فصل 04

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فصل 04

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Mercy Is Forgotten

Late one afternoon in 1942, when the rest of the family were at work, Mrs Clara Dresner heard a knock at the door of her family’s crowded room in the ghetto. She hesitated - life was too uncertain to allow people to be friendly - but she knew there would be trouble if she ignored an official at her door. But instead of someone from the Judenrat, or even an SS officer, Mrs Dresner was surprised to see two Polish peasants and Genia, the daughter of her cousin, Eva.

Genia’s parents had left her in the country with these poor farmers because they believed she would be safe there, but now even the countryside was as dangerous as the ghetto. The old Polish couple were very fond of the little girl and had treated her like a special grandchild, but neither they nor Genia were safe while the SS offered cash for every Jew who was betrayed.

Genia, always dressed in the red cap, red coat and small red boots which the peasants had lovingly given her, settled into her new life and did as she was told without question. Mrs Dresner’s only concern was how strangely careful the three-year-old was about what she said, who she looked at and how she reacted to any movements around her.

The Dresner family tried to make conversation about ‘Redcap’s’ real parents because they wanted the little girl to relax and feel at home with them. The parents had been hiding in the countryside too, but now planned to return to the relative safety of the Krakow ghetto. The child nodded as Danka, Mrs Dresner’s teenage daughter, talked, but she kept quiet.

‘I used to go shopping for dresses with your mother, Eva. Then we would go to a lovely tea shop and have delicious cakes. Eva always let me have hot chocolate too.’

Genia did not smile or look at anyone. ‘Miss, you are mistaken,’ she said. ‘My mother’s name is not Eva. It’s Jasha.’ She gave the names of the other people in her fictional family and explained where she was from. The Dresners frowned at each other but understood that this false history, which the peasants had taught her, might save her life one day.

It was 28 April 1942, Oskar Schindler’s thirty-fourth birthday, and he celebrated like a rich, successful businessman - loudly and expensively. A party atmosphere spread throughout the departments of DEF as Oskar provided rare white bread with the workers’ soup and plenty of wine for his engineers, accountants and office workers. He passed out cigarettes and cake, and later a small group of Polish and Jewish men and women, representing the factory workers, entered the director’s office to give him their best wishes.

Oskar, feeling very happy on his special day, shook hands and even kissed one of the girls.

That afternoon someone reported Herr Schindler to the authorities with a charge more serious than making money on the black market. This time Oskar was accused of a racial crime; no one could deny that he was a Jew-kisser.

He was arrested on 29 April and rushed off to Montelupich prison, an even more frightening place than Pomorska prison, where he had been taken previously. Oskar knew that he could not expect a civilized chat with an SS officer or a comfortable bedroom and good food at Montelupich. As he was led into a small dark cell with two narrow beds and two buckets on the floor - one for water and one for waste - Oskar just hoped that he would get out of this place alive and unharmed.

The door was locked behind him and after Oskar’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was not alone.

‘Welcome, sir,’ said an SS officer. Oskar was careful now. It was likely that this man was here to spy on him, but with nothing else to do, the two Germans eventually began to talk. Oskar acted surprised by the man’s complaints against the SS - they were cruel, greedy murderers - but he was determined not to share his own opinions of them. He desperately wanted a drink; a certain amount of alcohol would make the time go faster and make his companion seem more normal.

Oskar banged on the cell bars and called for a guard. ‘Is it possible to order five bottles of whisky? Here’s the money.’

‘Five bottles, sir?’ asked the guard.

‘Yes, my friend and I would like a bottle each as we’re enjoying a rare opportunity for good conversation. I hope that you and your colleagues will accept the other bottles as a gift from me. And could I ask you to call my secretary and give her this list of names? I’m sure a man in your position has the power to make a routine phone call for a prisoner.’

‘Are you crazy?’ asked the SS officer when the guard had walked away. ‘Bribing a guard is more dangerous than kissing a Jew!’

‘We’ll see,’ said Oskar calmly, but he was frightened.

The whisky arrived and helped Oskar through his five anxious days in Montelupich. In the end his important friends got him released again, but before he left, he was called into the office of Rolf Czurda, head of the Krakow Special Duty groups.

