Among the Schindlers, “Just” is also conjugated in the feminine form. The German industrialist Oskar Schindler has established himself as a hero in the collective memory, thanks in particular to Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1994), for having saved between 1,200 and 1,300 Jews from Nazi concentration camps by “hiring” at one of its factories.

But who knows Emilie, his wife? This native of the Sudetenland (1907) played a decisive role in organizing this rescue. Which will not prevent this woman – divorced from Oskar in 1957 – from ending her life, at the age of 93, in 2001, forgotten by everyone, in Argentina (where the couple had emigrated after the war).

A German documentary filmmaker, Annette Baumeister – noted in 2018 for her film When Women Emancipate About Feminist Activists – decided to do justice to this “wife of a great man”, reduced all her life to this sole status. “I only appear in three scenes of the film Schindler’s List, in the guise of the deceived and humiliated wife,” says Emilie Schindler in this documentary.

Anonymous heroine

Annette Baumeister draws the portrait of an anonymous heroine who never ceased to act in the shadows, like the vast majority of the Righteous Among the Nations. At the beginning of 1945, the Schindler factory in Poland was surrounded by electrified barbed wire and guarded by more than 250 SS men. “I lived in constant anxiety that they would realize that we were feeding and protecting Jews,” says Emilie, who was 37 at the time. The looming defeat makes times even more difficult and dangerous. “The end of the Third Reich was a period of total chaos, the Nazis closed the camps and the SS had a completely free rein,” recalls historian David M. Crowe.

One day in January 1945, while Oskar Schindler was traveling in Krakow, a man came knocking at the door. Emilie opens: “I was alone and the man explains to me that he is transporting Jewish workers, if I don’t take them, they will be sent to their death. » She goes to see the train in question and runs into the SS, who prevent her from opening the carriages. Never mind, she explains to them that “prisoners are expected to work in her factory,” relates Professor Mordecai Paldiel, former historian of Yad Vashem, “with an unstoppable argument: each ammunition produced contributes to victory.” “A factory engineer went to get a blowtorch to blow out the frozen locks on the wagons,” recalls Gertrud, the Schindlers’ niece, who was living with them at the time, at age 7. Then my aunt set up a makeshift dispensary in the factory to treat them. » Everyone will escape the genocide.

Emilie is a strong woman, who, as a child, cared for her traumatized father returning from the front of the Great War. After 1945, she passed through losses and profits, like so many other wives who had worked in the shadow of their husbands. “What she had experienced had made her very tough but also very tender, especially with animals,” remembers the Argentine nurse who watched over her until her death.

In May 1994, Emilie Schindler would eventually be granted the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Memorial. Small and late consolation. But just recognition.