In spirit, as an agnostic Christian, chastised into the Roman Catholic faith from birth, along with my younger brother, Giovanni, I first met Austrian-born maverick entrepreneur, Oskar Schindler at Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront on the eve of South Africa’s first democratic elections. Unbeknown to us at that time, racially categorised Hutu’s were sharpening their thick knives, swords and panga’s, following the hateful instructions of their political leaders and even radio dj’s. They were preparing to slaughter their fellow-countrymen, known then as Tutsi’s, and known more widely today as Rwandans.
While we collected our salted popcorn, United States President, Bill Jefferson Clinton, having already been humiliated by a modest military uprising against him in Somalia, chose to remain ignorant to the plight of the Rwandese. Around the same time, South African Communist Party leader, Chris Hani, was assassinated in his suburban drive-way by a deranged racist Pole who today remains incarcerated in South Africa’s most secure maximum security prison as punishment for his heinous crime. He was originally sentenced to death, but at the dawn of a liberal democracy, the South African courts commuted Janusz Walus’ sentence to life imprisonment.
Not long after the murder of the beloved South African communist leader, over eight hundred thousand Tutsi’s and fellow-Rwandese were slaughtered by deranged Hutu’s, filled with hatred and jealousy for men and women who, it is believed, received superior status as citizens by their former Belgian colonisers.
Years later, I wondered whether Walus, born in Zakopane, Poland, shared a similar hatred for Polish Jews. Just a few years after he was born, over six million European Jews had been murdered by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi acolytes and servants. Such a brutal litany of pogroms, mass executions and systematic poisoning by Zyclon B had its origins in the belief that the Jews, alongside communists and socialists, were a scourge to the Aryan ideology of purity and supremacy. Before Hitler’s Final Solution was carried out, he and his many officers had toyed with the idea of exporting the Jews to a little known African island called Madagascar, not far from where Rwanda stands today.
After Russian dictator, Josef Stalin defrauded the alignment and autonomy of post-world war European states which he had annexed from Nazi Germany, a rigorous process of trying surviving Nazi war criminals was set in motion. Many were sentenced to death. And others survived with more lenient jail terms. Oskar Schindler’s best known nemesis, Hauptsurmfuhrer Amon Goeth, was swiftly hanged by his captors. Unrepentant, Goeth evoked the adulatory German salute of “Heil Hitler!” as the chair was kicked from under his feet. The vain narcissist was unrepentant right up to drawing his last breath.
Oskar Schindler and Amon Goeth shared a remarkable and coincidental birthright with the Nazi dictator who cowardly took his own life before Stalin’s soldiers could capture him. They were born in Austria.
Nearly ten years after Schindler’s own death, renowned Australian writer, Thomas Keneally went on to produce one of the most daring and detailed testimonies of the Holocaust, christening it Schindler’s Ark, a close analogy to the Biblical Noah’s Ark in which one man is called to rescue the lives of countless others. Keneally’s remarkable work of fictionalising the numerous accounts given to him by Schindler’s surviving Jews went on to win what was then known as the Booker McConnell Prize, more widely known today as the Man Booker Prize and alongside the American Pulitzer Prize and the Swedish Nobel Prize, is considered to be the most prestigious literary award on offer today.
And some years later, one of the USA’s most gifted film directors, Steven Spielberg produced a harrowing film adaptation, re-labelled as Schindler’s List. It went on to win multiple awards, including Best Director and Best Picture at the prestigious American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Through a chance visit to Leopold Pfefferberg’s luggage store somewhere in Beverly Hills, California, Keneally began the process of recording one of the most important historic events of the twentieth century. Pfefferberg, of course, is better known to us as a survivor of the Holocaust and one of Schindler’s Jews. In the introductory note of his text, Keneally informs his readers that his account of the history of Oskar Schindler’s daring rescue of thousands of Jews was initially informed by fifty survivors who are located in no less than seven nations – Israel, Germany, Austria, Australia, the United States of America, Argentina and Brazil.
Keneally unnecessarily reminds readers of the process of transforming historical facts into fiction in order to best describe the events that took place and the myth of its saviour. Much like the Bible itself, both Jewish and Christian versions, and the pivotal birth and resurrection of our own Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, there are those who choose to believe through faith more than anything else, and those who choose not to through a form of rational interpretations of history through the ages. And since long before the birth of Christ, the Jews of Palestine have been persecuted. Captured as slaves, rescued by chosen luminaries such as Moses, they have endured long periods of living from one day to the next.
