Schindler knew that I was a Rabbi and he turned out to be my friend, my best friend. And one time he made a joke: Rabbi tomorrow is Shabbas, remember, don't do this.
Below are excerpts from an interview with Rabbi Menashe Levertov, November 13, 1964. The interview was conducted by Martin Gosch. In addition, Mrs. Levertov, Howard Koch and Paul Page (Schindler survivor, originally Leopold Pfefferberg) were also present. [From the Delbert Mann Papers, Box 70]
Rabbi Levertov: This is very important, why I come to Schindler....One time he needed engineers for his factory. Before this, I worked in the Metalovnia.... Before I was in the papiergemeinschaft - after this I was in the metalgemeinschaft. Then Amon Goeth, the commandant of the concentration camp, came into the Metalgemeinschaft and he wanted metalworkers. I called one foreman of the metal workers, to let him see that I am also a metal worker.
Gosch: But you were not really a metalworker were you?
Rabbi Levertov: No, always a Rabbi. Then..., a boy, he called, "I am also a klemper (a metal worker) - they killed him right away.
Page: They shot him because he was a young looking boy.
Rabbi Levertov: This foreman, who knew me, said yes, he is also a metal worker.
Gosch: Was the foreman a Jew?
Rabbi Levertov: Yes, all Jews. Then, two days after this, the Commandant came in and he knew that he left 25 men or more, because two days before, when they knew that Amon Goeth was coming, they hid - two days after this, they came out - and he knows there should be about 25 people, and there were 100 people. (Recap by Gosch and then asking for clarification.) Rabbi Levertov continues: One day there was a transport going out from the camp - he had in this metal factory too many people, 300 or more, and he wanted to send them to another concentration camp, and we didn't know at this time what he wanted to do with these people. And he came in and he wanted to leave only the best.... And he called every specialist out - to one side. And one foreman knew me - I asked him to call me also - to say that I am a metal specialist. He did call me out - as a metal specialist. At this time a young boy started to cry, "I am also a specialist." Goeth shot him down with his revolver. Two days after this Goeth came back into the shop and wanted to see how many people were there, and there were too many....
Gosch: In other words, the first time he came, you knew that he was coming so everyone was hiding, but this time he made a surprise visit and he found many more people than he found before.
Rabbi Levertov: Everybody was in his place and started to work very very fast.
Rabbi Levertov (after some dialogue between Gosch and Mrs. Levertov): He came in and he found the people, the people started to work and he came to me, "Show me, what is your work?" I show him and he....
Gosch: Just a minute. Now we've been listening to the story and I'm going to tape over it and tell the story as I think it was clear. Goeth asked you where is the amount of production that you have done. This was the latter part of the day - and you pointed down on the floor you were making hinges - metal hinges. And he said to you, go ahead make a hinge. He wanted to find out how long it would take you to make one hinge. And he timed you with his watch. And of course, you wanted to seem efficient and to seem like a very good worker, because you were afraid of him, like everybody, and so you make a hinge very, very quickly. And you made another hinge very, very quickly. And when he timed this with his watch, he looked down and he could see that at this time of day, you made a hinge in one second. So he looked down on the floor and he started to calculate if you made a hinge in a second and you were working almost an entire day, since six oclock in the morning, where is this great big huge pile of hinges that is not there? That should be there. Because he was really looking for an excuse to shoot you. Is that correct? So, in fact he actually took you outside and he was going to shoot you. Outside from where he was working - he took him out from this place where he was working, he took him away, and in front of everybody else, he took out his service revolver and actually aimed the revolver at you - at your head, or your body? At your head. He aimed at your head and he pulled the trigger and the gun did not go off. And then he pulled the trigger again - he reloaded the revolver, pulled the trigger again and again it didn't go off. Then he put his hand in his pocket and he pulled out a small pearl-handled revolver, tried to kill you again with this revolver, and this time it failed to go off.
