Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, June 8, 2009

His Last Pfennig for the Natural Law

OSKAR SCHINDLER was an unlikely hero, an ordinary man that walked about in an unlikely time and unlikely place for heroes, burdened with feet of clay. His early life was inauspicious. Oskar Schindler was born to a German Catholic family living in the Sudetenland on April 28, 1908, at Zwitau in the province of Moravia (today in the Czech Republic). He grew up bourgeois: enjoying the comfortable if shallow life of a typical middle-class family. He attended German elementary school and secondary school in Zwitau, progressing to the Hoheres Realgymnasium (a technical school) from where he was expelled for forging his grade report. Though he returned and ultimately graduated, he was called "Schindler the crook." He did not seek admission to any college or university, though he studied at various trade schools.

Schindler anticipated walking in the bourgeois shoes of his father, Hans Schindler, who ran the family's farm machinery plant. But the father, who was an alcoholic and profligate, and son got crosswise. A supporter of Konrad Henlein's Sudeten German Party, the Sudetendeutsche Partei, Schindler supported the annexation of the Sudetenland into Germany. This, as well as his irresponsible lifestyle, put him at odds with the Czech authorities. He frequently spent time in jail for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. He was also engaged in espionage on behalf of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence agency. When the Sudetenland was incorporated into Nazi Germany, Schindler became a member of the Nazi Party. This is not the stuff of which heroes are made.

Schindler saw an opportunity shortly after World War II broke out in September 1939. Then thirty-one years of age, Oskar Schindler moved to Kraków in Poland. That historical city had a thriving Jewish population of perhaps as many as 60,000 Jews. It was also the administrative seat of the German occupation. The German presence was viewed as potentially profitable, and all manner of young German entrepreneurs, including Schindler, hoped to make their fortunes there at the expense of the subjugated population who offered the prospect of cheap labor costs and high profits.

Schindler was opportunistic. His cunning business acumen was little bound by scruples. He soon found himself owner of a enamelware factory in Zabolcie outside of Kraków that had once been owned by a Jew, and which he renamed Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik. His entertainment of the black-uniformed SS and grey-uniformed Wehrmacht leadership paid off. He acquired a contract to provide the German army with kitchenware, and the business took off. In three months' time, he employed over 250 workers. By 1942, Schindler's operations had expanded into a vast enamel and ammunition production plant. Its facilities occupied 45,000 square meters, and it employed almost 800 laborers, 370 of whom were Jews from the Kraków ghetto established by the Germans and to which the Jews were relegated.

The success fanned the fuel of the passions of the unlikely hero. His Catholicism but a thin veneer, Schindler's hedonism seemed to be what drove him--he was a drunk, a gambler, a womanizer and philanderer, a profligate. He developed questionable relationships with high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht and the SS, which would later come in handy. He was a war profiteer, set apart by his unusually humane treatment of his workers, not excluding the Jews. But this was all to change.

As the Nazi persecution of the Jewish population in
Kraków intensified, and their treatment at the hands of the government became more brutal, Schindler developed an internal revulsion against the Nazi regime. Slowly, yet ineluctably, the war-profiteer developed a sense of mission. He developed the intent to do all he could do to rescue as many Jews from the Nazi death camps and the Nazi thugs that acted under the color of law. It was a private mission, a courtship with the Natural Law, a dance beyond the law of the land that would require all his wiles, would place him in great personal danger, and would eventually consume all his wealth. It would also make him personally responsible for saving the lives of 1200 Jews, whose flesh would otherwise have provided the unconscionable fuel for the Nazi ovens of death at Auschwitz.

Schindler’s plan was simple. He would characterize his company and the Jewish workers that worked in it as essential to the German war effort. This not only landed him lucrative military contracts, but also allowed him to employ Jewish workers that were under the jurisdiction of the SS. He was thus able to insulate a great number of them from deportation to Auschwitz. He also did not balk at falsifying records by listing people (including children) to be employees when they were not, attributing to his employees expertise they did not have, or listing unqualified or incapacitated workers as healthy.

