heart, it seems to be pretty much
Diebel, Toronto Star, July
8, 2001, reporting on new
wrinkles in the Oscar
Schindler branch of the
The Toronto Star | July 8, 2001
of intrigue, feuds, Hollywood
BUENOS AIRES --
weighs maybe 70 pounds. She is old, sick
and a long way from the World War II era
in which she and her husband, Oskar
Schindler, saved more than 1,300 Jews
from Nazi death camps.
And yet, around this tiny, frail woman,
confined to a wheelchair and totally
dependent upon others, hangs a web of
intrigue involving lawsuits, missing bank
deposits, bitterness among Holocaust
survivors and literary squabbles.
At heart, it seems to be pretty much
People's names have been smeared,
including Hollywood director Steven
Spielberg. His 1993 Academy
Award-winning film, Schindler's List,
popularized the story of the German
industrialist who made a list to save
Jewish slave labourers from the gas
chambers of the Third Reich.
Emilie is 93 now. Once she was Oskar's
gorgeous wife, who stood by through all
his mistresses and spoke proudly of their
wartime legacy after he died, at age 66,
Since then, her life has taken a
dreadful turn and, at this moment, she
languishes in a German hospital, drugged,
and appearing to be under the complete
control of one Erika Rosenberg.
long as I live, I will always
have a sincere and eternal
gratitude for dear
-- Franciso Wichter, No. 371
on Schindler's List
Over the past
decade, Rosenberg, 50, an Argentine
has made a literary career out of the
played an increasingly central role in
Emilie's life, whittling down her
contact with former friends and
supporters and taking charge of her
She even took her to Germany Friday
against the advice of doctors at a Buenos
Aires nursing home. The trip coincides
with the imminent German publication of
Rosenberg's fourth Schindler book.
Now Emilie is in hospital after "a
Emilie Schindler was, as everyone who
knows her attests, a brave, compassionate,
sweet and unselfish woman.
Then Rosenberg arrives on the scene,
and suddenly she's demanding money. Among
other demands, Emilie has sought 6 per
cent of the take of Schindler's List.
As well, a series of scandals -- who
really did what in the war, who promised
what, who got credit, who got paid -- has
dirtied the memory of the Schindlers'
In fact, it is questionable whether
Emilie needs money. She receives pensions
from, among others, Argentina and Germany
and help from Jewish organizations such as
B'rith. Others say they have tried to
Only Rosenberg appears to know the
details of Emilie's finances.
Emilie's life was sunnier when
Schindler's List came out in late
She herself appears briefly in the
She is the woman in a wheelchair who
joins real survivors -- Schindlerjuden
(Schindler's Jews) -- in present-day
Jerusalem. The movie is almost over, the
story has been told and, one-by-one, each
lays a stone of remembrance on Schindler's
tomb in the Catholic Cemetery on the
slopes of Mount Zion.
But in 1996, Emilie changed.
In her book,
Memoirs, co-authored in Spanish with
Rosenberg, she attacks her late
husband. She calls him a "selfish
coward" who kept his factory open and
his Jewish workers alive only because
he "feared he would be drafted and sent
to the Russian front if he ceased to be
Her comments are "a disgrace to the
memory of one of the true heroes of (the)
century," said Schindler survivors and
their families in a statement.
Overnight, it seems, Emilie went from
praising Spielberg and Schindler's List to
criticizing it and demanding a share of
the profits. Previously, she called it "an
excellent film . . . it well deserves all
the awards it has received . . . I owe to
it the recognition the world has finally
A year after the movie's release,
Emilie was declared a Righteous Gentile by
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in
Jerusalem, an honour granted her husband
news conferences, Emilie said Spielberg
millions out of "lies" and that she saved
more Jews than her husband.
"We don't know where any of that came
from," says Marvin Levy, lawyer for
DreamWorks SKG, the studio behind the
movie. "She was very complimentary when
the movie first came out, she attended all
the major openings, she received money
from Steven ($50,000 U.S.) . . . but she
was never, as far as I know, part of any
deal. She complained the movie didn't show
how much of a womanizer Oskar was, and
Steven admitted that some scenes showing
her involvement were cut for length . . .
but apart from that she was highly
"And then," he adds from Los Angeles,
"somebody got her to write a book. It was
a very surprising turn of events."
Increasingly, reports began to appear
about Emilie's abject poverty.
The implication was obvious: Spielberg
made a fortune, Emilie got nothing.
At the Cannes Film Festival in May,
French director Jean-Luc Godard,
who disdains Hollywood anyway, jabbed at
Spielberg, describing how Emilie lives in
poverty in Buenos Aires, despite the
success of Schindler's List.
"I read about that in Le Monde which is
a reliable source," Godard told a news
But the story isn't as simple as Godard
seems to think.
Instead, in this complicated, sordid
mess, there is only one clear thing:
Emilie feels alone and abandoned.
"I worked for a lot of people all my
life, and now nobody is here. I am alone.
I have nothing," she said recently in
German, speaking through Rosenberg, at Los
Pinos German Society Charity Hospital, an
hour's drive from Buenos Aires.
