Culture Re-View: Honouring the man who inspired 'Schindler's List'

A still from 'Schindler's List'
A still from 'Schindler's List' Copyright Universal Pictures
Copyright Universal Pictures
By Jonny Walfisz
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8 May 1962: Oskar Schindler is honoured in the Avenue of the Righteous


Aged 54, the German industrialist Oskar Schindler and his wife Emilie were invited to Jerusalem. A carob tree is planted in Schindler’s honour in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

If you don’t know the story of why Schindler was invited, the State of Israel was honouring his acts during the Second World War which saved at least 1,200 Jews from almost certain death.

A member of the Nazi party, Schindler ran an industrial enamel factory in Kraków, Poland at the start of the war. Through employing Polish Jews in his factory, he was able to spare them from deportation to the nearby Auschwitz concentration camp. Schindler bribed and coerced SS officers into allowing him to keep his employees safe.

While he was a successful businessman before and during the war, his fortunes changed afterwards when he moved to West Germany and Argentina before returning bankrupt to Germany. Still, the Jews he saved remembered what he did for them and he was helped by Jewish organisations.

One of the few times Schindler was recognised publicly for his good deeds was the tree planting ceremony on this day in 1962. Schindler died in 1974.

Oskar Schindler, a German who saved hundreds of Jews from the Nazi gas chambers during World War II, is seen greeting one of about 300 Israelis who welcomed him in JerusalemAnonymous/AP1962

After his death, he was named Righteous Among the Nations, an award given to non-Jews who actively worked to save Jews during the Holocaust. The story of his efforts was published as ‘Schindler’s Ark’ in 1982 by Australian novelist Thomas Keneally.

Keneally’s book then inspired Steven Spielberg's 1993 film adaptation Schindler’s List. Starring Liam Neeson as Schindler and featuring performances by Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley, Spielberg’s film was a commercial success, earning $322 million worldwide on a $22 million budget.

It was also a critical success. Credited as one of the greatest films of all time, it was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won for seven of them, including Best Film and Best Director.

Schindler’s List might not make for the cheeriest of watches, but for a cinematic account of the horror’s of the Holocaust and hope in heroic action, it is still astounding today.

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