Schindler: Lust to List

by Victor Knowles

There is a scene toward the end of the award-winning film presentation, Schindler's List, that is forever seared into my soul. Oskar Schindler, a German war profiteer who spent his entire fortune rescuing Jews from the burning ovens of Hitler's hell, is presented with a token of appreciation from the grateful non-dead. The gift is a gold ring. Inside the ring, inscribed in Hebrew, are the words, "Whoever saves one life, saves the whole world."

The ring is presented to Schindler by Itzhak Stern, a wise and observing little Jew who was Schindler's right-hand man in the rescue operation. The film presentation does not record the story behind the ring's inscription. But in the book on which the film was based, Schindler's List (Thomas Nenally, Simon & Schuster, 1982), the details are revealed.

 Schindler, a nominal Catholic, and Stern, a devout Jew, were talking one day. "In times like these," Schindler said, "it must be hard for the churches to go on telling people that their heavenly Father cared about the death of even a single sparrow." Stern agreed, but suggested a verse in the Talmud which said: "He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world." Later, Stern came to realize that it was at that moment he had dropped the right seed into the furrow.

Dear God, how very important it is to say the right thing at the right time!

As the persecution of the Jews in Poland turned from pogroms and persecution to an all-out "final solution"—the systematic liquidation of a race, genocide—Schindler underwent conversion of sorts in his inner soul. No longer was he consumed with making profits on the war and spending his money on wine, women, and song. Now his concern—his burning passion—was to rescue the perishing. And his lust for life turned into a list for life.

Schindler put Jews to work in his factory that made pots and pans. On several occasions he was arrested by the Gestapo for consorting with "sub-humans." But he was not deterred. And when the destruction of the Jews escalated, Schindler and Stern began preparing a list of Jewish people who might somehow be spared from the holocaust.

Like a man possessed, Schindler paced back and forth as Stern typed the list on an old typewriter.

"How many?"

"Six hundred."

"More! More!"

Finally, when the list was finished, it dawned on Stern that Schindler was putting up his own money to buy their freedom. He asked, "You're buying them? This list islife!"

Schindler devised a singular plan, whereby more than 1,000 Jews were transported across the Polish border into Czechoslovakia, where he put them to work in a concentration camp making dummy artillery shells. He laid down the law to the German soldiers that his "prisoners" were not to be mistreated. Indeed, he provided for their every need, until his money ran out.

Now for the scene that is seared into my soul: The war was over. The Jews were free to go. Schindler and his wife had to flee for their lives. He was, after all, a member of the Nazi party, and the hunt for Nazis was on. Stern and the soon-to-be-liberated Jews gathered around Schindler and presented him with the gold ring—made from the gold in their teeth, willingly given on behalf of the one who had filled their mouths and stomachs while thousands of other Jews starved to death in other camps.

Schindler—a giant of a man, who towered over the Jews—took the ring and read the inscription: "Whoever saves one life, saves the whole world." He looked up and softly said, "I could have got more. I could have got more. I could have got more."

Stern reached out to him and said, "You saved more than 1,000 people!" (Indeed, today there are more than 6,000 descendants of Schindlerjuden—"Schindler's Jews." Schindler was declared "a Righteous Person" by the Jews in 1961. He died in 1974 and is buried in Israel.)

But Schindler could not be comforted. "I didn't do enough." He moved to the car in which he would make his departure. "This car. Ten people right there." He jerked the Nazi pin off his suit lapel. "This gold pin. Two people! One more person!"

Then he fell to his knees in agony and cried, "One more person! I could have got one more person! And I didn't!"

The sound of his racking sobs haunted the night. And haunts me still.

Years ago, my father preached a sermon I will never forget: "Judgment Day Wishes." Dad said: "When we see Jesus, that beautiful face, hear His wonderful voice, see the scars in His hands and feet, we will wish we had served Him better. And when we see that awful hell that we will escape, we will wish our praise of the Savior had been much more fervent—that we had worked harder to tell others how to flee this terrible place!"

Friend, people are all that matter in life. Whether they live in Poland, Germany, or America. They are of greater value than money or material things. So live that you won't have to wish, "I could have done more!" Let your lust for life be transformed into a list for life.

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