Schindler's List (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
In his fourteen novels, Thomas Keneally has mixed fact and fiction in treating subjects as diverse as Joan of Arc in Blood Red, Sister Rose (1974) and the aborigines of his native Australia in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972). The various facets of war are a frequent topic for Keneally: the signing of the armistice ending World War I in Gossip from the Forest (1976); the story of a young English surgeon transferred to a Yugoslavian medical unit during World War II in Season in Purgatory (1977); the War Between the States in Confederates (1980).
Keneally’s latest treatment of war, Schindler’s List, concerns the efforts of an industrialist to save his Jewish workers from extermination in Poland and Czechoslovakia during World War II. The idea for the book came about when Keneally met a survivor of this experience in a Beverly Hills luggage store while on tour for Confederates. Leopold Pfefferberg showed him documents detailing the remarkable story of Oskar Schindler, and Keneally was soon on the other side of the world interviewing fifty Schindler survivors and examining a large body of papers and letters.
Keneally writes in his preface that he chose to “use the texture and devices of a novel” to tell this story “because the novelist’s craft is the only one I can lay claim to, and because the novel’s techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and...
(The entire section is 2141 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Hitler, WWII, and the Jewish Holocaust
The mass murder of European Jews and others under Nazi rule during World War II has come to be known simply as the Holocaust. "Holocaust" literally means "massive destruction by fire." It is thought that eleven million people were killed by the Nazis. These included political opponents (particularly Communists), Slavs, gypsies, mentally and/or physically disabled, homosexuals, and other "undesirables." An estimated six million men, women, and children were killed merely because they were Jews. The destruction of the Jews in Europe stands as the archetype of genocide in human history.
Jews had been the subjects of persecution in Europe at least since the seventeenth century. When Adolph Hitler, the charismatic, Austrian-born demagogue, rose to power in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s, he rallied the German people with a message that included notions of "Aryan," or white, superiority and the inferiority of other races. The Jews were a special target of his hatred, and they were incorrectly represented during this time of social, political, and economic upheaval as being wealthy and in control of the country's economy. In 1932, Hitler ran...
(The entire section is 937 words.)
Schindler's List is a "documentary novel," a novel that recreates events that actually took place in real life. The events described in the book are based on interviews with fifty Schindler survivors and enriched by extensive research as well as by the author's visits to Kraków, Plaszow, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Keneally goes to great lengths to describe characters as they were in real life and to create a sense of realism. But he uses the texture and devices of the novel—a form normally used for fictional accounts—to tell the true story of Oskar Schindler because, he says, "the novel's techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and magnitude as Oskar." Keneally stresses, though, that he attempts to avoid fiction in his work because "fiction would debase the record." He says that, although he has recreated some of the conversations, all events are based on detailed recollections of witnesses to the acts described. The result is a work that moves back and forth between simply telling a story and embellishing or commenting upon that story by examining how the author came to know the facts, how the facts may be disputed, or how the witnesses feel about certain events. For example, the author sometimes intrudes into a story to mention that another witness has a different account of those events, how a particular survivor says he or she felt about Schindler, and so on. The effect of this authorial intrusion is...
(The entire section is 838 words.)
Schindler's List is characterized as nonfiction-fiction—a seeming contradiction. The incidents are the recollections of real people; the style is that of "the new journalism," for which Keneally has been criticized by some. The book was published in England as Schindler's Ark and nominated for the Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction. Since this is England's most prestigious literary award, the book's categorization as fiction or nonfiction became quite important. In the London Times Keneally explained: "The craft of the novelist is the only craft to which I can lay claim, and . . . the novel's techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and magnitude as Oskar [Schindler]." The judges awarded the prize to Schindler's Ark, concurring with Keneally's explanation.
