Today I'm thinking about Schindler's truck and what it suggests about the moral psychology of one of the great heroes of the Holocaust.
Here's a portrayal of the truck, in the background of a famous scene from Schindler's List:image source]
Oskar Schindler, as you probably know, saved over a thousand Jews from death under the Nazis by spending vast sums of money to hire them in his factories, where they were protected. Near the end of Spielberg's movie about him, the script suggests that Schindler is broke -- that he has spent the last of his wartime slave-labor profits to save his Jewish workers, just on the very eve of German surrender:
Stern: Do you have any money hidden away someplace that I don't know about? Schindler: No. Am I broke? Stern: Uh, well...
Then there's the surrender, Schindler's speech to the factory workers, and preparations for Schindler's escape (as a hunted profiteer of slave labor).
Seeing the film, you might briefly think, what's with the truck that caravans off with Schindler? But the truck gets no emphasis in the film.
Thomas Keneally's 1982 book Schindler's Ark (on which Spielberg's 1993 film was based) tells us more about the truck:
Emilie, Oskar, and a driver were meant to occupy the Mercedes. [Seven] others would follow in a truck loaded with food and cigarettes and liquor for barter (p. 375).Also,
In one of the factory garages that afternoon, two prisoners were engaged in removing the upholstery from the ceiling and inner doors of Oskar's Mercedes, inserting small sacks of the Herr Direktor's diamonds... (p. 368).So, on Keneally's telling, Schindler drove off with a truck full of barter goods and small sacks of diamonds hidden in the upholstery -- hardly broke. On reflection, too, you might think the timing is too cinematic, the story suspiciously tidy, if Schindler goes broke just at the moment of German surrender.
Part of me wants Schindler to have gone broke, or at least not to have driven off with sacks of diamonds. A fully thoughtful Schindler would have realized, perhaps, that he was in fact a profiteer of slave labor, despite the admiration he rightly deserves for the risks he took and his enormous expenditures of (most of!) his ill-gotten profits. On this way of thinking, the wealth generated by Schindler's factories more rightly belonged to the Jews than to Schindler. I picture an alternative Schindler who realizes that and who thus retains only enough money to ensure his escape.
But another part of me thinks this is too much to hope for, that the thought "Of course I deserve to keep some of these diamonds" is so natural that no merely human Schindler would fail to have it; that in wanting Schindler not to have that thought, I am wanting an angel rather than a person.
We don't really know, though, what Schindler fled with. David M. Crowe writes:
It is hard to imagine that he still had a collection of diamonds so large that it would fill the door and ceiling cavities of a Mercedes. [N.B.: This is an uncharitable reading of Keneally's version] Emilie [Schindler's wife] totally discounted the idea that the two of them left Bruennlitz with a "fortune in diamonds," though she later admitted that Oskar did have a "huge diamond" hidden in the glove compartment (2004, p. 455).By all accounts, Schindler's remaining wealth was gone, probably stolen, by the time he surrendered to the Americans.
Still another part of me thinks: If anyone deserves diamonds, it's Schindler. It would have been justice served, not a failing, for him to keep a portion of his wealth.
These three parts of me are still at war.