Author: Thomas Keneally
Genre: Historical Fiction, World War II
First Publication: 1982
Major Characters: Oskar Schindler, Amon Goeth, Helen Hirsch, Emilie Schindler, Abraham Bankier, Josef Bau
Theme: Virtue, The Triumph of the Human Spirit, The Difference One Individual Can Make, The Dangerous Ease of Denial
Setting: Krakow (Kraków), 1939 (Poland)
Narrator: Third-Person Omniscient
Book Summary: Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
In the shadow of Auschwitz, a flamboyant German industrialist grew into a living legend to the Jews of Cracow. He was a womaniser, a heavy drinker and a bon viveur, but to them he became a saviour.
This is the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland and who was transformed by the war into a man with a mission, a compassionate angel of mercy.
Book Review: Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally is a piece of fiction and the author tells his story by weaving testimony from survivors who remembered the German industrialist together with Schindler’s own accounts detailing how the Nazi system worked at the time and the deceptions he practiced on the SS officials whom he came in to contact with to circumvent it.
Oskar Schindler was an unlikely hero, a flamboyant womaniser and heavy drinker who enjoyed the good life socialising with Nazi concentration camp commanders, yet in the shadow of Auschwitz he continually risked his own life and fortune outwitting the SS to protect the lives of over a thousand Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia. He was a German industrialist in command of a factory making enamelware and munitions for the war effort in 1943.
“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”
He however, did not share the view of his radical German counterparts. His factory was indeed powered by Jewish prisoners, but unlike other industrialists he did not beat, starve or kill them. He used his position to negotiate for the things he needed to turn his factory into the small sanctuary that he envisioned. Oskar plied SS officers with whatever goods would make them more lenient or even fully compliant with what he wanted. He traded vodka and cigarettes for more prisoners from the death camps. He bet in card games not for money but for the beaten servant to come back with him. Should the occasion arise that his motives or feelings towards Jews were questioned, he called upon his high ranking friends and the matters were dismissed. More cognac, jewellery and cigarettes could pave the way for all kinds of favors.
When the it began to appear that the Germans were losing the war, they reinvigorated their efforts of extermination. To avoid such a thing happening in his camp/factory as it had now become, he petitioned to move all his equipment and “technicians” to a safer area, a little further away from the reaches of the likes of Auschwitz, at a great expense to himself. To further his rebellion, he stopped producing anything once the move was made. He would not be responsible for the death of another person in any shape or form.
“Fatal human malice is the staple of narrators, original sin the mother-fluid of historians. But it is a risky enterprise to have to write of virtue. “Virtue” in fact is such a dangerous word that we have to rush to explain;”
It was because of these strong efforts that Schindler saved the most people rescued at the end of the war, around 1,200 people. These people were by this time, so loyal to Schindler that they pulled the gold from the bridgework in their own mouths and melted it down into a ring to thank him. The thanks did not stop there. Oskar was never as well off as he was during the war years and so in return, the people he had saved, took care of him until the end of his days.
This story was not only about Oskar’s rebellion but of the rebellions of the Jewish prisoners in general.
This was an incredibly written and thought-provoking book without over powering the reader. The focus of the story on Schindler and the 1100 Jewish people he saved actually makes the Holocaust all the more real as you can relate to each individual person rather than being overcome with the shear numbers of people involved.
“Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.”
The portrayal of Schindler is well written and doesn’t preach to the reader about how great a man he was, it simply describes what he did and how he did it and allows the reader to draw his/her own conclusions about him.
The use of other views and statements is valuable and gives a more rounded story and adds context to the events throughout the book and provides insight into the other people involved as well as adding more weight to Schindler himself.