Yad Vashem sued over Schindler documents

Heir of Schindler’s wife claims museum snuck the documents out of Germany without permission.

Oskar Schindler as portrayed by Liam Neeson in Schindler's List (photo credit: UNIVERSAL PICTURES)
Oskar Schindler as portrayed by Liam Neeson in Schindler's List
(photo credit: UNIVERSAL PICTURES)
A woman in Argentina is suing Yad Vashem for custody of a trove of documents belonging to Oskar Schindler, a Nazi businessman who saved more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
According to the AFP news agency, the case – slated to go to court next month – pits Prof. Erika Rosenberg against Yad Vashem over the documents, which include copies of the lists of Jews he saved.
Schindler’s story is best known through its portrayal in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Schindler’s List, which depicts how the industrialist slowly turned away from his goal of war profiteering to rescuing as many Jews as possible.
By using Jewish workers in his factory, which produced goods needed for the German war effort, feeding them out of his own funds and protecting them from the SS forces, he was able to keep some 1,200 Jews safe. Ending the war impecunious, he lived off of aid from survivors and Jewish organizations grateful for his efforts.
The documents at the heart of the lawsuit were found in a suitcase in an apartment belonging to Schindler, which was moved to the house of a friend in Germany following his death in 1974.
Rosenberg, the biographer and heir of Schindler’s wife, Emilie, claims that the documents are hers, while Yad Vashem maintains they were a gift to the couple in whose home they were found.
According to AFP and Haaretz, Rosenberg and her lawyer claim that Yad Vashem had snuck the documents out of Germany without permission and that she had tried to stop them back in 1999.
Yad Vashem, however, has a different take.
“Emilie never asked for these materials. Only after her death did her friend Erica Rosenberg demand them,” a spokeswoman for the museum told The Jerusalem Post.
“We believe that Schindler’s List is a document of historical importance and its place [is] in the public domain,” the museum said. “Yad Vashem is the legal holder of these documents and has at all times acted openly and publicly.”
While it is impossible to comment on the merits of the case while it is being adjudicated, unless Rosenberg can prove “that the suitcase was bequeathed to her, she will not win the case,” said former MK Colette Avital, the chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.
“My opinion is that the place of such documents is in museums and not in private hands and sold in auctions. And perhaps, a compromise can be reached like in former cases [such as with looted art] that if she can prove that indeed she is the heir, she should be compensated,” Avital said.
In 2013, a number of documents belonging to Schindler were sold at an auction for $122,000, including a rare one-page letter, signed by him and dated August 22, 1944, that was sent from his enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland.
Reuters contributed to this report.