"It wasn't Schindler's list. It was Mr. and Mrs. Schindler's list."
Emilie Schindler, née Pelzl, b. 1907-10-22 in Alt Moletein, Austro-Hungarian Empire, d. 2001-10-05 in Berlin, Germany. Wife of Oskar Schindler and his collaborator in rescuing Jews from the Nazis.
Emilie, born into a well-off German family in the Bohemian border country, met Oskar Schindler when he was a still travelling salesman selling electric motors in 1928. Her first taste of a marriage that she would more or less keep together herself came when Oscar blew the generous dowry given by Emilie's father and sank back into relative poverty. Nonetheless, and despite Oskar's womanising and wasteful habits, she remained faithful to him until he left her in 1957. As their fortunes turned, Oskar joined the NSDAP in hope of getting a piece of the pie and ultimately followed the SS into Poland. Soon after that, Emilie joined him in Krakow where Oskar ran two factories producing goods for the Wehrmacht.
Given the character of the two and Emilie's recollection of being admonished about her Jewish friends, it's not unlikely that she was the driving force behind the couple's work of sheltering Polish Jews under the pretence of using them as labourers. Oskar, having bribed his way from black marketeer to industrialist, was a kind and generous person but also a gambler, conscientious and poker-faced while he played out his hand. Emilie probably dealt the hand and backed it with her fortune and enormous amounts of personal time and personal risk before Oskar's personal experiences turned him from easy-going opportunist into obsessive anti-Nazi desperate to rescue "his" people while the stakes became higher.
"I think she triumphed over danger because of her courage, intelligence and determination to do the right and humane thing. She had immense energy and she was
like a mother." --Feigel Wichter, Jewish survivor
The incident she is most recognised for is single-handedly diverting a trainload of about 320 emaciated Jews from certain death in the concentration camp to the second factory in Brunnlitz near the end of the war and nursing them back to relative health as much as one woman could.
"Each had to be carried out like a carcass of frozen beef."
This daring rescue by persuading the Nazi officials of the ludicrous notion that they would put those living dead to work is only now being widely acknowledged by historians. In her biography by Argentine historian Erika Rosenberg, where she herself told her story, she claimed the right to be put on equal terms with her husband. She was also disappointed by the lack of mention of her role in Schindler's List and said the list itself was compiled by neither of them but by other people. Some lawsuits over the list itself and the film were considered and settled.
After the war and the refusal of the United States to allow the Schindlers to immigrate because of Oskar's past membership of the Nazi party, they fled Germany for Argentina for fear of reprisals because of their involvement in sheltering and rescuing Jews. Until she left Argentina in 2001, first the Schindlers and then Emilie were under police guard. She received support from grateful survivors of the famous List as well as Jewish organizations, and pensions from Israel and Germany, near the end of her life also from Argentina which awarded her the highest decoration possible for a foreigner.
From the time Oskar left her with the money from their mortgage and returned to Germany in 1957 ("He must have had some redeeming virtue but now that he's dead I'm sure never to find out what it may have been," she's quoted as saying in 1996) until falling ill in November 2000 she lived alone on a small farm south of Buenos Aires surrounder by her cats, dogs and roses. After falling and breaking her hip she entered a nursing home, her hip replacement operation and care were paid for by charities and a group of Argentinians lead by players of the River Plate football team. Her final wish, however, at the age of 93, was to spend her last years in Germany.
In July 2001 she finally managed to visit Germany after being invited by a Berlin school bearing Oskar's name. Her wish to end her life in Germany became known and the Bavarian state arranged for her free accommodation in a home in small town in Bavaria. The day before she was to be taken there, she suffered a stroke and was taken to a Berlin hospital where, ten weeks later, she died.
"We only did what we had to."
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung