Faces on Faith: Let’s be ‘Unlikely Heroes’
In the late 1990’s I was fortunate to be with other pilgrims visiting the holy sites in Israel. Like tens of thousands before me, I was profoundly and deeply moved in my spirit as I walked in the footsteps of Abraham and Jesus.
The Hebrew and New Testament scriptures came to life as we read familiar passages while standing on ancient and holy ground.
Our hearts were ‘strangely warmed’ and our appreciation for the rich faith traditions born in this ‘land of promise’ often gave way to songs of joyful praise to God.
One site we visited is not found in the pages of scripture or the traditions of faith, but I was overwhelmed with emotion as I pondered the life and heroism of the name on the tombstone Oskar Schindler.
Our guide told us that his is one of the most visited graves in Jerusalem. This German factory-owner and Nazi Party member is credited with saving the lives of 1,098 Jews during the Second World War.
His humble grave in the Catholic cemetery on the southern slope of Mount Zion is visited by Jews, Christians and people of no religious faith. We, like many others, placed our small rocks and pebbles on the stone slab bearing his name.
Oskar was a complex and conflicted person and is described by one author as an “unlikely hero.”
In 1939, the year Germany invaded Poland, Oskar moved to Krakow, and having purchased two manufacturing companies, he took advantage of the cheap Jewish labor from the Krakow ghetto.
Witnessing the Nazi killings and deportation of Jewish people, he was motivated to save his workers by moving them to a safe place in his native land of Czechoslovakia.
The intensity of his efforts to rescue the Jews became the compelling dynamic in his life. He used his factory as a cover for not only rescuing his employees but other Jews as well; often putting his own life in jeopardy.
In the movie, Schindler’s List, there is a poignant scene where he regrets not having done more:
Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d justI could have got more.
Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Schindler: If I’d made more moneyI threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just
Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Schindler: I didn’t do enough!
Stern: You did so much.
Schindler: (looking at his car) This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. (removing a Nazi pen from lapel) This pen. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. He would have given me one. One more. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. I could have gotten one more personand I didn’t! And II didn’t! (sobs)
I’ve read that today there are more than seven thousand descendants of the ‘Schindler Jews’ living all over the world.
This one individual was a living example of all that is good in people decency, love, goodness, and compassion expressed in the midst of the dark night and living hell of the holocaust.
His biographers have not identified anything in his prior life suggesting the magnitude of his heroic deeds.
He was, in so many ways, an ordinary and somewhat conflicted person who did the extraordinary.
How fortunate we are to have the witness of people like Oskar Schindler to remind us that we too can be unlikely heroes.