‘Oskar,’ said Czurda, as an old friend, ‘we give you those Jewish girls to work in your factory. You should kiss us, not them.’

‘You’re right, but it was my birthday.’

Czurda shook his head. ‘Oskar, don’t be a fool. The Jews don’t have a future, I assure you. The extinction of the Jews is part of our official programme, and your important friends might not be able to save you if something like this happens again.’

By the summer of 1942 any idea of the ghetto being a small but permanent community had gone. There was no longer a post office, a newspaper, a restaurant or even a school. The Nazis made it clear that the ghetto would not be there for long.

Everyone in the ghetto had to have a yellow identity card with a photo and a large blue ‘J’ for Jew. If you were lucky, you would get the Blauschein, or blue stamp, attached to your card to prove that you had an essential job outside the ghetto. Without the Blauschein, life became even riskier than before.

Leopold Pfefferberg continued to live by doing favours for Oskar, by buying and selling on the black market and by teaching the children of Symche Spira, chief of the Jewish ghetto police. Because he had this job, Pfefferberg expected to get the Blauschein with no trouble when he went to the Labour Office, but the clerks refused to give him the stamp. ‘Teacher’ was not an approved profession for a Jew, and no one wanted to listen to Pfefferberg’s arguments about why he was an important worker.

As he came out of the office Pfefferberg was stopped by a group of German Security Police, who asked to see his identity card.

‘No Blauschein? You join that line. Understand, Jew?’ shouted one of the policemen.

Pfefferberg began to argue again, but was pushed into a line of people who, like him, did not have the precious blue stamp. When the line had grown to more than a hundred, it was marched around the corner into a yard where hundreds more people were already waiting. At fairly regular intervals, a policeman would enter the yard with a list and take a group of people to the railway station. Most people tried to stand at the edge of the yard, to stay away from the police, but Pfefferberg stayed at the front, near the gate.

Beside the guards’ hut he saw a thin, sad-looking teenager in a Jewish ghetto police uniform. He was the brother of one of Pfefferberg’s students. The boy looked up. ‘Mr Pfefferberg, sir,’ he whispered with respect, ‘what are you doing here?’

‘It’s nonsense,’ said Pfefferberg, ‘but I haven’t got a blue stamp.’

‘Follow me, sir,’ the boy said quietly. He led the former teacher to a senior officer and lied, ‘This is Herr Pfefferberg from the Judenrat. He has been visiting relatives.’ Without looking up, the officer waved Pfefferberg through the gate.

He could not turn and thank the teenager with sad eyes and a thin neck for saving his life without putting both the boy and himself in danger. Instead Pfefferberg rushed straight back to the Labour Office and used his charm to talk the girl behind the desk into giving him a Blauschein. When he came out, he was no longer a teacher with a good education. His identity card now said he was a metal polisher, an essential worker.

Early one morning the following week, one of Oskar’s office girls phoned the director before he had left his apartment.

‘Herr Schindler, there’s an emergency. I saw Mr Bankier and about a dozen more of our workers being marched out of the ghetto towards the train station when I was coming to work.’

Oskar hurried to the station and found the railway yard full of boxcars and the station crowded with people from the ghetto. He was shocked because he knew what it meant: the Jews in the yard were there for their final journey.

‘Have you seen Bankier?’ Oskar asked the first person he recognized, a jeweller from the ghetto.

‘He’s already in one of the boxcars, Herr Schindler.’

‘Where are they taking you?’

‘To a labour camp, they say. Near Lublin. Probably no worse than here,’ said the jeweller. Oskar gave the man a pack of cigarettes and some money from his pocket before hurrying off.

Oskar remembered an invitation for bids for the construction of crematoria in a camp near Lublin in an SS publication the previous year. Even in the summer of 1942 Oskar did not want to guess at the connection between the people in this railway yard and those very large ovens. Instead he concentrated on Bankier and rushed along the boxcars calling out his name.

A young SS officer stopped him and asked for his official pass.

‘I’m looking for my workers,’ Schindler insisted. ‘This is crazy. I have military contracts, and I need my workers in order to meet the needs of the German army.’

