Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List told the story of Oskar Schindler – a man who saved more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust. Although the movie touches on his wife, Emilie, we don’t learn much about her fate after the War. We were shocked to learn that a bankrupt Oskar Schindler abandoned Emilie after fleeing to Argentina. We break down the heartbreaking last half of Emilie Schindler’s life here.
After the Second World War, Oskar and Emilie Schindler settled in Regensburg, Germany, until 1949, when they immigrated to Argentina and eventually settled in Buenos Aires. The couple were supposed financially by a Jewish organization in Argentina and began working as chicken farmers.
Emilie had grown up in a small farming community in Czechoslovakia and quickly grew accustomed to the lifestyle in Argentina. However, according to her memoir, “I could never count on help from Oskar, who seemed more interested in the adventures the capital could provide.” Thus, for nearly eight years, Emilie ran their poultry farm basically alone, without the help of her husband.
In 1957, Oskar Schindler left for Germany, never to return to Argentina where Emilie would remain. Oskar returned to Germany because in 1957, the German government enacted a law providing that every victim of Nazism who had been affected by the loss of property, capital, or profession during the Second World War had the right to reparation. Oskar returned to Germany hoping he could receive financial compensation for his business losses during the Second World War. He promised Emilie he would return to Argentina after all the financial arrangements had been completed.
However, Oskar Schindler never returned to Argentina or his wife. He would ultimately remain in Germany for the rest of his life, and died penniless and almost completely unknown in October 1974.
Despite Schindler never returning to Argentina or seeing Emilie again, the couple never officially divorced. Emilie had often thought about divorcing Oskar and starting a new life free of his “lies, his repeated deceits, and constant insincere repenting.” Ultimately, Oskar and Emilie would be separated for the rest of their lives. After Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List came out, Emilie told a German reporter that her “wedding ring was good insurance against the claims of his many mistresses.”
Emilie faced major financial struggles after Oskar’s departure for Germany in 1957. According to her biography, Emilie didn’t have enough money to pay those who worked with her on her farm. She could hardly afford to feed herself, remembering that her meals primarily consisted of “tangerines I picked in the orchard, some bread, and lots of coffee to keep me awake.” Luckily, in 1963 Emilie started receiving a small pension from Israel and Germany, allowing her to support herself until her death.
In 1993, Emilie went to Israel for the epilogue in Schindler’s List. In this epilogue, Emilie and many of the Jews Oskar and Emilie saved during the Second World War visit Oskar Schindler’s grave. This was the only time that Emilie would visit her husband’s grave.
Emilie recalled that when she visited his grave, she silently said to him “well Oskar, at last we meet again… I have received no answer, my dear. I do not know why you have abandoned me… [but] I have forgiven you everything.”
Emilie Schindler ultimately liked Schindler’s List, calling it “an excellent film that deserves all the awards it has received.” The only criticism Emilie seemed to have is that the film failed to show the true extent of Schindler’s womanizing as she experienced it.
In 1993, Yad Vashem awarded Oskar and Emilie Schindler the title “Righteous Among the Nations” in recognition of their efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust. However, Emilie remembers her husband differently from the rest of the world. Her memoir suggests that she played a more significant role in saving Jews during the Holocaust than is commonly understood. In a 1999 interview, she said, “Oskar is a hero. And what about me? I saved many Jews too.” Her memoir also suggests that Oskar Schindler was a womanizer and as self-serving as he was generous.
In July 2001, Emilie Schindler returned to Germany, saying that she wanted to live out her remaining days in the country, as she had become increasingly homesick. She died on October 5, 2001, in Berlin, from the effects of a stroke. Although Oskar Schindler was an important figure during the Holocaust, so too was Emilie Schindler, and her legacy deserves to be remembered.