The fight for Schindler’s List

Heiress demands Yad Vashem accept her claim of ownership of Oskar Schindler's original, life-saving list of essential workers.

Schindler (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A group of high schoolers in Jerusalem fan out around a glass case displaying pages of neatly typed names: Schindler’s List, arguably one of the most iconic documents of the Second World War.
Made famous in the Hollywood movie of the same name, Schindler’s List is at the center the story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi Party member who saved over one thousand Jews during the Holocaust by creating his “list” of essential workers and keeping them from being sent to their deaths by the Nazis.
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There are a few original lists in the world and one of them is on display at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. But now, the heiress to Schindler’s papers is insisting the list belongs to her and wants to claim it.
Her claim comes at the same time that another copy of the list was put up for sale in New York for over $2 million.
Yad Vashem has long recognized Oskar Schindler and his wife Emilie as Righteous Gentiles. A tree was planted in their name in 1962. The list itself and other items belonging to Schindler were given to Yad Vashem in the late 1990s by German journalist Ulrich Sahm, who was at the time a Jerusalem-based correspondent for the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper.
“For me, it was an historical event because these important documents of this important guy who had done tremendous things, should be transferred honorably to Yad Vashem,” Sahm told The Media Line. “There were quite a few people there and they came and jumped on the boxes and opened everything to look and went wow! Wow! Wow!”
After the Second World War, Oskar Schindler and Emilie moved to Argentina. But Oskar returned to Germany in the 1950s. When he died in 1974 Emilie was declared the heir. But Schindler, a flawed man, had a mistress in Germany and when she died in the late 1990s her family discovered his suitcase in the attic in the town of Hildesheim. It contained photographs and documents, including the list of Schindler's Jewish workers. They decided to give it to Stuttgarter Zeitung.
When Emilie Schindler heard of this she immediately demanded it be handed over. But the papers had already “disappeared,” only to surface later in Israel. Sahm said the Stuttgarter Zeitung believed the best place for the documents was Yad Vashem and quickly shipped it out.
Sahm said he retrieved the suitcase and documents from the airport and a few days later handed them over to Yad Vashem. For Sahm, who has reported from Israel for over 40 years, it was an emotional experience since his father had been a German diplomat during the Third Reich and his uncle had been one of the German officers who plotted against Hitler and was executed.
Schindler’s List is more than just a few pieces of paper. It’s a tangible symbol of rare human goodness during an evil time of the Nazi Holocaust. And yet, there are those who see it as something that can be owned, sold and auctioned.
When Emilie Schindler died a decade ago, she passed on the copyrights to Erika Rosenberg, an Argentinean author who had befriended her and helped her write her memoirs. Reached by The Media Line in Argentina, Rosenberg said she has a claim on the Schindler’s List on display at Yad Vashem. 
“This is an Israeli story and therefore the documentation has to remain there. I’m not saying it doesn’t have to remain there. But I’m saying they have to recognize the rights.  It is a question above all of principles, a question of morals.  I’m not asking for any money, nothing. Only that they recognize my rights,” Rosenberg said.
“I am not asking for any financial compensation. What would that be? I just want them to recognize my rights. It’s not about money,” she added.
Yad Vashem has rejected Rosenberg’s claim.
"Yad Vashem, a global and central institution and the official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, is doing all that it can to acquire any documents or items from the Holocaust,” spokesperson Iris Rosenberg said in a statement. “They are preserved here and are accessible to researchers, students and anyone who is interested. We believe that Schindler's list is an historically valuable document belonging in Yad Vashem – where it is on display in the Holocaust History Museum and where millions can see it. We don't accept Erika Rosenberg's claim. Yad Vashem holds the documents given to us by the newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung legally, including original copies of Schindler's list."
Rosenberg has tried to block the sale of another list being sold by a memorabilia dealer in New York, but a court ruled that the sale didn’t compromise her copyright ownership. The proprietor Gary Zimet advertises his list as “the only original Schindler’s List ever for sale.”
That list reportedly came from Nathan Stern, who is the nephew of Schindler’s accountant Isak Stern who was in charge of keeping the list.
“She wants the lists. She is not interested in all the other stuff, the air ticket and the honorary documents from The Hebrew University and all that,” Sahm speculated. “She only wants the list. And if she only wants the list, then I can tell you why. She wants to sell it. She wants to make money, that’s all.”
“I don’t want to have them torn up into pieces and sold on E-bay for $2 million.  I think this isn’t the right way to do it. I think that Schindler’s List, especially because of the film are part of human culture not only Jewish, not only German. It is a human story and therefore those papers should be kept as well as possible so that nothing happens to them and I definitely think that Yad Vashem is the right place to keep these amazing documents,” Sahm said.