Keneally learned of the story by accident when he happened to meet Leopold Pfefferberg, the same Pfefferberg who made purchases for Schindler on the black market. "With Pfefferberg's constant help I interviewed almost fifty people who survived, thanks to Schindler," Keneally said in a New York Times report. Using this information, Keneally was able to tell the story of Schindler's contribution to the Jews in World War II. According to the critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times, Keneally's restraint in telling the story—not trying to tell what is not honestly there—increases its believability. Phillip Howard of the London...
(The entire section is 242 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
In Schindler's List, Keneally examines personal choices for good or evil, using historical figures and the roles they played in one part of the Holocaust. The choices for good lead to the preservation of the lives of more than thirteen hundred people, many of them Jews, because Schindler works within an evil system to make a difference for these people. Amon Goeth and others who work with him make choices for evil, causing many to lose their lives. After the war ends, they blame their choices on orders from their superior officers.
1. Schindler's List is told from the point of view of a German Nazi who does not agree with his government. Schindler has all the better things of life—he lives in a fine apartment, dines on good food, and wears elegant clothing. Yet both the book and the movie attempt to reveal the horrors of the Holocaust. Can the true horror of what was suffered in the extermination camps be realized through the eyes of Schindler?
2. Amon Goeth is a psychopath. Describe instances in the book and film that show the symptoms of his mental illness. Compare the descriptions in the book with the images in the film; which give more depth to your perceptions of his illness?
3. When is a person responsible for making a moral choice? Does Schindler make all the moral choices that are open to him? Discuss Schindler's choices at his birthday party, the first year DEF is open.
4. Compare Hitler and his...
(The entire section is 400 words.)
In the face of the unbelievable horror of the murder of six million Jews in Europe during World War II, Oskar Schindler is able to make a difference, one person at a time, and save the lives of his factory workers by setting up his own camp at his own expense. Schindler is the Nazi who does not believe, who works within the system, a system of bribes and gifts, to convince the people in power in Cracow, Poland, that his workers are important enough to be left to him. He manages to create a refuge, in a time of unspeakable terror, for a chosen few. To be on "the list" meant the difference between life and death. Schindler's regret in the end was that he was unable to save more lives.
Oskar Schindler is born on April 28, 1908, in Moravia, at that time part of the Austrian Empire. As a child, he plays with some Jewish boys, who are the sons of a liberal rabbi, and he attends school with them and other children of Jewish parents at the German grammar school. The Jewish population does not experience discrimination as part of life in the early-twentieth century Moravian town of Zwittau, where Oskar grows up. All seems to be going as predicted by the nineteenth-century German-Jewish liberals: the Jewish population is accepted, allowed to pursue careers in business, education, the arts, or whatever they choose, while practicing their religion with no fear of reprisals.
The National Socialists, better known as the Nazi Party, change all this. Some of...
(The entire section is 2614 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1940s: The dictator Adolph Hitler is the supreme ruler of Germany.
1980s: The dictator Augusto Pinochet is the supreme leader of Chile.
Today: The dictator Saddam Hussein is the supreme leader of Iraq.
1940s: European Jews must carry passes and are marked by the Star of David so they may be identified as non-Aryans.
1980s: Under apartheid, Black South Africans must carry "passbooks" to identify who they are.
Today: Non-Muslims must wear markers to identify themselves as such under the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
1940s: The Nazi regime carries out a program of genocide against European Jews, gypsies, and other groups.
1980s: In the early 1980s, the Guatemalan military, acting on orders from the country's highest authorities, carry out genocide against the country's majority Mayan population.
Today: The World Federalist Association and other human rights organizations campaign to end genocide forever, beginning in the twenty-first century, by reforming United Nations (UN) decision-making and by creating early-warning structures within the UN before the genocide starts.
(The entire section is 164 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Research the "death camps" set up by the Nazis during World War II. Examine four in detail and compare them to the Plaszow labor camp described in Schindler's List.
Research the lives of at least three other "righteous ones" honored by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, for their rescue efforts during World War II.
