A group of Israelis who owe their lives to German industrialist Oskar Schindler visited his grave site in Jerusalem on Monday, to mark 45 years since his death.
With the number of Jews who lived through the Holocaust dwindling every year, the assembly at Mount Zion’s Catholic cemetery was made up mostly of the children of those he saved — and one lone survivor.
Ruth Sachs, 93, told Channel 13: “All my family, my parents and my brother, they all died in the Holocaust.”
But Sachs was among some 1,200 people Schindler saved from the Nazi death machine by claiming them as essential workers at his factories that were supplying ammunition to the German army.
Sachs was among a group of several hundred women workers who nearly perished after being sent to Auschwitz by mistake — as depicted in Steven Spielberg’s 1994 film “Schindler’s List.”
Once there, it was nearly impossible to convince German officials to allow them to leave. But thanks to a campaign of lobbying and bribes to officials, Schindler managed it after a few weeks.
“We didn’t believe when we got to Auschwitz that we would get out of there,” she said on Monday.
Also at the cemetery, Lea Guterman said her parents, saved by Schindler, “raised five children. Those five children reared 36 grandchildren and over 120 or 150 great-grandchildren — after 120 we stopped counting.”
And, she said to Schindler’s tombstone, “They are all yours, they are all Jews… it is all your doing.”
Schindler is a controversial figure. Before he made the decision to try to save as many Jews as possible through his business, Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, thoroughly exploited his Jewish employees. He also served as a spy for Nazi intelligence in Czechoslovakia until 1940.
He was known as greedy, a gambler, a drinker and a womanizer.
But Lily Haber, whose father was saved by Schindler, told Channel 13 his story was proof that it was impossible to categorize or stereotype people.
“He was debauched and a drinker and greedy — it’s all true,” she said. “But I’m alive thanks to him.”
Despite his complex character, he is widely regarded as a hero and was recognized by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1993 — the honor bestowed upon non-Jews who courageously saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
He died in 1974 and was buried in Jerusalem — the only former member of the Nazi party ever granted that distinction. He passed on October 9 — which this year falls on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.