Testimony of Yitzhak Stern

Yitzhak Stern, May 1962, at a meeting of Schindler’s survivors with their rescuer in Israel

….One could go on and on telling about Oscar Schindler. I was asked to be brief and to speak in Yiddish. I will try to comply and speak telegraphically. But will I succeed?

I met Schindler on 18 November 1939 when he came to see his friend, the administrator of the firm we had worked for….Schindler would come from time to time to this firm. When I first met him, and he extended his hand to me, I said “I’m a Jew” – because a Jew had to announce he was a Jews when talking to a German. Schindler dismissed this and said “nonsense. Why do you say this. Why do you remind me that I’m a German. Don’t I already know it?.” Every time he visited, he would come to my office  and talk to me. More than once would people argue with me and my colleagues were afraid of Schindler and warned me not to refrain from polemics with him. I was afraid too, but there was something special about Schindler. His conduct to me was totally different from that of other Germans. Schindler’s conduct was revealed the first time when he came to the office of my firm on 4 December 1939, well dressed, very German and radiating power. Upon entering he yelled: “Tomorrow is the beginning – all the houses from the Jewish quarter to a certain point will be encircled and there will be a lot going on.” (until that time there was yet no ghetto and Jews lived all over the city.) We didn’t pay attention to what he said; we didn’t believe him; but the same night everything happened as Schindler had predicted. All Jewish homes until a certain place were encircled. They began to search for people, and many were murdered in their homes and in the synagogues. AS you probably remember, the pogrom went on for several days and Jews were forbidden to be outside. After our return to work we remembered: “Schindler had told us all about the plans, and we, stupid people, didn’t pay attention”.

The contact with Schindler was re-established on 15 March 1943. the camp of the Jews of Krakow, Plaszow, was sealed off. (the Jews were moved to the camp on 13 March 1943)….

In those days Schindler’s personality shone in all its uniqueness. Two years earlier he had already taken Jews out of death trains, at every deportation he acted endlessly on behalf of the Jews in his firm, bribed Germans spending most of his money, built a big plant and erected a camp nearby in Zablocie not only for the Jews of his firm, but for Jews from three other plants. In this camp Jews were practically free of the fear of death and daily harassment. They could communicate with the outside world in different ways. As you know, I was not in Zablocie, but we, in Plaszow, were in touch with him almost daily. He ordered supplies from all the firms in the Plaszow camp – paper, printing, carpentry, etc. In order to keep in touch with us, he would use all possible excuses regarding his orders…Schindler never opposed my propositions, even the most risky ones. He was always a partner to any plan. Never refused. And I am unable to understand this until this very day. Schindler went to Hungary, contacted the rescue committee there to save whatever was possible. He was the only German who told the Budapest rescue committee what was going on in Poland and in the occupied countries….

We arrived in Brunnlitz in October 1944. Several days later the women hadn’t yet arrived, despite the authorized list. My friends induced me to turn to Schindler to expedite their arrival. At the same time Schindler’s secretary entered. He looked at the pretty young woman, pointed at a large diamond on the ring on his finger and said “do you want this diamond?”. The young woman got excited. Schinder told her “take the list of the Jewish women, put the best food and drink in your suitcase and go to Auschwitz. You know, the commander there likes pretty girls. When you return and once the women arrive, you will get the diamond and more.” The secretary went on her way. When two days passed and she hadn’t returned, Schindler took Major Platte with him and went to Auschwitz. A few days later all the women – the wives, mothers and sisters of the men – arrived. Only my own mother was missing.

You remember when Mrs. Hofstater died. The commander Leopold ordered her body to be cremated in Kastelhaus. I turned to Schindler and he didn’t hesitate. He arranged everything so that she could be buried according to Jewish tradition, although it involved great danger. It was Sunday, but nevertheless he went to the next town, and after great efforts, using all his personal charm and an important sum of money, managed to convince the local priest and municipality to sell him a parcel in the Christian cemetery. He put a fence around it and established a Jewish cemetery for one Jewish woman who had died a natural death. The same day a Jewish funeral was held, and Rabbi Levertov with ten men made all the traditional prayers at the express wish of Schindler. He ordered a coffin to be made with the most expensive wood, and put a sign inside which gave all the details. It was the only establishment of a Jewish cemetery in occupied Europe….

And who doesn’t remember the case of J. Dresdener? Today he is a dentist in Tel Aviv. Janek Dresdner was a young boy at our time in Brunnlitz. One night he played with an expensive machine that was producing for the German war effort. He switched it on incorrectly and caused a breakdown and general short circuit. The Germans viewed this as sabotage. Dresdner and his family’s fate was sealed. Our rescuer, Schindler, was absent. As we had expected, the German engineers made reports about the incident to the Gestapo, the mother camp and the SS. I managed to learn of it and prevent the letters from being sent by simply pulling them out of the office. Two days later I was found out and the director, Engineer Schoenborn, was furious. I convinced him to wait for Schindler’s arrival. Schindler took the news about the loss of tens of thousands of Marks to his plant with stoic indifference. Only a noble and kind hearted man is able to react this way to loosing so much money. This was when I greatly admired the Man Schindler. He even found a tricky way to save Dresdner and his family. Dresdner’s punishment was a reprimand!

I cannot end my talk without mentioning the rescue of 107 Jews from the “lost” train boxcars. It was in Brunnlitz on a night in January 1945. At the time of freezing cold of minus 30 degrees we received message that a sealed train with sick Jewish inmates from the Goleszow camp near Auschwitz  are at the Zwittau railway station. The train had been on its way for several weeks, and no one was willing to take them in. Schindler and his wife didn’t hesitate for one minute and acted immediately. They bribed the train people near the camp.

The wagons were frozen and it was impossible to open them. After a great deal of effort they were opened and inside were sick and half frozen people. One hundred people who resembled skeletons much more than human beings. Eighteen of them were dead. When the wagons were opened, we were shocked. According to Schindler’s instructions, rabbi Levertov arranged their burial in the cemetery I had told about earlier. Schindler didn’t only fatherly take care of the survivors, who had been abandoned and persecuted, but also respected their feeling and took care of the dead. He was devoted to them at a time when none of us could even think about it.

Although they were like skeletons, all dirty, black and smelly, the people from Goleszow survived. They were frozen and starved. Mrs. Schindler didn’t shy away from the dirt and stench and personally helped and took care of the sick. Mrs. Schindler and her husband turned the storerooms into a hospital where all the one hundred were put. Thanks to this devoted care they slowly returned to life. Mrs. Schinlder went far distances in the cold in order to obtain medicine and the adequate food for these sick people.

Brothers. In the Hebrew language there are three terms, three grades: person, man, human being. I believe there is a fourth one: ‘Schindler’.