Schindler's Suitcase to Remain in Yad Vashem, Not Go to Widow’s Heir

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A reception for Oskar Schindler, center, Tel Aviv, 1962.
A reception for Oskar Schindler, center, Tel Aviv, 1962.Credit: Getty Images

A suitcase of Oskar Schindler, which his lover’s family donated to Yad Vashem, will remain with the Holocaust remembrance museum and not be given to the heir of his widow.

The Supreme Court rejected on Monday an appeal by Prof. Erika Rosenberg, a Jewish woman from Argentina, who is recognized in her country as the heiress of Emilie Schindler, Oskar’s widow. Rosenberg took care of Emilie in the final years of her life.

Rosenberg sued Yad Vashem in 2015, demanding to be given a suitcase full of Oskar Schindler’s documents, which the museum obtained in 1999. She claimed that the suitcase legally belonged to Emilie Schindler, who willed her estate to Rosenberg.

According to Rosenberg, Schindler’s lover, Annemarie “Ami” Staehr, broke into Emilie’s Frankfurt apartment shortly after Oskar’s death in 1974 and removed the suitcase, which contained thousands of valuable documents. Staehr allegedly brought the suitcase to her home in Hildesheim, Germany, and kept it in her attic for 25 years.

The "Stuttgarter Zeitung" exhibits the documents of Oskar Schindler on Friday, October 15, 1999.Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

After her death, her sons found the suitcase; they smuggled it out of Germany, without Emilie’s knowledge, to Yad Vashem in Israel. Emilie was living in Argentina at the time.

In contrast, Yad Vashem claims that Schindler himself gave the suitcase as a gift “to his very close friend” Staehr. After her death, her sons donated the suitcase to Yad Vashem.

A district court rejected Rosenberg’s lawsuit a year ago, and now the Supreme Court has rejected her appeal. The justices wrote in their decision that because of the monetary value of the suitcase, it is likely that there are other potential heirs.

For this reason, an inheritance- or will-probate procedure must be done. Therefore, the plaintiff is required to get a will probated for Oskar Schindler’s estate in Israel.

“There is no disputing that the suitcase is of great historical interest – but also monetary value,” the justices wrote, adding that Schindler had two children out of wedlock, who could be the suitcase’s potential heirs.

The lawsuit has taken years, during which out-of-wedlock children and debts of the Schindler couple were revealed. The plaintiff, Rosenberg, declared in the affidavit she submitted to the court that she “finds it improper and disrespectful to go into the couple’s private lives ... even so far as to enter their bedroom.” But that is exactly what happened in the court case.

The director of Yad Vashem’s archival branch, Haim Gertner, described to the court the first meeting between Schindler and Staehr during a visit to Israel in 1970.

“A very close friendship developed between them,” Gertner said. “Oskar also developed a good relationship with her husband, Dr. Heinrich Staehr, and he immediately became one of his doctors.”

This triangle, Oskar Schindler and the Staehrs, lasted for the next four years until Schindler’s death. He was like one of the family and had a special room in their house, Gertner wrote in his affidavit. “It seems that in the last years of his life, Ami was the most important figure,” he added.

The court also received 20-year-old testimony from former Supreme Court Justice Moshe Beisky, a Holocaust survivor who was saved by Schindler. Beisky later headed the committee that decides who should belong to the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

“Schindler was what they would call a skirt chaser,” he said. According to Beisky, Schindler’s wife Emilie said she “knew very well he had other women.”

The defense showed the court excerpts of interviews given by Emilie where she harshly criticized her husband. “He’s half crazy. Worthless. He can go to hell. He was an idiot,” she said. In one interview she told about her feelings after visiting his grave at Mount Zion in Jerusalem: “Nothing, nothing, nothing.”

Rosenberg, who was recognized as Emilie Schindler’s heiress, said that “despite the problem of the mistresses, which it seems was an inseparable part of his life, everyone knew that the wife of his youth, Emilie, would remain his only wife.”

The court was not required to discuss the issue of their relationship and its influence on the question to whom Schindler’s suitcase belonged. It ruled that the suitcase would remain in Yad Vashem, barring a proper inheritance process that determined otherwise.

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