Helen Hirsch’s life won on the turn of a card

Within an hour, when Amon was 3,700 zloty in debt to Oskar and complaining sourly about his luck, Oskar suggested a variation on the betting. He would need a maid in Moravia, he said, when he moved to Czechoslovakia. There you couldn’t get them as intelligent and well trained as Helen Hirsch. They were all country girls. Oskar suggested therefore that he and Amon play one hand, double or nothing. If Amon won, Oskar would pay him 7,400 zloty. If he hit a “natural,” it would be 14,800 z@l. But if I win, said Oskar, then you give me Helen Hirsch for my list. Amon wanted to think about that. Come on, said Oskar, she’s going to Auschwitz anyhow. But there was an attachment there. Amon was so used to Helen that he couldn’t easily wager her away. When he’d thought of an end for her, it had probably always been that he would finish her by his own hand, with personal passion. If he played cards for her and lost, he would be under pressure, as a Viennese sportsman, to give up the pleasure of intimate murder. Much earlier in Plaszow’s history, Schindler had asked that Helen be assigned to Emalia. But Amon had refused. It seemed only a year ago that Plazow would exist for decades, and that the Commandant and
his maid would grow old together, at least until some perceived fault in Helen brought about the abrupt end of the connection. This time a year ago, no one would have believed that the relationship would be resolved because the Russians were outside Lwow. As for Oskar’s part in this proposal, he had made it lightly. He did not seem to see, in his offer to Amon, any parallel with God and Satan playing cards for human souls. He did not ask himself by what right he made a bid for the girl. If he lost, his chance of extracting her some other way was slim. But all chances were slim that year. Even his own. Oskar got up and bustled around the room, looking for stationery with an official letterhead on it. He wrote out the marker for Amon to sign should he lose: “I authorize
that the name of prisoner Helen Hirsch be added to any list of skilled workers relocated with Herr Oskar Schindler’s DEF Works.” Amon was dealer and gave Oskar an 8 and a 5. Oskar asked to be dealt more. He received a 5 and an ace. It would have to do. Then Amon dealt to himself. A 4 came up, and then a king.
God in heaven! said Amon. He was a gentleman cusser; he seemed to be too
fastidious to use obscenities. I’m out. He laughed a little but was not really amused. My first cards, he explained, were a three and a five. With a four I should have been safe. Then I got this damned king.

In the end, he signed the marker. Oskar picked up all the chits he’d won that evening from Amon and returned them. Just look after the girl for me, he said, till it’s time for us all to leave. Out in her kitchen, Helen Hirsch did not know she’d been saved over cards. Probably because Oskar reported his evening with Amon to Stern, rumors of Oskar’s plan were heard in the Administration Building and even in the workshops. There was a Schindler list. It was worth everything to be on it.

Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s Ark, p.302-4

For Hirsch God’s providence extended to the way the cards had been shuffled.


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