Page (translating for Rabbi Levertov): Everytime he was squeezing the trigger and it didn't go off, he said "Donnerwetter - Zum tuefel" - something like "son of a gun, to the devil"
Gosch: Now after he pulled the trigger the third time, you happened to notice that very close by was a great big pile of poles(coal?) and you stopped him - and you put out your hand and said "Herr Commandant" (some explanation by Page) Gosch continues: So, therefore, in military language, you said to him, just as though you were a private in the army - in other words you said to him, you thought quickly of an excuse the reason why you didn't have a great big pile of hinges was because they had taken you way from the hinges to shovel the coal.
Rabbi Levertov: And they changed the machine gauges.
Gosch: In other words, you made up this whole excuse, you said you couldn't work all of the day because they were recalibrating the machines for the hinges, and therefore they put you to work on the pile of coal and that big pile of coal over there was the work that you had done for the day. At this point, he was so angry because you had given him such a logical excuse that he started to slap you. And he slapped you very hard across the face. And of course he was a man that when anybody was hurt or they would bleed, if they as much as moved, in spite of the blood, of if they would go to wipe away the blood, he would shoot them anyway, because they didn't stand at attention.
Gosch:...How many people would you say that you actually saw...Rabbi Levertov...that you actually saw him shoot himself?
Rabbi Levertov: Many, many times
Gosch: How many, would you say?
Rabbi Levertov: When he would go to the ghetto, to the ..... he was drinking in the morning and would come out and boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.
Gosch: But he didn't always do this when he was drunk? He also shot people when he was sober? Is that correct? He shot whether he was drunk or whether he was sober?
Rabbi Levertov: Every day, every day.
Rabbi Levertov; (After Mrs. Levertov makes some comments about Goeth's trial) I was in the court, I hear this....
Gosch: You were a witness at the trial. You were present at the trial. Where was the trial?
Rabbi Leverto: In Krakow. He was tried by the Polish authorities. The crime was committed on Polish soil.
Gosch: Did he have a lawyer?
Rabbi Levertov: Yes
Gosch: Was he a German counsel or Polish counsel?
Mrs. Levertov: I remember at the end of the trial, he thanked them that he had a very fair trial.
Gosch: And was he hung or shot?
Rabbi and Mrs. Levertov: He was hung. In Plaszow.
Rabbi Levertov: (after some discussion between Mrs. Levertov and Gosch about Goeth's trial after the war).(Some not distinct)...Two days after this...to do the same and I was the Chief Rabbi of Krakow....to make the prayer before the execution....
Gosch: You actually said the last rites prayer for Amon Goeth?
Rabbi Levertov: No, No, two Jewish Collaborators. This was exactly where the execution was and he told me two days before, they had executed Amon Goeth, and I asked him what did it look like. And he told me he go on the table and he said "Heil Hitler," the same, at the end.
Gosch: In other words, he was a Nazi to the very end.
Page: And it came out in the trial, that when he will have a chance to do the same thing, he will do it all over again
Gosch: (after some discussion with Mrs. Levertov)....I want to clarify what your husband said. What Rabbi Levertov said, in effect, was that he really had a first hand description of the execution of Goeth because he had performed a service two days after Goeth's execution, upon two Jewish collaborators. No, we won't use this in the picture, but in order to identify that you spoke two days after Goeth's execution with someone in the Plaszow concentration camp --
Rabbi Levertov: No, it was Monte Lupish
Page: Monte Lupish was a prisoner that the Gestapo was using during the war...
Rabbi Levertov: The man that told me this was the prosecutor - I asked him tell me the story - how was it.
Gosch: Was the prosecutor Jewish?
Rabbi Levertov: No, Polish, but not Jewish.
Gosch: ( after some further discussion with Mrs. Levertov) Now, Rabbi Levertov, you first met Schindler in 1943 and you went from Plaszow to the Emalia factory. When you went there you went there as a metal worker for Schindler, is that correct?
Rabbi Levertov: Schindler needed engineers and he came to Goeth to give him any engineers he needed in his factory. And when I heard that he needed engineers I asked somebody to ask - I am afraid Goeth would recognize me and want to shoot me again - I am afraid to stay in Plaszow.
