He had a rocky start, but really started to find his calling in 1939, when he joined the German Nazi Party.
Taking advantage of the new laws prohibiting Jews owning businesses, Oskar Schindler acquired a confiscated enamelware factory and converted it to make field kits and kitchenware for the German army.
Utilising his natural charm and passion for good living coupled with his ability to locate luxury items on the black market he bribed his way into the military supply chain and was soon employing hundreds in the now booming enterprise.
It wasn’t always easy, he was twice arrested on suspected corruption and had to call on powerful friends to extract him from the merciless Gestapo, and a year later was arrested again and held for nearly a week, this time on far more serious charges of kissing a Jewish girl on the cheek.
But he held his nerve and kept going, persistence being one of the key attributes of a successful entrepreneur.
As the war ground crushing onwards the inversion of morality and civilisation became absolute. Humans were sub humans, genocidal murder was mandated under law and applied as policy at gargantuan mechanised scale and the supply chain of millions of people concluded in the output of men, women and children as ash and greasy smoke.
Our entrepreneur saw this, and did one of the most beautiful things I know of. He changed the rules of the game. The new game, to which he was author, was not the eradication of souls, nor the acquisition of wealth.
This new game was the reversion of the inverted. The new purpose of his business was the saving of lives at the grandest scale he could muster. In order to achieve this Oskar broke every law. His factory had moved from enamelware to the more vital the war effort business of manufacturing tank shells, and employed well over a thousand people.
However, being in revolt against the very efforts of the German army he was contracted to supply, his output was continually sub-standard, indeed, it was deliberately sabotaged to be so.
He was a traitor, frustrating the war effort and funding his entire operation through massive black market operations to generate new and vital revenue streams with which to buy blind eyes lest they see his true intentions.
He bought thousands of people, human trafficking at industrial scale. He bought them from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen and housed them in his sanctuary. Had he been caught the question would be which laws to hang him under first. He built a criminal empire, according to those laws. His legacy tells a different story.
He has a list to his name, of 1,200 Jewish names, bought from certain death, he’s credited with 1200 directly, yet others say more than ten times that number were saved consequentially by the cultural and commercial infrastructure he developed. Who can say exactly. He has a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous.
I love Oskar Schindler, and see him not just as a heroic and righteous man, but as an example, a visionary, a true leader. He changed the fundamental purpose of business.
He asks this question, this transformative, world-correcting question; “What if business wasn’t about making money. What if business was about saving lives. What then?” A shattering question. A different way to keep score. Lives saved the points accumulated.
Oskar is in a league of his own, but not quite alone. Others are seeing a new way to count, a new way to win, a new game to play. Oskar built a greater business than anything Eric Schmitt, or Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg have brought into being. They’re just playing at the rehearsal, yet to make the real game.
Not like Oskar, the pioneer. Happy birthday Oskar.