‘You can’t have them back,’ said the young man. ‘They’re on the list.’ The officer knew the rules: everyone became equal when their name was on the list.

‘I don’t want to argue about the list,’ said Oskar. ‘Where is your senior officer?’

Oskar walked up to the young man’s superior, mentioned the names of a few important friends and ended by saying, ‘I believe I can guarantee that you will be in southern Russia by next week.’

The senior officer told the driver to delay leaving the station, then he and the other officer hurried alongside the train with Oskar. At last they found Bankier and a dozen DEF workers in a boxcar near the end of the train. The door was unlocked and Oskar’s employees quietly jumped down.

Schindler thanked the senior officer and began to follow his workers, but the SS man stopped him. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘it makes no difference to us. We’ll put another dozen Jews on the train. Do you really think your workers are important? It’s the inconvenience of the list, that’s all.’

Bankier admitted that he and the others had failed to pick up blue stamps for their identity cards. ‘How could you be so stupid?’ shouted Oskar. He was not so upset with his workers, but the whole scene at the train station had made him feel sick and angry.

By June of 1942 no one knew who to trust either inside or outside the ghetto. Children stopped talking if they heard a noise on the stairs; adults woke up from bad dreams and saw that they were living in a worse one. Fierce rumours met them in their rooms, on the street, on the factory floor: children were being taken off to be shot, or drowned, or operated on; old people were closed up in abandoned salt mines. Perhaps they believed they could prevent the rumours from becoming true if they spoke them out loud. That June, unfortunately, the worst rumour became a fact, and Oskar and Ingrid were witnesses.

The handsome German lovers hired horses early one summer morning and rode off into the hills above the city. They stopped after a good ride and looked down into the ghetto. At first they were confused by what they saw, but soon they began to understand. A group of SS men, working with dogs, were going from house to house and forcing everyone out into the street.

Oskar noticed that two lines kept forming in Wegierska Street: one, with healthy-looking adults, did not move; the other, with the old, the very young and the weak, was regularly marched away into another street and moved out of sight. Families were divided and could do nothing about it; Oskar understood what this meant.

The couple on horses moved on to a place where they could see a different street. They watched as a line made up of a few women and many more children was led towards the train station. They noticed a slow-moving little child dressed in a small red coat and cap at the end of the line. The bright colour caught Oskar’s eye; it made a statement about the child’s love for red, but also about an individual life. A young SS man kept the little girl in line with the others with an occasional gentle touch on her arm. Oskar and Ingrid felt a brief sense of relief, thinking that these children would be treated kindly, but it did not last long.

They became aware of terrible noises from the surrounding streets. The SS teams with dogs were now going through every building a second time and chasing on to the pavement the men, women and children who had hidden in basements or cupboards, inside wardrobes or behind walls during the first search. As they reached the street, screaming and crying in terror of the dogs and guns, they were shot and left there. Schindler could see a mother and her thin son, perhaps eight years old, hiding behind some rubbish bins. He felt an uncontrollable fear for them and saw that Ingrid had seen them too, and was crying beside him.

With a terrible sense of alarm Oskar searched the streets for little Redcap. When his eyes found her, he realized that she and the others in her line could see the murders taking place on the next street. The horror of these actions was made much worse because witnesses had been permitted. Redcap stopped and turned to watch as the SS men shot the woman behind the bin, and one of the men, when the boy fell to the ground crying, put his boot down on the child’s head and shot him in the back of the neck.

Little Redcap stared, but the kindly SS guard moved her forward again. Oskar could not understand this gentleness, since he, and somehow even the child, knew that mercy had been cancelled on the next street. If they permitted witnesses, those witnesses would not survive. Oskar knew that this scene would be happening over and over again throughout the German territories, carried out by SS men with official orders from the Nazi government.

More than 7,000 people were cleared from the ghetto during that weekend in June, and at the Gestapo office the Aktion was declared a great success. Oskar later remembered his own feelings and told people: ‘Beyond this day, no thinking person could fail to see what would happen. I decided at that moment to do everything in my power to defeat the system.’

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