Meeting Oskar Schindler

 

“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.”

 

I first encountered Oskar Schindler during the nineteen-nineties. It was an unlikely arena, given the grim circumstances of the years that brought him fame and good fortune.

Like, Schindler, I was, at the time, an agnostic Christian. I was about to watch Steven Spielberg’s mind-boggling production of Schindler’s List, adapted from Australian-born Booker Prize winner, Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark.

South African, my country was approaching its first democratic elections. But unknown to us at that time, thousands of racially categorised Hutu’s were sharpening thick knifes, swords and panga’s, getting ready to slaughter thousands of Tutsi’s. They were following the instructions given to them by hate-filled politicians and even radio DJ’s who branded their fellow-countrymen, cockroaches.

American president Bill Clinton chose ignorance and no multilateral action to deal with the looming genocide which inevitably lasted for months. Clinton’s successor, George W Bush won his presidential election by the narrowest of margins. Some say his election victory, having been taken to that country’s highest court, was fraudulent. The margin of victory was decided in the pristine and multicultural state of Florida which was governed by his younger brother, Jebb.

I think that another Bush is headed for the White House once Barack Obama’s term ends.

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George W Bush presided over the worst act of terrorism against the American people. Most people today are encumbered by so many problems that they vaguely remember September 11, 2001. Bush proclaimed a war on terror against an axis of evil. He lost. Years later, his successor, Obama, presided over the capture and killing of Osama bin-Laden who masterminded the murder of three thousand unarmed civilians.

While the Tutsi’s were being brutally butchered, South African communist party leader, Chris Hani, was assassinated by an unknown Pole named Janusz Walus. While 3,000 civilians lost their lives after New York City’s World Trade Centre crumbled to dust, over 800,000 Tutsi’s had already been butchered as a consequence of their former coloniser’s brutal and racist policies of segregating indigenous civilians.

I wondered whether Janusz Walus shared a similar hatred for Polish Jews. A few years before he was born, over 6 million European Jews were murdered by Adolf Hitler in massive orgies of murder – mass executions, pogroms and the systematic gassing to death with Zyklon B. Such murders had its origins in the belief that the Jews, along with communists and socialists, were a scourge to the German people who were led to believe that they were the impoverished people of Europe.

Before Hitler’s Final Solution was carried out, an idea of mass exportation of the Jews to the African island of Madagascar was toyed with. After the Zionists presided over the persecution of thousands of Palestinians, I wondered what Africa would have looked like had the Nazi’s carried out this plan.

Today, I also wonder why so many who were persecuted do not heed lessons given through history and proceed to persecute others who mean them no harm.

While Janusz Walus was growing up, hundreds of Nazi war criminals were tried by the European Allies and the Zionist Jews. Many were executed, but there were a few who escaped with lenient sentences.

Oskar Schindler’s nemesis, Amon Goeth, was shown no mercy by his Russian captors and swiftly executed. He was vain to the end, showing no repentance for his hideous crimes. Like Schindler and, remarkably, Hitler, Goeth was born in Austria.

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Ten years after Schindler’s death, Thomas Keneally went on to produce one of the most detailed testimonies of events during the Holocaust, christening it Schindler’s Ark, an analogy to the Biblical story of Noah. His work was nothing short of a remarkable miracle which bore the fruit of numerous testimonies given to him by the Jews who survived as a result of Schindler’s actions.

And then Spielberg produced the grim film adaption, Schindler’s List.

After a chance visit to Leopold Pfefferberg’s luggage store in Beverly Hills, California, Keneally began the process of recording one of the most important historic events of the twentieth century. Pfefferberg is 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 initiated 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 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 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 have been persecuted. Captured as slaves, rescued by a chosen few such as Moses, they have endured long periods of living from one day to the next.

But there are also countless reams of documentary evidence which show how the Jews lived in peace and harmony alongside fellow-Palestinians who are Muslim by faith and birth.

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During the Biblical era, the Jews 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, braver and more 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 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 which denies the Jews’ right to exist and to nationhood. It is a precarious balancing act which has little to do with religion or spirituality. For centuries, even up to today, religion was manipulated by sects and cults within the Vatican and both Jewish and Islamic faiths to suit their own political purposes. Such an abuse of faith stretches across the earth. The Promised Land is central to all of it.

And in the United States of America, the familiar dollar notes are encrusted with the legend “In God we Trust.” Which God? The God called Mammon methinks.

It is hard to believe that there are so many who have denied that the Holocaust even took place. Today, many monuments, both living and carved in stone, exist in remembrance of acts of genocide since the Holocaust. Ground zero in New York City still stands as Barack Obama reluctantly chips away at the foundations of an Islamic caliphate.

Texts – academic, historical and fictionalised – are still being 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 and the Vietnam wars occurred and why it should be avoided, or prevented in the future of humanity which stands on the edge 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.

There is little to suggest that the tide is turning towards peace. Trials at The Hague are laboriously insignificant and biased. Guantanamo Bay prison camps are still full. The Bush family and Britain’s Tony Blair remain untouchable. Today, many are naively beginning to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sabre-rattling may be justified.

schindlers list 1

The manner in which Keneally’s text details the construction of death squads alongside Oskar Schindler’s pretentious factories is methodical and precise. Keneally takes advantage of his creative license and also skilfully detaches himself from the Jews’ struggles for survival. He allows his central character, Schindler, to express disgust at the Nazi’s cold-blooded cruelty and rampant corruption and exploitation of all resources which in today’s times echo familiar trails of blood and theft.

Keneally narrates the Jews’ verifications of Schindler’s goodness and the exercising of his conscience in spite of its recklessness and dangers. Schindler’s mission becomes a just cause and a crusade of salvation.

Itzhak Stern, the 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. And Schindler saved not just one life, but many. Because of his deeds, generations have flourished in different parts of the world.

I am reminded of similar acts of bravery and kindness while the West and East choose conflict over constructive dialogue towards peace and prosperity for all. As a South African, I am proud of the deeds of Doctor Imtiaz Sooliman and the Gift of the Givers.

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Wherever there is conflict, Sooliman and his men and women are there to give. Alongside the Talmudic words of wisdom, it is worthwhile quoting a portion of the Gift of the Giver’s motto (which has its roots in the writings of the Prophet Muhammad – Peace be upon Him);

“God Almighty Exists . The large “G” represents Him. He is the Originator, Protector and Sustainer of ALL Creation. He never sleeps. It is He Who humbles the mighty, and Who exalts the humble. He is without place, yet no place is devoid of Him. He is the Greatest Giver , Giving the Gift of life, sustenance, health, knowledge, intellect, wisdom and guidance.”

Oskar Schindler’s death was tragic. He was in poor health and almost penniless. Through the wrangling of a Tel Aviv committee, which included Itzhak Stern, and the German Catholic Diocese, Schindler was laid to rest in Jerusalem, the divided, but Holy City, in accordance with his wish.

Oskar Schindler remains Righteous among the Nations. So too, hundreds just like him.

 

 

 

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