Compare the characters of Oskar Schindler and Amon Goeth. In what ways are they similar and in what ways different? How does Keneally use the similarities and differences between the two men to underscore the themes in his novel?
Set up a mock trial for Amon Goeth, trying him for his crimes against the Jewish prisoners at Plaszow. What punishment should he receive?
Compare Keneally's account in his novel to the treatment of Schindler's story in Steven Spielberg's movie. How do they differ?
Why do you think Keneally wrote his book as a novel? Use textual evidence to explain the effects of Keneally's strategy and his possible motives.
(The entire section is 164 words.)
One of the best-known books on the Holocaust, Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, has long been used by teachers to introduce children and young adults to the events of the Holocaust. According to "Holocaust Education: Legislation, Practices, and Literature for Middle-School Students," an article by Edna Greene Bradham that appeared in The Social Studies on May 15,1997, the many teachers who use literature and rely on the Anne Frank diary as the standard should use other selections from the rich literature available, choosing material that is age-appropriate. She recommends a number of nonfiction selections, including Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary: A Photographic Remembrance by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven (1993); Hiding to Survive: Stories of Jewish Children Rescued from the Holocaust by Maxine B. Rosenberg (1994); Bearing Witness: Stories of the Holocaust by Hazel Rochman and Darlene McCampbell (1995); We Are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust edited by Jacob Boas (1995); and Jewish Migrations by Jill Rutter (1995). In addition, she recommends several books for young children and information from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
As reason to inform students and adults about the Holocaust, Bradham cites a 1993 Roper poll in which 20 percent of the students and 22 percent of the adults responding thought it was possible that "the Holocaust had never...
(The entire section is 306 words.)
Major 20th Century Writers says that "Thomas Keneally's novels are characterized by their sensitivity to style, their objectivity, their suspense, and their diverse subject matter." In Three Cheers for the Paraclete, a novel focusing on a priest in a Sydney seminary, Keneally presents the characters "objectively and compassionately." The same can be said for his treatment of the people in Schindler's List: he makes them human, showing an understanding of their goodness or badness. His account of the Joan of Arc story, Blood Red, Sister Rose, gives Saint Joan the right to be human. His other novels that deal with war are Season in Purgatory and Gossip from the Forest. Doctor Pelham in Season in Purgatory is a young English surgeon attached to a Yugoslavian medical unit who sees all the horrors of World War II. Gossip from the Forest presents the signing of the armistice at the end of World War I, combining fiction and history. In Confederates, a novel about a different sort of war, the American Civil War, there are no main characters, but rather groups of soldiers preparing for the Second Battle of Antietam.
More recently Keneally has written The Cut-Rate Kingdom (1984) and A Family Madness (1985), both concerned with moral issues associated with World War II. Flying Hero Class (1991) is a suspense novel about a jetliner hijacking. Woman of the Inner Sea (1992) is a...
(The entire section is 294 words.)
Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of Schindler's List was released in December 1993. The film was an instant success, with both the public and the critics. Nominated for twelve Academy Awards, it won six: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. The film opened around the time of the inauguration of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a period that has been described as the "Holocaust Boom." It was the first attempt by Hollywood to depict the murder of the Jews in Europe during World War II. Government officials such as California Governor Pete Wilson and New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley publicized the impact of the film on their lives and touted its value as an educational tool. To be critical of the film at that time was heresy.
Several books comparing the film and the book have now been published. Since Schindler's List is used so often today in educational settings, there is a need for additional information to aid in the study of the book and the film. One is Oskar Schindler and His List: The Man, the Book, the Film, the Holocaust, and Its Survivors (1995), edited by Thomas Fensch and reviewed by Ray Olson in Booklist, September 15, 1995. This book contains postwar journalists' testimony, writings about Keneally's book, reviews of the film, and an annotated bibliography of other Holocaust writings. A review by Maria Stone of Spielberg's Holocaust:...
