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Oskar Schindler

The history of the modern world and Australia from 1918 to the present, with an emphasis on Australia in its global context.
Key inquiry question #1: 
What were the consequences of World War II? How did these consequences shape the modern world?

Content Summary

Students investigate in depth ONE school-developed topic drawn from the content presented in the Stage 5 overviews, 'The Making of the Modern World' or 'The Modern World and Australia':

  • The Holocaust

Background Notes for teachers

Schindler the man

Oskar Schindler was born in 1908 in Zwittau. This area of Czechoslovakia was part of a territorial dispute with Germany, who called this the Sudetenland. The area was inhabited by a large proportion of ethnic Germans, like Schindler. After World War I they developed nationalist sympathies towards union with Germany. In September and October 1938, following demands by Hitler, the area was ceded to Germany by Chamberlain under the Munich Agreement. However Hitler then went on to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

The unrest in Europe provided opportunities for a charismatic businessman like Schindler. He joined the Nazi party in February 1939 and developed contacts in the party leadership. He even provided information for German Intelligence. When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Schindler followed and took advantage of the confiscation of Jewish businesses by the Nazis. In Krakow he took over a Jewish family's apartment and then took control of a run-down Jewish enamelware factory, renaming it Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik (German Enamel Goods Factory), or DEF.

Probably for reasons of economy and profitability, Schindler used mostly forced Jewish labourers from the nearby walled Ghetto created by the Nazis at Krakow.

Between March 1942 and the final 'liquidation' of the Krakov Ghetto in March 1943, thousands of Jews were gradually deported from it to surrounding concentration camps. SS oficer Amon Goeth organised the last deportations which closed the ghetto down. and from which eight thousand fit workers were taken to the Plazow Labour Camp, still in Poland. Others were killed in the streets or sent to Auschwitz and gassed.

Among those sent to Plaszow were Schindler's workers. Somehow Schindler bribed or persuaded the SS to have DEF as a sub-camp of Plaszow and in November 1943 he got further permission to keep the Jewish workers in a barracks on site, rather than marched daily from the concentration camp. Here he managed to shield the Jews in his factory from abuses and arbitrary execution.

As the war progressed, the Russians advanced in the East and Plaszow Concentration Camp was planned to close before their arrival. This meant that all the internees in the camp would be murdered. Schindler obtained permission from authorities in Berlin to move his workers from Polish Plaszow to Brunnlitz in Czechoslovakia and establish DEF as a munitions factory instead. Lists were drawn up (immortalised in the film Schindler's List) to select the 'essential workers' needed for this factory. In this way about 1,100 people were saved from extermination.

Schindler now spent the remainder of the fortune he had amassed during the war on black market food and medicines for his workers and various bribes for officials and guards. In May 1945 the Russians reached Brunnlitz and Schindler fled into Germany. After the war Schindler failed in a number of businesses. He died in Germany in 1974.

The List

Lists of the workers required by Schindler's factory were compiled and given to the authorities of the concentration camps. This list gives their names, dates of birth and skill or trade. Several lists were made during the war as the protected population changed, but so far only two are known to have survived. One was found in 1999 amongst Schindler's papers.

This particular list is the second list known and in 2009 it was recognised among papers donated by Australian author Thomas Keneally to the State Library of New South Wales. The list was given to him when he was being lobbied by a Holocaust survivor to write a story of Schindler. Keneally won the Booker Prize in 1982 with Schindler's Ark (published in the USA as Schindler's List). Later Steven Spielberg turned it into the Oscar winning movie Schindler's List. There is some dispute about whether Schindler actually had a hand in compiling the lists, as depicted in the film, but the lists would certainly have been requested by him. 

Student Activities

Schindler's List

Students learn about Oskar Schindler and his efforts in the war to save thousands of Jews from extermination and compare the real life events with the script from the screen adaptation of Schindler's list.

Number of set tasks: 1

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum History K - 10

A student:

  • HT5-1 explains and assesses the historical forces and factors that shaped the modern world and Australia
  • HT5-2 sequences and explains the significant patterns of continuity and change in the development of the modern world and Australia
  • HT5-3 explains and analyses the motives and actions of past individuals and groups in the historical contexts that shaped the modern world and Australia
  • HT5-4 explains and analyses the causes and effects of events and developments in the modern world and Australia
  • HT5-6 uses relevant evidence from sources to support historical narratives, explanations and analyses of the modern world and Australia
  • HT5-7 explains different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the modern world and Australia
  • HT5-9 applies a range of relevant historical terms and concepts when communicating an understanding of the past
  • HT5-10 selects and uses appropriate oral, written, visual and digital forms to communicate effectively about the past for different audiences

Students:

Analysis and use of sources

  • identify the origin, content, context and purpose of primary and secondary sources (ACHHS169, ACHHS187)
  • process and synthesise information from a range of sources as evidence in an historical argument (ACHHS170, ACHHS188)
  • evaluate the reliability and usefulness of primary and secondary sources for a specific historical inquiry (ACHHS171, ACHHS189)

Perspectives and interpretations

  • identify and analyse the reasons for different perspectives in a particular historical context (ACHHS172, ACHHS173, ACHHS190, ACHHS191)
  • recognise that historians may interpret events and developments differently (ACHHS173, ACHHS191)

Empathetic understanding

  • interpret history within the context of the actions, values, attitudes and motives of people in the context of the past (ACHHS172, ACHHS173, ACHHS190, ACHHS191)

Research

  • identify, locate, select and organise information from a variety of sources, including ICT and other methods (ACHHS168, ACHHS186)

Explanation and communication

  • develop historical texts, particularly explanations and historical arguments that use evidence from a range of sources (ACHHS174, ACHHS188, ACHHS192)
  • select and use a range of communication forms, such as oral, graphic, written and digital, to communicate effectively about the past for different audiences and different purposes (ACHHS175, ACHHS193)
  • Significance: the importance of an event, development, group or individual and their impact on their times and/or later periods
  • Contestability: how historians may dispute a particular interpretation of an historical source, event or issue

Learning across the curriculum

  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Ethical understanding
  • Information and communication technology capability
  • Intercultural understanding
  • Literacy