By Kevin Roberts
Kevin’s book, Schindler’s Gift: How One Man Harnessed ADHD to Change the World,has just been published. This is a fascinating study on Schindler, making a strong case for his having ADHD, and showing how one can change themselves and transform the world. Get your copy todayHERE.
Oskar Schindler was not a woman with ADHD.I felt I should state that right from the get-go in case there was any confusion, since I am writing this for her Majesty, Terry Matlen’s, blog. Schindler’s life offers all of us with ADHD, however, some wisdom about our own struggles. Oskar hated school. He was frequently yelled at for talking, and during his upbringing corporal punishment held sway as the primary tool of classroom management. On many occasions, he received classroom beat-downs. Oskar was so troubled in school, incidentally, that he lied his way through, only to get expelled for cheating on a major exam when he was 16.
The mundane rhythms of lifedid not rouse Oskar’s brain. He had a messy room, messy apartments, and struggled with organization. The movie, Schindler’s List, gives us a flavor for this when Yitzhak Stern, played by Ben Kingsley, follows Oskar around, reminding him constantly of his responsibilities and duties. Oskar struggled with planning, organization, time management, and follow-through until the day he died.
Before World War II,Oskar had not found his calling. He struggled, in fact, to even hold a job. He flitted from one place of employment to another, his mind trained on dreams of a brighter and more exciting future. He was a salesman and even tried his hand at chicken farming. But routine and repetition were a plague for Oskar. He was also terribly restless, and rarely stayed in one place for very long.
Oskar, like many with ADHD, suffered from financial woes his whole life. He never seemed to have money to pay all his bills; his energy was often held captive by visions of grandeur. He was convinced time and again that his get-rich-quick schemes would succeed. He and Emilie, for example, moved to Argentina after the war because Oskar saw an opportunity there to raise nutria for fur coats. He assured his wife: “Emilie, behold before you the business of the century. We’re going to be millionaires. All the women wear fur coats.” Emilie ended up doing all the work in this venture because her “husband was always busy elsewhere.” Oskar’s fertile mind had grand ideas, but lacked the executive functioning to bring to bring them into fruition.
Yet, when human lives were at stake, something emerged in Oskar, something he had long suspected he had within him. He had found the great endeavor his heart had longed for, one that filled him with resolve, persistence, and purpose, three crucial elements that eluded him before and after the war. During that magical period from 1939-1945, he pulled some of his workers off of death-camp-bound trains. He bribed dozens and dozens of Nazi officials to keep his workers safe. He was arrested by the Gestapo numerous times because some members of that dreaded organization were upset that he had solid and respectful relationships with Jews. On one occasion in 1942, Oskar drove his car through a cordoned-off area around the Belzec death camp so he could figure out why so many Jewish people had been shipped out of Krakow on trains. He risked arrest and even death if his purpose had been found out. Many scholars believe it was after this daredevil maneuver, and the discovery of the murderous spree happening in this death camp, that his commitment to save his Jewish workers found unshakeable resolve.
The lessons of Oskar Schindler’s heroismapply to all of us with ADHD. During the war, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Why? First of all, he had something that all of us with ADHD need: SUPPORT. He had access to some of Krakow’s most adept Jewish businessmen. They were, in a manner of speaking, his ADHD coaches. Yitzhak Stern, one of Oskar’s coaches, says in the film: “They put up all the money. I do all the work. What if you don’t mind my asking would you do?” Oskar’s answer is what initially gave me the notion that he might have suffered from ADHD: “I’d make sure it’s known the company was business. I’d see that it had a certain panache. That’s what I’m good at. Not the work. Not the work…the presentation.” The “presentation” was Oskar’s façade that he was a true-believing Nazi, a game he played so well that 1200 people survived because of it. The “presentation” was also his grand manipulation of Nazi greed, as he “bought” their help by providing them with an almost constant flow of luxury items and forbidden contraband. But, Oskar had SUPPORT during the war, a factor that greatly accounted for his success. Without regular interactions with his business “coaches,” however, he failed in every financial and commercial endeavor thereafter. Oskar’s life clearly shows all of us with ADHD to not try to go it alone!
The horrors of the timegave Oskar PURPOSE, something I believe can be one of the greatest allies of people with ADHD. His brain just seemed to work better during that time period than it did before or after. He functioned poorly when he had just a “job,” but found genius within him when he had a mission. He tired quickly of each and every job he ever had, but when it came to saving his workers, he never gave up, bribing and cajoling some of history’s most infamous psychopaths to help him. For example, he tricked Amon Goeth, the notorious commandant of the labor camp in Krakow, into believing that the two were best friends. Preparing for his war crimes trial, Goeth actually asked his lawyer to contact Schindler, whom he was certain would testify positively on his behalf. The historical record is quite clear, however, that Schindler only saw a “friendship” with Goeth as a means to an end, and had no intention to help him. Oskar was a masterful manipulator.
His sense of purpose also filled him with persistence.Threatened with the closing of his factory, with the impending Russian advance, he did not give up. He used every connection he had amassed during the war to achieve his purpose of saving lives. He travelled back and forth to Berlin to get the necessary signatures. In another one of his grand manipulations, he led others to believe, because they had the same last name, that he was the nephew of the head of the Armaments Inspectorate, Lt. General Maximillian Schindler. Oskar never gave up, yet after the war, with no sense of purpose, other than becoming wealthy again, he failed with reliable consistency.
The war also gave Oskar something that some ADHDers also crave: INTENSITY. While boredom caused Oskar to go into what one might call a funk, even a depression, intensity caused his brain to come alive and allowed him to function at a high level. While he had problems with alcohol before and after the war, during World War II his use of alcohol was cut way back. It is almost as if Oskar did not need the negative intensity of alcohol when he had the purposeful intensity and excitement of the war all around him. Emilie has talked about how engaged Oskar was during the war, a state of mind that was clearly absent thereafter.
Like many of us with ADHD, Oskar did not find his genius in the classroom. His struggles with organization, planning, and follow-through ensured that for most of his life failure continued to haunt him. Yet, with SUPPORT, PURPOSE, and INTENSITY, Oskar saved over a thousand lives. I believe in my heart that there is a fourth element that he did not have, one that if he had had it might have meant success after the war, too: TREATMENT. I believe medication and intensive therapy could have allowed Oskar Schindler to continue to succeed after the war. So, I think the final and most important message of Oskar’s life is the crucial importance of getting diagnosed and treated, whether that involves therapy, social support, or medication, or a combination of all three.
Kevin Roberts has spent a good deal of his adult life coming to terms with his own ADHD and cyber addiction. He has a Master’s Degree in ADHD and Addiction Studies from Antioch University. He has trained therapists, students, physicians, nurses, teachers, parents, and school administrators on the perils of overuse of the Internet and video games, as well as ADHD. He has developed a number of innovative programs, such as Training Your Dragons summer camps that empower ADHD children, including intensive training to their families. His “ADHD Empowerment Groups” have been featured on television programs and other media outlets. A sought-after speaker, Roberts has given lectures and workshops around the world, and has recently spoken in the United Kingdom, Canada, Holland, and Poland. He speaks five languages fluently. He has taken groups of young people and their families to Poland to visit Schindler’s factory, Auschwitz, and other Holocaust sites. Roberts has appeared on national and local television stations across the country and the world.
You can reach Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org .