Gosch: You wanted to get out of Plaszow, because if Goeth ever saw you again, he would shoot you on the spot. So when you heard that Schindler was looking for engineers, you thought that would be a way to get out. Now I must ask you a question: When you knew that Schindler was coming to the camp, did you also know at that point that Schindler was friendly to the Jews?
Rabbi Levertov: Yes. I hear it a long time.
Gosch: What was Schindler's reputation to you, before you went with him, before you met him? What did you hear about him?
Rabbi Levertov: That in his camp that he has, in his factory, that people can be sure of their life.
Gosch: Did you hear the expression that to have a work card with Schindler was to have a card of life - did you hear that?
Rabbi Levertov: Yes, many times.
Gosch: In other words you knew....
Rabbi Levertov: I knew if I will be in the factory with Schindler, I am sure that my life will be safe.
Page: We called Schindler Emalia a paradise - this was the name for Emalia as a code name.
Gosch: As a code name? In other word, if you spoke of it among yourselves -
Page: We said I am going to paradise - not to Oskar Schindler
Rabbi Levertov: If people will hear that I go to Schindler....
Gosch: In other words, his life was safe. Schindler's name was never used among the Jews if they were going to his factory - if they were lucky enough to get there, or to be selected on a list to go there because they were trying to protect Schindler, and so they referred to his operation as Paradise. And this was a code word that was used among the Jews in the various concentration camps and in and around Poland.
Gosch: (after some further conversation with Mrs. Levertov) Now, Rabbi Levertov, I want you to tell me, simply how you happened to go with Schindler in 1943. What time of year was it when you went with Schindler, in Krakow?
Rabbi Levertov: The end of 1943 - maybe November.
Gosch: You were with Schindler from the end of 1943 until the end of the war. Until the last hour?
Rabbi Levertov: Mr. Schindler needed engineers - I have a friend Danker (Banker?) who was a friend of Schindler's who worked with him in the Emalia.
Gosch: The man you refer to, Danker, was the man who originally owned the Emalia - was he still the owner when you came to Emalia
Rabbi Levertov: Schindler owned the Emalia, and Danker worked for him
Gosch: Do you happen to know whether Schindler bought the factory - did you ever hear any stories, any rumors, how Schindler aquired the factory? Because when the war started Danker owned the factory. Then after the war began, Schindler came in and took it over, as an engineer. But did you ever find out who really owned the factory, was it Schindler or Banker or were they working together? (Conversation Rabbi Levertov, Page Gosch) We are trying to establish where the ownership of the factory actually was.
Rabbi Levertov: The ownership of the factory was Mr. Schindler.
Gosch: If the factoy made any money, the money went to Schindler, it didn't go to Banker.
Rabbi Levertov: No
Gosch: Did you ever hear that Banker got any profits from the factory? He was a prisoner. When you got to Emalia, you never saw any evidence that Banker was any better off than anybody else?
Rabbi Levertov: No
Gosch: Just because he was the owner from before. In other words, he lost his ownership, Schindler took it over, and Banker was working the way you were working.
Rabbi Levertov: Yes, only a little better off - he was the boss before.
Gosch: He didn't really have too much advantage over you, just a little bit. Now we'll continue: How did you happen to come to Emalia?
Rabbi Levertov: Banker knows that I want to go to Emalia and he told Schindler that I was a good worker, an engineer, and Schindler put my name on the list
Gosch: But probably Goeth never saw your name on the list, because it was really only a number, wasn't it - they never used the name, only the number.
Page and Rabbi Levertov: The list was made up by name and the number.
Gosch: But very often Goeth never saw the list - so you were very lucky that Goeth never saw it and you were able then to go because Banker arranged with Schindler, he interceded and got you there.
Rabbi Levertov: Because I was afraid to be in Plaszow after this story.
Gosch: When you got to Emalia, what work did you do?
Rabbi Levertov: Nothing.
Gosch: Schindler knew from Banker....
Rabbi Levertov: Schindler knew that I am a Rabbi and he turned out to be my friend, my best friend. And one time he made a joke. "Rabbi, tomorrow is Shabbas, remember, don't do this."
