindler moved among persons who worked for the British Intelligence Service. This poses a question whether it was not done with the knowledge of Himmler’s German intelligence service, or even under instructions. To clarify or refute this hypothesis can only be done through the archives of secret services, and these are silent so far.

The contacts of Joint in Budapest with the German intelligence service are also mentioned, in his testimony, by Wilhelm Siewert, a member of the Gestapo, who was transferred to Budapest from February to June 1944, where he served at the headquarters of the German intelligence service. He mentions paid Jewish agents of the German intelligence service, of whom he names Dr Schmied from Vienna, and Veiniger from Budapest. These two allegedly made regular courier trips to Turkey and used Hungarian diplomatic passports. “As far as I am informed, the two mentioned agents had contacts with the main British agent in Turkey, Schwarz, alias Roberts,” stated Siewert, and he continued:

The Jewish organisation Joint had in Budapest a very well organised intelligence service for all continents, especially USA, England, Portugal, Sweden and Turkey. Every month there arrived, for the confidant of the Jewish religious body in Budapest, Dr Kaspar, a sealed parcel with dollars, Swiss francs, Swedish crowns and British pounds, even Turkish pounds … Hungarian espionage learned about these machinations of Joint and took part in them as well. The Jewish religious body had to inform the Hungarian office of the arrival of each parcel, and received 3 to 5 per cent of the contents after inspecting it. I was twice ordered to inspect the contents without the knowledge of Hungarian espionage and I know that the courier who transported it received 7 per cent, and the person who received the delivery from him got 3 per cent of the overall value.

Intelligence services, whose soldiers included Schindler, fought their own war, but the relevant archives are silent. Silent also are living witnesses, and for a long time one of the representatives of the Budapest Jews, Andreas Biss, who together with Rudolf Kastner took part in the secret negotiations with Adolf Eichmann and with Himmler’s adjutant Kurt Becher, was also silent. Andreas Biss spoke only after the capture of Eichmann in 1961. Biss tried, in a magazine article titled “Obchod s katem” (Business with an Executioner), to justify the huckstering with human lives and even called it resistance activity. It’s a pity he did not say more, but it is understandable—even Biss could have ended up before a judge.

Kastner, with whom Schindler had contact, could not then talk any more. After the war an influential politician and a high-ranking public servant in Israel, he was a witness at Nuremberg for Kurt Becher, Himmler’s representative for selling people. Kastner used to travel with him to Switzerland, to where he managed, in August and December, to get two transports of Jews through the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Becher was released thanks to Kastner’s testimony, and in future continued in business, only this time dealing in wheat. One of the leading representatives of the Jewish organisations in Budapest, Kastner, who mediated the sale of Jews for Becher and Eichmann, and twice dealt with Himmler in person, by his testimony then protected a war criminal, Becher.

Later in Israel Kastner was accused of having given his relatives and acquaintances priority in the transports to Switzerland, and of having collaborated with the Nazis. Kastner sued, but in 1955 a court in Jerusalem found him guilty of collaborating with the Nazis and of having, by his testimony at Nuremberg in favour of Kurt Becher, helped expurgate this war criminal. But they did not prove that he enriched himself by it. Kastner appealed and in 1957 started proceedings before the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. The case was proceeding in his favour, but before the verdict could be declared he was murdered by members of an Israeli underground organisation who feared revelations about Jewish collaboration with the Nazis.

After the war the accusation of collaboration with the Nazi regime was one of the ways by which some people tried to settle personal accounts or cover their own collaboration with the Nazis. I know a similar case from my own background, and even Simon Wiesenthal got a taste of it, when Bruno Kreisky accused him of informing for the Gestapo. In his first government in Austria in 1970, Kreisky had four former SS men, and the minister for defence was a former officer of the Wehrmacht. Naturally, in his search for war criminals, Wiesenthal used contacts with former Nazis.

According to the testimony of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Himmler’s formerly deputy, in April 1944 in Nuremberg Himmler allowed Kurt Becher to release Jews in exchange for goods and Western currency, which was Himmler’s attempt to save himself from accusations of exterminating Jews. According to Becher’s testimony, in support of maintaining contacts with the Western Allies, at the beginning of November Himmler issued an order stopping the extermination policy against the Jews. The Western world was supposedly to be convinced that Germany had abandoned the policy of extermination, and Himmler hoped for leniency. On the eve of 1945 he personally started negotiations with the former Swiss president for ransoming Jews from concentration camps. Before the end of the war, obviously on Himmler’s orders, Kaltenbrunner ordered the release of Countess Lanckoronska from KT Ravensbruck. Murderers were changing into “saviours” and those who were themselves “implicated” made testimonies in favour of Nazis in their own interests.

After the war these so-called saviours multiplied—Kastner, Schindler, Biss … Even the I.G. Farben company, accused in Nuremberg of financing Auschwitz, in its defence stressed that prisoners were exclusively in its power during the war, and because of that they stayed alive. In May 1945 in Austria, Americans arrested Kurt Becher and in his luggage were found millions of dollars worth of jewellery and Western currency. Becher insisted that it was property entrusted to him by the deportees.