Making a substantial change in the world may seem like an impossible task for an individual. Large groups and movements will often get attention for making differences in society, while the individual is forgotten and deemed irrelevant. This idea is understandable: In a world of billions of people, how can one person really make a difference? Despite this, several historical examples would seem to refute this claim. The story of Oskar Schindler is one such example. Oskar Schindler was a businessman of the Nazi Party during the Holocaust. While working for the Nazis, he used his position to save over a thousand Jews from the concentration camps. While the world may seem too vast for a single person to make a change in it, stories like that of Oskar Schindler reveal that there are always opportunities for individuals to bring positive change.
Born on April 28, 1908, Oskar Schindler led a comfortable life growing up. He was a Czech citizen, and got his education at trade schools. In 1928, he married Emilie Pelzl, and was employed in a variety of areas including his father’s farm business and a driving school. In 1938 he joined the Czech army, and from there went on to serve in German Intelligence. He became part of the Nazi party in 1939 as an ambitious businessman, looking to make money in the new regime (Holocaust Encyclopedia).
Looking for wealth, Schindler moved to Poland, going after the SS. Upon arrival, he immediately began making friends and allies among the officers and leaders of the Gestapo. After engaging in this activity for a short while, he was able to acquire what he needed for his own factory, as well as Jewish labor, which was, due to the situation in Poland, the cheapest labor one could hope for. Schindler had entered this game with no passion but that for money, but as he began running his factory on Jewish labor, his outlook on the situation began to change. By December of 1939, the Holocaust was happening in full force in Poland. The Ghettos had been established, and the Jews had lost their homes, businesses, and property. The SS began moving the Jews to death camps or into the hands of Nazi businessmen like Schindler. As the removal of Jews to death camps began to gain steam, Schindler began making increased efforts to acquire Jewish workers for his factory. With the help of his Jewish accountant, he hired hundreds of Jews, finding any way to deem their skills “essential” to the SS. His factory was a haven for the Jews: unlike any of the other places that Jews in Poland were being held, no one in Schindler’s factory was ever beaten, killed, or abused in any way (Jewish Virtual Library).
In 1942, Schindler watched as a Ghetto was emptied and the Jews were crowded on trains bound for the death camps. This was likely Schindler’s true awakening to become an active protector of the Jews. He continued to run his factory and make connections in the SS, and as Germany began losing the war and trying to send all the remaining Jews to the death camps, Schindler was able to prevent this fate for several hundred of them under the pretense that he needed them to begin manufacturing bullets for the war effort. His factory never made a single functioning bullet, as he swore he would not aid the Nazis in the war (Jewish Virtual Library). Instead, he spent his fortune that he had built up in the early days of the Holocaust in order to support his dysfunctional factory and prevent its closure by the Nazis (Bulow). BY the time the war ended, he was broke. As a member of the Nazi party, he feared being charged for war crimes, so he fled to Argentina with his wife and lived on a farm for several years before returning to Germany. He spent the rest of his life trying and failing to create new businesses before dying in 1974 (Jewish Virtual Library).
There is no doubt that Oskar Schindler brought great positive change to the world he was living in. He saved over 1,300 Jews from likely death or abuse by using his position as a Nazi businessman to manipulate the system. And Thomas Keneally said about Schindler in his book about the man, “He negotiated the salvation of his 1,300 Jews by operating right at the heart of the system using all the tools of the devil – bribery, black marketeering and lies.” The people he saved were not quiet about the hero that he was. One survivor, when asked why Schindler did it, replied “I don’t know what his motives were… But I don’t give a damn. What’s important is that he saved our lives.” (Jewish Virtual Library). He was awarded the title of “Rightous Among the Nations” in 1993, and upon his death, he was transferred to Israel to be buried in Jerusalem, on the request of some of his survivors (Holocaust Encyclopedia).
Oskar Schindler may have saved over 1,300 Jews from death, but over six million Jews died during the holocaust. With these numbers to put things in perspective, it is easy to think that perhaps one individual cannot really make a substantial difference. 1,300 is a minuscule number of people compared with the vast number that still ended up dying. However, it is important to note that Oskar Schindler was not the only individual working to save Jews during the Holocaust. All across Poland and the rest of Europe, people worked to prevent the SS from capturing Jews. Thousands escaped to Sweden with the help of locals, Swiss diplomats rescued thousands more under the protection of “Neutral Powers”, and Quakers and other religious people offered refuge for thousands in France and across the rest of Europe. It is estimated that in Warsaw alone, 20,000 Jews were being protected by individual civilians. These people were not part of a well organized group or movement. For the most part, they were working alone or with a small number of people to accomplish these deeds. Most were unable save large numbers of people by themselves, but all of these acts totaled can likely account for hundreds of thousands of lives saved (Holocaust Encyclopedia). Maybe 1,300 is not a huge difference when put in perspective with the big picture. However, if these individuals, like Oskar Schindler, had taken to heart the idea that they could do nothing to make a difference without a large group or movement to back them, hundreds of thousands of lives would have been lost. Stories like that of the heroes of the Holocaust show that the actions of one individual can make a huge difference in the world.