The Other Schindlers
Steven Spielberg's epic film focuses on only one of many unsung heroes
Beitz began to save Jews by hiring them. "I should have employed qualified personnel. Instead, I chose tailors, hairdressers and Talmudic scholars and gave them all cards as [vital] 'petroleum technicians.' "
Beitz and his young wife also hid a Jewish child in their own home. And like Schindler, Beitz often went to the train station to pull his Jewish workers off the death trains. "Once I found one of my secretaries and her aged mother," Beitz recalls. He got them out, but the SS would not be fooled. They judged the mother too old, and forced her back on the cattle car. "The daughter turned to me. 'Herr Direktor, may I [also] return to the car?' " Beitz never saw her again.
When the Nazis finally fell, more than 800 of Beitz's Jews were still alive. Now, at 81, the courtly Beitz says: "I am proud of what I did out of a sense of humanity. ... I passed through that period, as you cross through a dark forest: with self-assurance and with incredible luck." POLAND IRENA SENDLER, SOCIAL WORKER She gave nearly 2,500 children new identities, and buried their real names for safekeeping.
When Hitler built the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940 and herded 500,000 Polish Jews behind its walls to awaitliquidation, most Polish gentiles turned their backs or applauded. Not Irena Sendler. A Warsaw social worker, Sendler wangled a permit to enter the teeming ghetto and check for signs of typhus, something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the ghetto.
Shocked by what she saw, Sendler joined Zegota, a tiny underground cell dedicated to helping Jews, and took on the code name "Jolanta." The deportations had already begun, and although it was impossible to save adults, Sendler began smuggling children out in an ambulance. " 'Can you guarantee they will live?' " Sendler recalls the distraught parents asking. But she could only guarantee they would die if they stayed. "In my dreams," she says, "I still hear the cries when they left their parents."
Sendler successfully smuggled almost 2,500 Jewish children to safety and gave them temporary new identities. To remember who was who, she wrote the real names on sheets of paper, burying them in bottles in her garden. Finding Christians to hide them was not easy: "There weren't many Poles who wanted to help Jews, [even] children." But Sendler organized a network of families and convents ready to give sanctuary. "I would write, 'I have clothing for the convent'; a nun would come and pick up children."
Arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo, Sendler was tortured and sentenced to die. Underground colleagues bribed a guard to free her at the last minute and list her as "executed." She continued her work from hiding. When the war ended, Sendler retrieved the bottles in which she'd hidden her index of names and began searching for the real parents. Few had survived.
The children had known her only by her code name. But years later, after she was honored for her wartime work, her picture appeared in a newspaper. "A man, a painter, telephoned me," says Sendler, now 82 but still bright-eyed. " 'I remember your face,' he said. 'It was you who took me out of the ghetto.' I had many calls like that!" FRANCE MARY JAYNE GOLD, AMERICAN SOCIALITE A party girl ended up saving some of Europe's greatest artists and intellects.