Posted Sunday, July 8, 2001

Quick navigation

Alphabetical index (text)

At heart, it seems to be pretty much about money.quoteend
-- Linda Diebel, Toronto Star, July 8, 2001, reporting on new wrinkles in the Oscar Schindler branch of the Holocaust industry

The Toronto Star | July 8, 2001

A tale of intrigue, feuds, Hollywood tycoons

Linda Diebel


BUENOS AIRES -- Emilie Schindler 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.

Emilie Schindler

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 about money.

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, in 1974.

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.

As long as I live, I will always have a sincere and eternal gratitude for dear Emilie.

-- Franciso Wichter, No. 371 on Schindler's List

Over the past decade, Rosenberg, 50, an Argentine writer who has made a literary career out of the Schindlers, has played an increasingly central role in Emilie's life, whittling down her contact with former friends and supporters and taking charge of her affairs.

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 small accident."

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' heroism.

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'nai B'rith. Others say they have tried to help.

Only Rosenberg appears to know the details of Emilie's finances.

Emilie's life was sunnier when Schindler's List came out in late 1993.

She herself appears briefly in the movie.

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 an industrialist."

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 given me."

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 in 1954.

SpielbergAt news conferences, Emilie said Spielberg (right) made 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 complimentary.

"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 conference.

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 strings?

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 widow.

Rosenberg has travelled with Emilie since the early 1990s and has revelled in the company of world leaders who want to meet Emilie.

"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 Vatican.

Rosenberg insists she does it all for Emilie.

"It's what she wants that is the most important," she says. "I do what she wants."

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 her.

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," says Emilie.

She still has a dazzling smile, a sweet charm.

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 anti-depressants.

Emilie says nothing while Rosenberg blasts Spielberg for ignoring Emilie's vital role and skewing history's view of her.

"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 a pig?"

Emilie simply gazes out the window, silent.

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 hip.

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 saving Jews.

"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 good German."

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 Emilie's behalf.

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 Hurtado.

"Do you believe in Heaven?" she once asked Emilie.

"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.


Related items on this website:

The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical
 Register your name and address to go on the Mailing List to receive

David Irving's ACTION REPORT

© Focal Point 2001 F Irving write to David Irving