(The entire section is 681 words.)
Schindler's List was adapted as a film by Steven Spielberg, starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley, Universal, 1993; available from MCA/Universal Home Video.
Schindler's List is also available as an audiobook (abridged), read by Ben Kingsley, published by Simon and Schuster (1993).
(The entire section is 60 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors (1994), edited by Elinor J. Brecher and with photographs by Jill Freedman, presents the stories of seventy-five real-life Schindler's list survivors, with personal accounts of the Holocaust their encounters with Schindler, their experiences after the war, and their reunions with their unlikely savior.
Hillel Levine's In Search of Sugihara: The Elusive Japanese Diplomat Who Risked His Life to Save 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust (1996) tells the story of Chiune Sugihara, a diplomat and spy who risked his career and saved as many as 10,000 Jews from deportation to concentration camps by issuing them transit visas.
In his graphic narratives Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (1987) and Maus II: Here My Troubles Began (1991), Art Spiegelman blends autobiography with the story of his father's survival of the concentration camps. The characters here have the heads of animals—the Jews are mice, the Nazis are rats, and the Poles are pigs.
William Styron's Sophie's Choice, published in 1979 and later made into a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep (1982), is the story of a Polish Catholic woman sent to Auschwitz for nonpolitical reasons, who struggles to survive her guilt about the past.
Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity (1947), by the...
(The entire section is 327 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Brecher, Elinor J. Schindler’s Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. An inspiring tribute to the Schindler Jews, thirty in particular, and the extraordinary accomplishments in their lives since being rescued by Oskar Schindler.
Crowe, David. Oskar Schindler: The Untold Story of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List. New York: Basic Books, 2004. This extremely thorough biography of Oskar Schindler, almost twice the length of Schindler’s List, fills in many details about Schindler’s early life, the war years, and his life after the war.
Keneally, Thomas. Searching for Schindler. New York: Doubleday, 2007. In this invaluable adjunct to his novel, Keneally describes the extraordinary process of interviewing at least fifty Schindler Jews from around the world and discusses his novel’s adaptation into one of the most lauded films of all times.
Pemper, Mietek. The Road to Rescue: The Untold Story of Schindler’s List. New York: Other Press, 2005. Serving as Amon Goeth’s personal secretary and as a friend to Oskar Schindler during and after the war, Pemper is best qualified to offer a fascinating first-person account of the inner workings of the Nazi leadership and the creation of the life-giving Schindler’s list.
Sauerberg, Lars Ole. “Fact-Flirting...
(The entire section is 296 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Drury, John, Creating Poetry, Writer's Digest Books, 1991.
Gaffney, Carmel, "Keneally's Faction: Schindler's Ark," in Quadrant, Vol. 29, No. 7, July 1985, pp. 75-77.
Glastonbury, Marion, "Too Grateful," in New Statesman, Vol. 104, No. 2694, November 5, 1982, p. 25.
Hollington, Michael, "The Ned Kelly of Cracow: Keneally's Schindler's Ark," in Meanjin, Vol. 42, No. 1, March 1983, pp. 42-46.
Hulse, Michael, "Virtue and the Philosophic Innocent: The British Reception of Schindler's List," in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 163-88.
Johnson, Manly, "Thomas Keneally's Nightmare of History," in Antipodes, Vol. 3, No. 2, Winter 1989, pp. 101-104.
Keneally, Thomas, Schindler's List, Touchstone, 1993.
Kirby, Farrell, "The Economies of Schindler's List," in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 163-88.
Loshitzky, Yosefa, ed., Spielberg's Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on "Schindler's List," Indiana University Press, 1997.
Petersson, Irmtraud, "'White Ravens' in a World of Violence: German Connections in Thomas Keneally's Fiction, in Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2, October pp. 101-104, 160-73.
Pierce, Peter, "'The Critics Made Me': The Receptions...
(The entire section is 457 words.)