In the time of the Bible, they had fled Egypt and Babylon. Through a period of hundreds of years after John’s Revelations, they had endured persecution throughout the Middle East, Europe and Russia, both Tsarist and Communist. Pogroms by Gentiles, particularly the ruling classes, were the order of things. Before the turn of the nineteenth century, Europe entered a period of enlightenment, and many Jews prospered. When Hitler rose to power, they must have wondered, yet again, when it would ever end. Certainly today, Jews are still derided. Because they are more prosperous and successful than others? Because they are today, more braver and belligerent than others?
It is an ironic paradox of history in today’s modern era when one looks at the state of Palestine, and more precisely, the state of Israel, today. Today it is the turn of non-Jews in the land of Palestine that are persecuted by the Zionists. Such persecutions should also be seen alongside the fanatical ideologies within Arab nations who deny the Jews’ right to exist and to nationhood. It is a precarious balancing act which has little or nothing to do with religion or spirituality. Certainly, religion has been manipulated by the Vatican and both Jewish and Islamic sects to suit their own political purposes. Such abuse of faith and its accompanying religions stretches across the earth, and the Promised Land has become central to all of it.
It is hard to believe that there are so many who have denied that the Holocaust even took place with the anniversary of such a tragic moment in the world’s history not yet even eighty years away. There are so many physical monuments to such horrors, what more proof is still required? The lessons of history have certainly not yet been learned. I mentioned the tragic case of Rwanda earlier. Today, it is the turn of thousands of Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Egypt and Sudan, all former bastions of neo-colonialism. Today, it is the turn of men and women racially classified as “white” in Zimbabwe. It is the turn of “people born that way” in many African countries, particularly Uganda.
The Australian Aborigines and many, many indigenous tribes of both North and South America have still not received any form of equal status and opportunity, barely being recognised. Gypsies throughout Europe and the Caucasus remain on the margin of society, not by any means through choice. And then there are the Palestinians.
On that note, it is necessary that texts, academic, historical and specifically fictionalised, should be produced and re-produced so that many who did not live to see those days should begin a process of recognising and understanding why such events as the Shoa occurred and why it should be avoided, or prevented in the present and future of humankind which stands on the precipice of a new age of enlightenment, whether the reader, listener, or distant observer chooses to believe it or not. Sadly, in a technological era, it is has become a more challenging endeavour to bear witness or testify.
Trials at The Hague are laborious and monotonous. Persecutors of Bosnians and many Africans receive, by comparison, light sentences and the comfort of sophisticated areas of incarceration. And while the concentration camps of Guantanamo Bay remains a permanent fixture of its landscape, the crimes committed against humanity, particularly against the Koreans, Vietnamese and Iraqi’s remain untried. The Zionists’ alleged co-conspirators, George H Bush and George W Bush, Tony Blair and Barack Obama remain at large.
It is no wonder that many are beginning to naively sit up and take note of Vladimir Putin’s sabre-rattling, no matter how dangerous they are.
I echo a phrase often repeated by Oskar Schindler himself, that Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark is essential reading. It should be studied widely. The manner in which Keneally disposes his interpretation of the events that lead up to the resurrection of Amon Goeth’s death camps and the subsequent construction of Schindler’s pretentious factories, to be manned only by his chosen Jews, later to be rescued from certain death, is methodical, detailed and chillingly precise. Keneally, exercising his licence to write creatively, skilfully detaches himself from the day to day struggles of the Jews and allows his central character, Schindler, to express his disgust towards the Nazis’ cold blooded cruelty and rampant corruption and exploitation of resources, once regarded as crucial to the German war effort.
He allows Schindler’s supporting cast of Jews to verify his inherent goodness as a human being and the exercising of his conscience, no matter how dangerous and reckless to a member of the National Socialist Party which, to all intents and purposes, was merely a means to serve his materialistic cause. It becomes a just cause, a crusade against the historic sands of time, stretching back to Moses’ rescue of the Jews from Egypt.
Itzhak Stern, an astute and diligent bookkeeper, invokes the Talmudic text when reassuring Schindler that what he has done, is just and righteous. I quote the whole text here to place it in a wider context;
“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
It is certainly an encouraging quotation when seen through the eyes of a believer who recognises that, ultimately, good will triumph over evil. And Schindler saved not just one life, but many. Because of his deeds, generations have flourished in different parts of the world.
Oskar Schindler’s death was tragic in the sense that he died in poor health, brought about by his own hedonistic habits, and literally a pauper in comparison to his earlier thriving as a war-time profiteer and through his reckless inability to correctly manage the financial apparatus required to run a successful business. By dint of political wrangling from a Tel Aviv committee, which included Stern, and the German Catholic diocese of which Schindler was an absent member, he was buried in Jerusalem in accordance with his renewed wish.
To the Jews of Jerusalem and the millions around the world, to the many Gentiles who believe, Oskar Schindler remains forever Righteous Among the Nations.