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Who Owns Schindler’s List?

A preliminary hearing starts Wednesday in Jerusalem in a legal case that pits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre against the estate of Oskar Schindler’s widow to decide who owns the legacy of the man who saved 1,200 Jews from the Nazis.

Schindlers List

Who owns Schindler’s list? That is the question to be decided by a Jerusalem court, which holds a preliminary hearing on the case on April 15. A document from almost exactly 70 years ago lies at the heart of the legal battle – dated April 18, 1945, it lists the names of 801 Jewish workers who German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved from extermination by asking the Nazi authorities to allow them to work at his factories.

The rights to this document and others are being claimed by both Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial centre and Erika Rosenberg, who is both a beneficiary and the executor of the estate of Emilie Schindler, Oskar’s wife.

Yad Vashem, which describes itself as the Jewish people’s “living memorial to the Holocaust”, is dedicated to safeguarding the remembrance of the tragedy for future generations. In 1999 the Jerusalem-based centre received a suitcase sent from Germany containing thousands of documents, including two of the four remaining copies of Schindler’s list, of which there were originally seven copies typed on onionskin paper.

The suitcase – of incalculable historical and financial value – was in the possession of Anne-Marie Staehr, who was once Oskar Schindler’s mistress. Schindler left for Argentina with his wife after the war, returning alone to Germany in 1957, where he died in anonymity in October 1974.

The suitcase and the list found its way to the press in Germany, where it made headlines, and was eventually sent to Yad Vashem by German journalist Ulrich Sahm, a Jerusalem resident and a former correspondent for the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” newspaper.

On these events, both warring parties agree. But the two sides differ on who held the rightful claim to the documents prior to their arrival in Israel.

Rosenberg alleges that Staehr absconded with the documents from Schindler’s home in Frankfurt after his death and kept them in the suitcase until her own death in 1984. Forgotten in the attic of her house in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, they were found 15 years later by Staehr’s son.

Emilie Schindler, who still lives in Argentina, learned of the existence of the documents through the media. She asked Rosenberg, then her friend and biographer, to retrieve them and bring them to her in Buenos Aires. But when Rosenberg confronted the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” to demand it hand over the documents, she was told the suitcase had already been sent to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The Israeli news daily “Haaretz” cites Rosenberg as saying that Emilie fell ill over the affair, and that she called it “a huge injustice”. “I saved Jews, together with my husband, and now the Jews have taken the suitcase away from me. You must demand it, even after my death,” she allegedly said.

In 2001 Emilie returned to Germany, where she died without leaving any descendents. Like her husband, she was posthumously bestowed with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations”, the highest civilian honour that Israel grants to Gentiles who saved Jews during World War II.

As the designated executor of Emilie Schindler’s estate, Rosenberg sought in vain to fulfill her wishes by retrieving the documents. In 2013 she filed a legal suit against Yad Vashem, which she accused of theft.

Rosenberg’s lawyer, Naor Yair Maman, makes a distinction between the legal case and its historical ramifications.

“Even if you believe that, from the historical-academic perspective, it would be preferable that the documents remain in Yad Vashem, you have no right whatsoever to claim title to someone else’s property,” he told AFP.

Yad Vashem says it obtained the documents legally and has always acted with transparency. The memorial centre contends that Oskar Schindler gave the suitcase in question to Staehr voluntarily – and that it had, therefore, never belonged to Emilie.

“Yad Vashem holds the documents lawfully and has acted the whole time openly and publicly,” it said in a statement to AFP, adding that it was opposed to “trading in Holocaust-era documents”. Citing their historical value, the centre said the documents must remain in the public domain.

Yad Vashem requested a dismissal of the charges in February, a request that was denied by the Jerusalem District Court.

“We will hold our debate with Rosenberg in court to ensure these documents do not reach the private hands of those who are not their legal owners and whose interests are unclear,” Yad Vashem subsequently vowed.

Rosenberg has always defended her intentions, saying she only wants to “preserve, protect and restore the historical data”.

In July 2013, another copy of Schindler’s list – which notably inspired the eponymous film by American director Steven Spielberg – was sold on eBay for $3 million.

April 15, 2015 - Posted by | Auschwitz, News, This Day In History | , , ,

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