An In-Depth Character Sketch of ERNA LOWENTHAL SCHINDLER: A Life of Duty, Devotion, and Good Deeds
(14 September 1916–19 January 2010), enthusiastically written intermittently from 19 January 2010 to 13 May 2011
Erna Lowenthal was born 14 September 1916, in Munich, Germany. Her father was Julius Lowenthal, who made his livelihood by buying and selling farms in Bavaria. Her mother was Justine Kistler, who died young, when my mother was just ten. That death had an impact for life on my mother, who was an only child. She grew up lonely, even though she had a housekeeper, Paula, who eventually had to leave because of the Nuremberg Racial Laws. Her loneliness deepened with the loss of this young caretaker, who was very close in age and served more as a substitute older sister. Erna spent her spare time reading a lot. Her favorite book was The Count of Monte Cristo. Erna had an elite private school education at the Santa Anna Maria Gymnasium. She was very popular with all the different religious and ethnic groups in her school. Teachers loved her because of her enthusiasm and sharp mind. In particular, she excelled in French and gymnastics, and had she been allowed to retain her citizenship, she could have qualified for the 1936 Olympics. However, just as she graduated, further schooling and career opportunities were closed off to her when Hitler came to power. She went to work for the local Jewish newspaper. One day she returned from work only to discover her father had been taken away by the Gestapo.
She decided to leave Nazi Germany as soon as possible. That was made possible because her neighbor and boy friend, Simon Schindler, had contacts and money to arrange for her passage to America. They married the week after she arrived in March 1938. They were married for sixty-three years. She was completely faithful to him. She had two sons. She encouraged my intellectual activities at a very early age, buying me books from a sparse budget whenever the opportunity presented itself. Although “simply” a housewife, Erna managed all moneys in the household and arbitraged interest rates so that small sums eventually grew exponentially into a small fortune. Too, she had inherited two small sums from her father Julius Lowenthal and aunt Senta Kistler, which she subsequently managed successfully. She had come to America poor. Erna always remembered that. She gave generously to an assortment of charities. In particular, she felt for children, the disabled, handicapped war veterans, and old people, who are now our largest oppressed minority group. By her demeanor of modesty, she exhibited her main virtue in that she was never ostentatious in her mannerisms. I did not know how well off she was until the end of her life, when she assured me that I could pursue my passion for philosophy, as she had well endowed me with the finances to assure this gentlemanly pursuit. Erna always felt that money distorted human relationships; hence she played the role of the simple Hausfrau for most of her life, keeping her arbitraging ventures a secret. She was to do that role playing, recognizing that it is in human nature to slack off if you know there are guarantees in place in making your life projects. There is a need for a certain degree of anxiety to motivate workers to excel. Money is really a two-edged sword. It can empower you to get things, but also corrupt your drive toward excellence. Mrs. Schindler never fell under the spell of money’s allurements; she worked as if she was poor her whole life. She was a product of both the Holocaust and the Great Depression.
Too, her expertise in the culinary arts excelled over many years with hot and exquisite meals prepared for the family every day of the week. On the last day when she left for her last trip to the hospital, she had made a superb dish of meat balls and spaghetti, even though she had the use of only one arm. My mother had a rage to live to the fullest and always be useful. Because of our devotion to and love for each other, she made me her sole heir. In her last ten years of life, I took care of her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, as she had done for me when I was a child. She apologized to me for living so long, and she felt she had burdened me with my care taking role. As a loving son, I felt no such constraints.
Mrs. Erna Lowenthal Schindler had interesting personality traits. She was scrupulously honest in all her financial dealings with people. With family, friends, chance acquaintances, and authority figures, Erna expressed personal feelings in a very factual, commonsensical way. There was nothing phony or pretentious about her self-presentation. She hated debt and acquitted financial obligations in a timely way. She could defer any needs for immediate gratification in order to achieve the greater goal of economic independence. She exercised the same judiciousness with her physical appearance. Erna hardly gained weight because of her ability to exercise will power, as she referred to herself as an old-fashioned woman. She could demonstrate virtue or moderation in whatever endeavor she found herself involved. She was the most real, authentic person I ever met, and her love for me she repeatedly demonstrated. In giving life to me, my mother went against the advice of her physician to abort me because of excessive internal bleeding. She put her life on the line to assure that I would see the light of day. Too, she was fearless and always spoke truth to power, although that would put her in personal danger at times. As a teenager, she stormed Gestapo Headquarters in Munich to attempt to release her father. She came close to being one more victim of the Holocaust, but fate intervened and allowed her to escape unpunished.
The one phrase that captures her essence as a moral person is heroic integrity. People who came to know her never had to guess if she had a hidden agenda in their dealings with her. No, she had none. She was the real deal, and she lives on in my soul as an inspiration to achieve great deeds in my chosen vocation of philosophy—independent of any academic affiliation.
She will not be forgotten. I thank her profoundly. A scholarship at a Jewish institution, as yet not determined, will be set up in her memory.