Emilie Schindler : biography
Emilie Schindler (22 October 1907 – 5 October 2001) was a Sudetenland-German born woman who, with her husband Oskar Schindler, helped to save the lives of 1,200 to 1,700 Jews during World War II. Oskar Schindler, a Sudeten German industrialist, created the now famous list of Schindler’s Jews by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories, providing them immunity from the Nazis.
Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial to the victims of the Holocaust honored the Schindlers as Righteous Among the Nations for their efforts in saving hundreds of Jewish lives.
She was born in the village of Alt Moletein, (alternate spelling, Old Moletin, in Czech: Starý Moletín, today: Maletín) Austria-Hungary, (now in the Czech Republic), to farmers Josef and Marie Pelzl. She also had an older brother, Franz, to whom she was very close.
Schindler’s early life in Alt Moletein was idyllic, and she was quite fond of nature and animals. She was also interested in the Gypsies who would camp near the village for a few days at a time; their nomadic lifestyle, their music, and their stories fascinated her.
Life after the war
The Schindlers were deprived of their nationality immediately after the war. They lived under continuous threats from former Nazis, which meant that they were insecure in post-war Germany. They fled to Buenos Aires in Argentina, with Schindler’s mistress and a dozen of Schindler Jews. In 1949, they settled there as farmers and were supported financially by a Jewish organization.
In 1957, a bankrupt Oskar Schindler abandoned his wife and returned to Germany, where he died in 1974. Although they never divorced, they never saw each other again. Thirty-seven years after he left, she visited his grave:
Emilie’s visit to Oskar’s grave is documented at the end of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Schindler’s List. In the film’s closing scenes, Emilie, accompanied by actress Caroline Goodall (who portrays her in the film), lays a stone on the grave of Oskar Schindler, with many of the present day surviving Schindler’s Jews.
After the film’s release, Emilie’s close friend and biographer, Erika Rosenberg, began spreading rumors that the filmmakers had paid "not a penny" to Emilie for her contributions to the film. These claims were disputed by Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark, who claims he had sent Emilie a cheque of his own, and that he had gotten into an argument with Rosenberg over this issue before Emilie angrily told Rosenberg to drop the subject. Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard latched onto the rumor that Emilie had not been paid for her efforts and, in his 2001 film In Praise of Love, accused Spielberg of neglecting Emilie while she was supposedly dying, impoverished, in Argentina. In response to Godard, film critic Roger Ebert mused, "Has Godard, having also used her, sent her any money?" and "Has Godard or any other director living or dead done more than Spielberg, with his Holocaust Project, to honor and preserve the memories of the survivors?"
Emilie Schindler lived for many years in her small house in San Vicente, 40 kilometres south-west of Buenos Aires in Argentina with her pets. She received a small pension from Israel and Germany. Uniformed Argentinean police were posted 24 hours a day to protect her from anti-Semitic and extremist groups. Here she formed bonds with many of the soldiers.
In July 2001, during a visit to Berlin, Emilie Schindler told reporters that it was her "greatest and last wish" to spend her final years in Germany, adding that she had become increasingly homesick. She died from the effects of a stroke in Märkisch-Oderland Hospital, Berlin, on the night of 5 October 2001, at the age of 93 years. Her only relative was a niece in Bavaria. She is buried at the cemetery in Waldkraiburg, Germany, about an hour away from Munich. Her tombstone includes the words from the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5, Wer einen Menschen rettet, rettet die Ganze Welt ("Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.").