Gosch: He used to kid around with you, like one friend to another, make sure you didn't work on the Sabbath.
Rabbi Levertov: I never was in the factory shop and he knew of this.
Gosch: But you still had food and clothing - but you were clean, you had food and you lived now, compared with Plaszow, in Paradise. Now I want to get to you as a Rabbi, in the Emalia and in Brinnlitz, and everyplace else when you were with Schindler. As I understand, Schindler permitted you to perform the religious services for the other Jewish people when there was a burial, is that correct? When anyone died, did you ever perform a Jewish service? Will you tell me one of those cases? DId you ever perform a service in the camp? For example what was the first service you performed with the people from the Gollinschau quarry? The people from the Gollinschau quarry who were in the railroad cars - some of them died, they were frozen because the cars were on the track for a long time - we know the story about that.
Rabbi Levertov: And people who were killed also.
Page: In the railroad car there were 118 people and 13 dead. They left (indistinct)... and Oskar Schindler saved them.
Rabbi Levertov: No, there were more than 13.
Gosch: Maybe there were more, but I am interested more in what happened. now, Oskar Schindler knew you were a Rabbi. Did Schindler some to you? Was it his idea?
Rabbi Levertov: He came to me. "Rabbi, we have these people from Gollinschau, etc. There are so and so many dead. Do everything your religion demands." I told him we need wooden boards ( the Jewish law says the body has to be on a wooden board). And Schindler said from where will we get them - we would have to do many things that Leipold (the Commandant of the camp) won't...And we need a big place for the dead people - the Jewish law says.( There follows a discussion including Mrs. Levertov explaining the intricacies of Jewish law). Rabbi Levertov continues: And Schindler let me do everything that had to be done under Jewish law that you want to do. He was afraid that Leipold might find out about it.
Gosch: What he really said was "Never mind Leipold, we're going to do it anyway." Now, not only did you need his permission, you also needed a Minyan (10 people to help) and workers to help you physically with the service....
Rabbi Levertov: We didn't make it in one day. It took maybe two days, to prepare the burial.
Gosch: When the bodies were ready for burial, were they put into coffins.
Rabbi Levertov: No, no coffins. The graves were dug and then they were lined with wooden boards.
Gosch: Where was he able to find the ground for the burial? How did he arrange that?
Rabbi Levertov: Schindler went with me and we looked over several places (within the factory grounds, not in a cemetery).
Gosch: There was a great deal of ground within the camp itself. And so finally you selected the ground....
Rabbi Levertov: And he didn't want Leipold to know which place.
Gosch: This was very dangerous for Schindler to do, because if Leipold found out about it, everything would go right up in smoke (and he did find out a few days....) Now the ceremony was performed, the burial occurred, a proper Minyan of ten people was there.
Rabbi Levertov: But more important was to prepare the bodies - you can do without a Minyan. But I did all the prayers...everything... but the work was before, to keep everybody in place, not to break any bones... the eniter Jewish Orthodox preparation and the actual ceremony. Schindler said, don't hurry, do everything, what you know, what you need. The burial service happened during the day. It was out in the open, where anybody could see it....
Gosch: I'm trying to find out where Leipold was, what Schindler did about Leipold.
Rabbi Levertov: Schindler got him drunk, made a party for him -
Gosch: Distracted him for two days so that you could do this.
Rabbi Levertov: He found out about it a few days after the burial.
Note: The Rabbi is leaving now and I am going to pick up the interview with him when I return to New York in December. However, when the factory was closed, in 1944, Rabbi Levertov was on his way to another concentration camp, Matthausen, and when Schindler discovered that Rabbi Levertov was in that group going to Matthausen, he took him out because he told the guards that this was one of his best workers and he absolutely had to have him and again saved his life. Also, during the time that the Rabbi was there in the camp in Krakow, in the Emalia, Mr. Schindler gave him money, helped him to buy food, although actually, as a prisoner-worker, he was not really working. He preserved him constantly, from a standpoint of food and this is a point that the Rabbi is particularly anxious to have made.