Oskar's Work at the Beginning of the War

This page will look more closely at Oskar's work at the beginning the war. The information is drawn from Chapters 3 and 4 of David Crowe's book on Schindler.

Schindler's Activities at the Beginning of the Occupation of Krakow

According to Crowe, various sources place Schindler's arrival in Krakow from mid to late October, 1939, soon after the surrender of Poland to Nazi armies. As part of his move, Schindler was transferred to the Abwehr (the German intelligence service) headquarters in the city. Soon after the move, Schinlder met Leopold "Poldek" Pfefferberg-Page in November, 1939. Pfefferberg was to become a key figure in the Schindler legend in the decades after the War, as well as a close friend. Schindler initially contacted Pfefferberg about purchasing goods from Krakow's underground economy, and continued to work together throughout the Occupation.

In the first months of the Occupation, Polish Jews in Krakow were facing increasingly tigher laws to deprive them of their property and businesses as a way to slowly impoverish (and starve) them as a community. It was during this period of confiscation of Polish Jewish businesses by the Occupation authorities was when Schindler began the search for a business to acquire. It is thought that Schindler wanted a business to not only become wealthy, but also to serve as a front for the Abwehr. Schindler's Abwehr ties were most helpful in his search for a business in occupied Poland.

In late November of 1939, Schindler was introduced to Itzhak Stern, an experienced Polish Jewish manager familiar with Krakow's business community, by Josef "Sepp" Aue. Aue was a fellow Abwahr agent of Schindler's who had recently acquired a Jewish-owned business in Krakow called J. L. Buchheister. At the meeting, Schindler produced the financial records of a company called Rekord Ltd. and asked Stern to review them. Through his brother, Stern had in-depth knowledge of Rekord's business history and recommended to Schindler that he rent or purchase the company outright, instead of operating it as a Trustee for the Third Reich (known as a "Treuhander"). It is important to note that if Schindler controlled the company, he would have a freer hand to hire Polish Jews for the factory as essential workers for industrial war production.

The next time Schindler and Stern met was in early December of 1939. At this meeting, Schindler warned Stern about an upcoming SS roundup of Polish Jews (known as an "Aktion"). Given that Schinlder was part of the occupying Nazi administration, Stern did not believe him. However, the very next day, the SS engaged in an Aktion, confirming Schindler's warning to Stern as accurate. Schinlder's willingness to share with Stern secret information about future SS raids helped to build the trust between the two. It is worth noting at this point that Schindler's success in running his business in occupied Poland was possible because of the skilled managerial help he had from a number of Polish Jews drawn from Krakow's business community, primarily Abraham Bankier. Incidentally, when Schindler was in Krakow, Stern worked for two other companies (including the aforementioned J. L. Buchheister), but not under Schindler. While Stern did not work for Schindler directly, he had invaluable contacts throughout Krakow's Jewish community which was of great assistance to Schindler's operations during his time in Poland.

At about this time, it appears that Schindler had conflicts with 2 local Jewish businessmen named Natan Wurzel and Julius Weiner. It is alleged that as a result of these conflicts, Schindler had them both beaten by the SS. Later in the War, Weiner was in fact placed on the famed Schindler's List and as a result, his life was saved from the death camps. While Schindler may in fact have worked with the SS to have them beaten, it should be noted that the Schindler of late 1939 was not the same man in 1944. The Schindler of 1944 had metamorphasized into a man who was willing to risk everything he had to save as many Polish Jews as possible from the gas chambers of the SS.

As the War went on, Schindler hired more Polish Jews to work in his business. By 1944, this number had reached 1,000. Initially, he had hired Jews because they were cheaper than Polish Catholics, since the pay rates were set by the Nazi occupation authorities. But as the Holocaust was ramped up in speed by the SS during his years in Krakow, he was hiring Jews to save lives. Much of the time, Schindler was able to hire these workers due to his skill at placing bribes with the correct people in various places throughout the General Government, the Nazi occupation authority in Poland. In a time when a job meant life for the person, Schindler did not stop there. While in Krakow, he built (with his own money) a sub-camp of the Plaszow Forced Labor Camp for his Jewish workers so that they would be safe from random killings by the SS in the main slave labor camp. This sub-camp not only housed his Jewish workers, but also the Jewish workers of other nearby factories, thereby protecting them as well.