Friday, October 8, 2010

Schindler's List

Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
Simon & Schuster, 1982 (1993 edition)
Trade Paperback, 398 pages
ISBN-13: 9780671880316
very highly recommended

Schindler's List is a remarkable work of fiction based on the true story of German industrialist and war profiteer, Oskar Schindler, who, confronted with the horror of the extermination camps, gambled his life and fortune to rescue 1,300 Jews from the gas chambers.
Working with the actual testimony of Schindler's Jews, Thomas Keneally artfully depicts the courage and shrewdness of an unlikely savior, a man who is a flawed mixture of hedonism and decency and who, in the presence of unutterable evil, transcends the limits of his own humanity.
My Thoughts:

After watching the movie, I put off reading Schindler's List. The movie made a powerful, horrific, profound statement and left one emotionally and visually overwhelmed. However, I am quite glad that I did finally read the book on which the Spielberg's movie was based.

Keneally won the Booker Prize for Schindler's List, a novelization of
the true story of Oskar Schindler and the Schindler Jews. Schindler's List, while presented in the form of a novel, is very well researched and based on fact. While researching Schindler's List, the author traveled to seven nations and interviewed fifty of Schindler's Jews. He visited the locations in the book.

Right at the start, Keneally lets us know that Oskar Schindler is a flawed man, not a virtuous one. He has a penchant for women, drink, and fine comforts. But this flawed hero also gambles millions to save the Jews under his care from the gas chambers. The book, I think, makes Schindler's extraordinary gift for negotiating and bribing the right people at the right time quite evident.

In Schindler's List the importance of bearing witness and surviving to testifying about the atrocities is stressed. There are several passages where it is pointed out that the Nazi's permitted witnesses because they believed the witnesses would all perish too. The seemingly casual murders of a hundred people, a thousand people, three thousand people, here and there, is stunning and sickening, especially when you start to think of how many people the six million murders represent.

It seems in the end that the one purpose to Schindler's life was to save the Schindlerjuden. After the war he remained at loose ends and never again found professional success. But he did manage to save the lives of over one thousand three hundred people. It makes one wonder what could have been if there were more Oskar Schindlers.

Additionally, I must mention that I found Keneally to be an excellent writer. I also appreciated all the research he did to write Schindler's List. (Long time readers of She Treads Softly know how I feel about historical novels that are not well researched or based on facts.) In this case the melding of facts into a novel was perfect.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


This account of Oskar's astonishing history is based in the first place on interviews with 50 Schindler survivors from seven nations.... It is enriched by a locations that prominently figure in the book... But the narrative depends also on documentary and other information supplied by those few wartime associates of Oskar's who can still be reached... pg. 9-10

To use the texture and devices of a novel to tell a true story is a course that has frequently been followed in modern writing.... I have attempted, however, to avoid all fiction, since fiction would debase the record, and to distinguish between reality and myths which are likely to attach themselves to a man of Oskar's stature. It has sometimes been necessary to make reasonable constructs of conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record. But most exchanges and conversations, and all events, are based on the detailed recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). of Schindler himself, and of other witnesses to Oskar's acts of outrageous rescue. pg. 10

For this is a story of the pragmatic triumph of good over evil, a triumph in eminently measurable, statistical, unsubtle terms. pg. 14

Unhappily, Madritsch and Titsch and he, Oskar Schindler, were the only ones he knew who regularly spent money on black market bread. pg. 20

On one hand, Oskar has made it his business to know the full face of the system, the rabid face behind the veil of bureaucratic decency. He knows, that is, earlier than most would dare know it, what Sonderbehandlung means: that though it says "Special Treatment," it means pyramids of cyanotic corpses in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and in that complex west of Cracow known to the Poles as Osiecim-Brzezinka but which will be known in the West by its German name, Auschwitz-Birkenau. pg 29-30

There was, of course, in men like Stern an ancestral gift for sniffing out the just Goy, who could be used as a buffer or partial refuge against the savageries of others. It was a sense for where a safe house might be, a potential zone of shelter. pg. 46

The Aktion of the night of December 4 had convinced Stern that Oskar Schindler was that rarity, a just Goy. There is the Talmudic legend of the Hasidei Ummot Ha-olam, the Righteous of the Nations, of whom there are said to be - at any point in the world's history - thirty-six. pg. 68

They permitted witnesses, such witnesses as the red toddler, because they believed the witnesses all would perish too. pg. 130

He was one of those men who, even in the years of peace, would have advised his congregation that while God may well be honored by the inflexibility of the pious, he might also be honored by the flexibility of the sensible. pg. 207


Unknown said...

I'm trying to read all the Bookers so it is great to know that this one was so good. I am a bit worried it might be too disturbing, but hopefully Oskar's positive message will make up for that. Thanks for reviewing it.

Lori L said...

It will be disturbing, Jackie. Oskar didn't really have a positive message, per se; he was a deeply flawed man who was also very determined to do his one righteous act at all costs.

Anna said...

I'm so glad to see you thought this was a good book. I bought it after watching the movie again for the first time in years, but I want to distance myself from the movie before reading it. I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

Lori L said...

The movie was very powerful. I think you will always think of the movie - even while reading the book. I did and it has been many, many years since I saw the movie. Of course you can link, Anna!