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 magnitude as Oskar.” The novelistic devices in Schindler’s List include beginning the book with a prologue set in 1943 and then returning to the beginning of the story. This prologue sets the tone of the book and introduces some of the leading figures in the same way that the opening chapter in a novel might. Similarly, Keneally offers brief glimpses of people and events throughout the book whose significance does not become clear until the end. The dialogue is a plausible reconstruction based on interviews and written recollections.
Indeed, the status of Schindler’s List as a novel has been somewhat controversial, especially after the book was awarded Great Britain’s prestigious Booker McConnell Prize for fiction; there was widespread protest that such an honor should be accorded a work which many readers regarded as essentially nonfiction. (It was published in England as Schindler’s Ark.) Keneally himself told The New York Times, “I deliberately set out to write a book as fact in a literary way. . . . There is something in it as a novel, but not as fiction. My publisher . . . describes it as a nonfiction novel. It is startling that it would win a prize for fiction.” He had the survivors read and correct his manuscript to insure its accuracy.
Keneally devotes about half the book to Oskar Schindler and half to what happened to the Jewish population of Krakow during the years from 1939 to 1945. When the Germans invaded Poland, the Jews thought they would survive as their race always had, by petitioning and buying off authorities. After all, since one in eleven Poles was Jewish, they were needed. They soon learned that the Nazi menace was much worse than they had imagined. Their businesses and homes were appropriated, and they were forced to live in a ghetto. Eventually, the ghetto was cleared, and they were placed in some of the seventeen hundred large and small forced-labor camps in Poland. On the day the Krakow ghetto was closed, four thousand people were found hiding and were murdered. At Forced Labor Camp Plaszów outside Krakow, the Jews discovered that “the SS believed the death of the socially unappeasable Jew outbalanced any value he might have as an item of labor.” Commandant Amon Goeth and his men looked for any excuse to beat or kill the prisoners. The irony of Plaszów was that the Jews conspired to make it work because the alternative was death camps such as Auschwitz.
Oskar Schindler was a most unlikely candidate for advocate of such oppressed people. Born in 1908 in Moravia, then part of Austria, later belonging to Czechoslovakia, young Schindler joined Konrad Henlein’s Sudeten German Party, but he became disillusioned with National Socialism as soon as Germans entered Moravia and began bullying people and seizing property. Politics were never as important to Schindler as making money and living the good life. When Germany invaded Poland, he saw his chance to get rich, and he convinced the Armaments Inspectorate to allow him to take over a bankrupt enamelware factory in Krakow. He named the company Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik (commonly called Emalia) and soon had army contracts to produce mess kits and field kitchenware. (He was later to manufacture 45mm anti-tank shells as well.) Within a few months, Schindler was employing 150 Jewish workers, and Emalia was developing a minor reputation as a haven because of his humane treatment of them. Eventually, the military contracts together with black-market dealings made Schindler rich.
Schindler was a larger-than-life figure, a hedonist with expensive tastes. He had a wife, Emilie, in Moravia, and he had two mistresses: Ingrid, the German supervisor of a Jewish hardware company, and Victoria Klonowska, his Polish secretary....
(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!
Ideas for Group Discussions
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
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...
(The entire section is 296 words.)