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Oscar Schindler

What did Schindler do to improve human rights?

   At Schindler’s factory, workers were not beaten, murdered, or sent to death camps. Conditions at the factory were, however, far from comfortable. Freezing, lice-ridden inmates still suffered typhus and dysentery.

   Yet by manipulating the black market, Schindler managed to provide them unthinkable luxuries: He spent a fortune greasing the palms of powerful SS men and bribed the Nazis to get food and better treatment for his Jews, rudimentary medical care, a decent burial ground for the Jewish dead. He even let his Jews bake Passover matzohs (unleavened bread) in the factory ovens.

   In those years, millions of Jews died in Polish camps like Auschwitz, but Schindler’s Jews miraculously remained in Plaszów right up to 1944.

   The Nazis ordered Schindler’s factory shut down, and he had no illusions as to what that would entail. Desperately he exerted his influence on his contacts in both military and industrial circles in Kraków and Warsaw and finally went to Berlin to save his Jews from a certain death. With his life at stake, he employed all his powers of persuasion, bribed uninhibitedly, fought, and begged.

   Where no-one would have believed it possible, Schindler succeeded. He was granted permission to move the whole of his factory from Plaszów to Zwittau-Brunnlitz (his hometown) in then occupied Czechoslovakia and, furthermore unheard of, take all his workers with him. In this way, the 1,098 workers who had been written on Schindler’s list in connection with the removal avoided sharing the fate of the other 25,000 men, women and children of Plaszów who were sent without mercy to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, only 60 kilometres from Plaszów.

   The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that people are entitled to: the right to life and living in safety, the right to not be hurt or tortured, the right to practise and observe all aspects of one's religion (among others). These stated rights were clearly violated in World War Two and Schindler proved an advocate for and a forerunner of the ideology inherent in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That Schindler saved the lives of around 1,200 Jews speaks for itself.

Map of Poland showing Auschwitz (also called Oświęcim) and Kraków.  Plaszów is not marked, but is ten kilometres from Kraków.

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