Until Friday, when Rosenberg took her
on a long flight to Frankfurt, Emilie was
a patient at Los Pinos.
At this late stage of life, she has
become a mystery. Did her dramatic
change-of-heart originate with a sick old
woman? Or is Rosenberg really pulling the
Rosenberg has written three books on
the Schindlers. Her fourth -- I, Emilie
Schindler -- comes out this October in
Germany. She arranges interviews and news
conferences, initiates lawsuits,
disparages journalists and other authors
and attacks everyone from Spielberg to the
state of Israel for ignoring Schindler's
Rosenberg has travelled with Emilie
since the early 1990s and has revelled in
the company of world leaders who want to
"I travelled to Rome with Erika
Rosenberg who persuaded me to write this
book," says Emilie in Memoirs, of her
visit to Pope John Paul II at the
Rosenberg insists she does it all for
"It's what she wants that is the most
important," she says. "I do what she
She won't comment on legal agreements,
or say whether Emilie receives royalties
from her books. "That's confidential
between Emilie and me."
Still, it seems improbable that this
little bird of a woman, clinging to a bed
frame for support in a nursing home on a
recent Saturday afternoon, can support the
weight of so much nastiness around
She was once a great beauty, fine-boned
and fair, a devout German Catholic who
married the love of her life in 1928 and
emigrated to Argentina with him and his
mistress in 1949.
"I have not forgotten Oskar Schindler,"
She still has a dazzling smile, a sweet
At the start
of a four-hour visit with The
[Toronto] Star and Argentine
journalist Cristina Hurtado,
Emilie seems groggy, confused. Her
mouth droops, she dribbles and she can
barely get little bits of apple strudel
into her mouth with her hands.
Much later, she snaps out of it. She
becomes alert, coherent.
Rosenberg says she is prescribed
sleeping pills "because she would never
sleep, she gets too agitated," as well as
Emilie says nothing while Rosenberg
blasts Spielberg for ignoring Emilie's
vital role and skewing history's view of
"It is disgraceful, an insult, " says
Rosenberg. "She saved so many people, and
now she is alone, without recognition,
penniless. These people should take off
their masks of morality.
"She is the last witness to history --
and look how she is being treated. Her
life is without echo," she continues.
"It is shameful, shameful. Nobody
believed me (when I told her story)," says
Rosenberg. She says her books on the
Schindlers have been
suppressed in North
America because they differ from
the film's "official" take on history.
"I am the Jewish daughter of a German
Jew and nobody believed me," she says. Her
parents fled Germany in 1936.
At Los Pinos, Rosenberg keeps asking
Emilie the same question: "Isn't Spielberg
Emilie simply gazes out the window,
Emilie fell last Nov. 1 at her home in
San Vicente near Buenos Aires. She lay for
hours, alone. It took five days to get her
into hospital for surgery for her broken
At the time, Rosenberg was in Germany
promoting her third Schindler book -- I,
Oskar Schindler. It relies on the contents
of an old suitcase of Oskar's, found
recently in a German attic.
In this particular tome, Rosenberg
argues that he was a great hero, even
greater than previously thought, because
he spent huge amounts of his own money on
"This greatly changes our picture of
Oskar Schindler from that given by Steven
Spielberg," Rosenberg said at the
Frankfurt Book Fair.
"He made a film for Americans so he
turned Schindler into a sort of
speculator, maybe because it was difficult
for people to believe there could be a
Last week, a German newspaper agreed to
pay Emilie about $17,000 in an
out-of-court settlement over publishing
the suitcase's contents. It was launched
by Rosenberg and her German publisher on
Rosenberg says Emilie needs money, and
that her assorted pensions don't cover
costs. She claims she owes thousands of
dollars to Los Pinos.
But Los Pinos director Arno
Hinckedeyn says patients pay the
charity hospital what they can afford.
Officials from the Buenos Aires chapter
of B'nai B'rith say they offered Emilie a
place at a Jewish nursing home, filled
with German speakers, at no charge last
December. Rosenberg declined, apparently
on Emilie's behalf.
The international Jewish organization
had supported both Schindlers for years,
including the purchase and upkeep of
Emilie's San Vicente home.
Friends describe a slow pattern of
isolation and alienation.
"(Erika) never advised us when Emilie
was being presented with an award so we
could attend," says friend Ilsa
Chuvat, from B'nai B'rith. "It was
sad. We would have liked to have known. We
always want to look after her."
"Emilie never, ever talked about money,
or claimed she was greater than Oskar,"
says journalist Hurtado, who interviewed
her many times, beginning in 1993.
"She never tried to take attention for
herself. She would always say, `I don't
understand the fuss. It was not heroism.
If you had been there, you would have done
the same thing.' "
"She told me, 'I still love Oskar, I
married him for life, until death,' " says
"Do you believe in Heaven?" she once
"Who knows," she replied. "But if there
is, and I see Oskar, I will ask him: Why
did you leave me alone?"
According to Rosenberg, Emilie is a
guest of the government during her current
visit to Germany. She says a news
conference is planned.
She bristles when asked if Emilie's
presence has anything to do with promoting
her latest Schindler book.
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