The behavior was not without its danger. Several times he was arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated about legal and financial irregularities, and his favoring of the Jew. But his charm somehow managed to get him off.

In his book The Book of the Just, Eric Silver relates a typical example of Schindler's techniques:

Two Gestapo men came to his office and demanded that he hand over a family of five who had bought forged Polish identity papers. "Three hours after they walked in," Schindler said, "two drunk Gestapo men reeled out of my office without their prisoners and without the incriminating documents they had demanded."
Eric Silver, The Book of the Just (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1992).

In March 1943, the Germans ordered the Krakow ghetto shut down. The Germans intended all the Jews from the ghetto to move to a forced labor camp of Plaszów, outside of Kraków. Somehow, Schindler got the brutal commandant of that camp, the SS-Haupsturmführer Amon Göth, to allow him to run a camp at his factory site in Zablocie. There, the Jews were provided with tolerable conditions, and their diet was supplemented with food that Schindler acquired in the black market with his own funds. Though the factory was under the constant watch of the SS guards, Schindler managed to have the factory declared out of bounds, and so he avoided scrutiny.

In the face of the Russian advance in late 1944, Plaszów and its sub-camps had to be evacuated. Most of these inmates were sent to extermination camps. Schindler managed to obtain a reprieve from the authorities for his workers so that they could be employed in a missile and grenade factory he had set up in Brünnlitz, in his native Sudetenland. So it was that he developed his "Schindler's List," a list which included his entire work force from Zablocie (and a host of other names from the Plaszow camp that were secretly added). Through sheer bribery, Schindler thus managed to save 1700 Jews from certain death.

In another striking example of their heroism, Oskar Schindler and his wife, Emilie, were able to save 120 male Jewish prisoners from Goleszow, a sub-camp of Auschwitz. The men had been working for an SS-operated company at a quarry. In the bitter cold, these men were evacuated from Geleszow as the Russians approached in January 1945. They were herded into rail road cars without food or water. After a seven-day journey, these men ended up at Brünnlitz. When Schindler learned of it, he persuaded the SS to leave with them the 107 prisoners who were still alive. They provided medical care to them. They managed to get permission to bury the 13 prisoners who had frozen to death, with full Jewish rituals, at a plot of land the Schindlers acquired near the Catholic cemetery.

In the final days of the war, Schindler, the once wealthy magnate, was destitute. It is estimated that he spent the entirety of his fortune, perhaps as much as 4 million Reichsmarks. (approximately $1 million 1940 dollars). He never really recovered his fortunes. And his life after the war was unremarkable, even filled with failure. It was as if this man had spent all his talent along with his money for his Schindlerjude, and had left none for himself.

Schindler moved from Regensburg, then Munich. Eventually, he survived by receiving assistance from Jewish organizations. He moved to Argentina in 1948, but is business went bankrupt. He left his wife in 1957 to return to Germany. There he went through a number of unsuccessful businesses. He died of a heart attack on October 9, 1974. He was 66 years old at the time of his death. Toward the end of his life, his Catholic faith became more important to him. He is buried in the Catholic Franciscans' cemetery at Mount Zion in Jerusalem. His grave marker states: "Der Unvergessliche Lebenretter 1200 Verfolgter Juden," "The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 12oo Persecuted Jews." The Hebrew, חסידי אומות העולם‎, Chasidei ummot ha-olam, means "A Righteous Man Among the Nations." Stones are placed upon the grave by Jewish visitors, as a sign of gratitude.

He is an unforgettable hero to the Schindlerjude, the "Schindler Jews" that he saved. But he is a hero to anyone that believes that in the Natural Law, a law that survives though the State may act as if it does not. It is not many men that bet money on the Natural Law against the law of the State. Schindler did. Schindler traded his last Reichspfennig for the Natural Law. In the eyes of the bourgeois, the pragmatist, it was a bad investment. But in the eyes of the divine economy, and in the eyes of the Schindlerjude he saved, and in the eyes of all men of good will, it was the best investment he ever made. May we never forget it.

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