Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Oskar Schindler, a Czech manufacturer and factory owner, is on his way to dine with Amon Goeth, Nazi commandant of the Paszów labor camp outside Kraców, Poland, in 1943. Schindler’s car travels on the broken Jewish gravestones that pave the road to Goeth’s villa. Inside the villa, as Jewish musicians play unobtrusively, Goeth is surrounded by local police and prostitutes. Schindler encounters Goeth’s maid, Helen Hirsch, who has been severely beaten by Goeth; terrified, she confides to Schindler about Goeth’s frequent brutality and begs Schindler to find and save her younger sister.
It is now 1908, and Schindler is born in Zwittau, Austria (later part of Czechoslovakia), a small industrial town where people speak German. Schindler, whose favorite hobby is motorcycles, studies engineering and expects to take over his father’s farm-machinery company. Soon, he marries Emilie, a farmer’s daughter, but he is never faithful to her.
In the fall of 1939, Schindler moves to Kraców and meets Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant who has many valuable business insights and contacts. In November, Jews are required to register with the Nazis, and the restrictions and brutality against Jews begin. With Stern’s advice, Schindler purchases an enamelware and cookware company called Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik (Emalia) and initially employs 150 Jewish slave laborers. By the end of 1939, Schindler is often seen socializing with high-ranking Nazi officers and administrators, many of whom he bribes with rare black-market items to purchase their influence, protection, and support.
In early 1940, Kraców’s Jews are forced into an overcrowded ghetto, while their Christian neighbors harass and spit at them. Despite vicious slogans and posters promising violent punishment for those who help Jews, Schindler assures his workers that they are safe with him.
Shortly thereafter, Schindler is arrested by the Nazis on a trumped up charge of some irregularity in his bookkeeping, but because of the intervention of bribed Nazi officials, Schindler is released. Later, however, when his workers throw him a birthday party, Schindler is denounced for kissing a young female Jewish worker. He is rearrested but soon released because of intervention from ranking Nazi officials.
Schindler’s office manager, Abraham Bankier, is missing, so Schindler uses bluster and...
(The entire section is 977 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
After the release of Steven Spielberg’s enormously successful film in 1993, it is unlikely that many people do not know the story of Oskar Schindler, a Sudetan German confidence man who uses his connections with the German SS military organization to feather his own nest. He sets himself up as a military supplier in Kracow, Poland, in 1939, in order to take advantage of the expropriation of Jewish businesses, staffing his factory with Jews whom he can use as slave labor. Little by little he takes responsibility for the workers’ lives, with a minimum of interference from the German authorities. First, he houses them in his own compound to save them from constantly being taken out of the ghettoes for other work, which would interfere with their factory time. What starts out as effective business practice becomes a peculiar kind of cruel paternalism. Everything changes, however, when the workforce is threatened with transfer to the extermination camps. Schindler, seemingly without much thought or moral intent, begins to thwart the SS in its attempts to drag his workers into the boxcars. He does not save them all; in fact, he saves only a few of the hundreds who pass through his shop, but the Jews who survived the war never forgot him. This feckless, morally dubious, and often unsavory confidence man became one of the most beloved heroes of the Holocaust.
Keneally found this true story by chance, when a Jewish survivor, Poldek Pfefferberg, told him about...
(The entire section is 512 words.)