In December 1939, as occupied Poland was being torn apart by the savagery of the Holocaust, Oskar Schindler, the unlikeliest of role models, took his first faltering steps from the darkness of Nazism towards the light of heroism. "If you saw a dog going to be crushed under a car," he said later of his wartime actions, "wouldn't you help him?"
Before the outbreak of war, Poland had been a relative haven for European Jews--Krakow's Jewish population numbered over 50,000. But when Germany invaded, destruction began immediately and it was merciless. Jews were herded into crowded ghettos, randomly beaten and humiliated, capriciously killed. Jewish property and businesses were summarily destroyed, or appropriated by the SS and 'sold' to Nazi 'investors', one of whom was the fast talking, womanizing, money hungry Oskar Schindler.
An ethnic German, Schindler was born April 28, 1908, in Zwittau, Austria-Hungary, what is now Moravia in the Czech Republic.
Schindler grew up with all the privileges money could buy. He was born Catholic, but from an early age he inhabited a world of sin. His exploits with women are the stuff of barroom legend.
He married Emilie Schindler at nineteen, but was never without a mistress or two. Hard drinking and feckless, he had the soul of a gambler, winning big and losing bigger. He had presided over the demise of his family business and become a salesman when opportunity came knocking in the guise of the war.
Never one to miss a chance to make money, he marched into Poland on the heels of the SS. He dived headfirst into the black-market and the underworld and soon made friends with the local Gestapo bigwigs, softening them up with women, money and illicit booze. His newfound connections helped him acquire a factory, which he ran...