Schindler's List recreates the true story of Oskar Schindler, the Czech-born southern German industrialist who risked his life to save over 1,100 of his Jewish factory workers from the death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. Thomas Keneally's "documentary novel," based on the recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler's Jews), Schindler himself, and other witnesses, is told in a series of snapshot stories. It recounts the lives of the flamboyant profiteer and womanizer Schindler; Schindler's long-suffering wife, Emilie; the brutal SS (Nazi secret service) commandant Amon Goeth; Schindler's quietly courageous factory manager, Itzhak Stern; and dozens of other Jews who underwent the horrors of the Nazi machinery. At the center of the story, though, are the actions and ambitions of Schindler, who comes to Kraków, Poland, seeking his fortune and ends up outwitting the SS to protect his Jewish employees. It is the story of Schindler's unlikely heroism and of one man's attempt to do good in the midst of outrageous evil. The book explores the complex nature of virtue, the importance of individual human life, the role of witnesses to the Holocaust and the attention to rules and details that sustained the Nazi system of terror.
Keneally's book was first published in Britain in 1982 under the title Schindler's Ark and released as Schindler's List in the United States the same year. When Schindler's Ark won Britain's Booker Prize in 1982, it stirred up controversy, with some critics complaining that the "documentary novel" did not deserve a prize normally reserved for fiction. The debate among critics did not affect the book's enormous popularity with readers, however. It enjoyed renewed interest after its adaptation into a feature film by Steven Spielberg in 1993. In part because of the success of the film, Schindler's List ranks as one of the most popular books ever written about the Holocaust.