Oskar Schindler

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As an opportunistic businessman, Schindler was one of many who sought to profit from the German invasion of Poland in 1939. He gained ownership from a bankruptcy court of an idle enamelware factory Pierwsza Małopolska Fabryka Naczyń Emaliowanych i Wyrobów Blaszanych "Rekord"[7] in Kraków,[3] and renamed the factory Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik or DEF (location).[8] With the help of his German-speaking Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern,[3] Schindler obtained around 1,000 Jewish forced labourers to work there.[1]

Schindler soon adapted his lifestyle to his income. He became a well-respected guest at Nazi SS elite parties, having easy chats with high-ranking SS officers, often for his benefit.[8] Initially Schindler may have been motivated by money — Jewish labour was less costly — but later he began shielding his workers without regard for cost. He would, for instance, claim that certain unskilled workers were essential to the factory.[3]

While witnessing a 1943 raid on the Kraków Ghetto, where soldiers were used to round up the inhabitants for shipment to the concentration camp at Płaszów, Schindler was appalled by the murder of many of the Jews who had been working for him.[8] He was a very persuasive individual, and after the raid, increasingly used all of his skills to protect his Schindlerjuden ("Schindler's Jews"), as they came to be called. Schindler went out of his way to take care of the Jews who worked at DEF, often calling on his legendary charm and ingratiating manner to help his workers get out of difficult situations.[8] Once, says author Eric Silver in The Book of the Just, "Two Gestapo men came to his office and demanded that he hand over a family of five who had bought forged Polish identity papers. 'Three hours after they walked in,' Schindler said, 'two drunk Gestapo men reeled out of my office without their prisoners and without the incriminating documents they had demanded'".[9] The special status of his factory ("business essential to the war effort") became the decisive factor for Schindler's efforts to support his Jewish workers. Whenever "Schindler Jews" were threatened with deportation, he claimed exemptions for them. Wives, children, and even handicapped persons were shown to be necessary mechanics and metalworkers.[3]

Schindler was arrested three times on suspicion of black market activities and complicity in embezzlement, as well as breaking the Nuremberg Laws by kissing a Jewish girl. Amon Göth, the commandant of the Płaszów camp, and other SS guards used Jewish property (such as money, jewelry, and works of art) for themselves, although according to law, it belonged to the Reich. Schindler arranged the sale of such items on the black market. None of his arrests led to a trial, primarily because he bribed government officials to avoid further investigation.[1][3]

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