Schindler's List tells the heroic true story of a Czech factory owner who saved 1,200 Jews from dying in the Nazi concentration camps. Like most Holocaust literature, Schindler's List explores themes of life, death, and the war between good and evil. Oskar Schindler comes to represent the forces of good, working heroically to save his Jewish employees from the evil and corrupt Amon Goeth, a Nazi Commandant who takes bribes, beats his servants, and treats Jews like property to be used as he sees fit. In this battle, Schindler emerges the victor, successfully protecting the Jews who work in his factory; but the Holocaust claimed millions of lives, and the struggle against fascism continues today.
The primary themes of Kenneally's novel are the triumph of good over evil and the change that one person can accomplish against seemingly insurmountable odds.
One of the most famous lines of the novel encapsulates both themes. Istak Stern, Oskar Schindler's partner, philosophically says, "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire." Another related adage, though not present implicitly in the novel, is nevertheless implied: "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." It is much easier, and safer, to think "someone else will do it." For the 1200 people Schindler saved, the actions of one man were priceless.
Although he begins by profiting from the war, Oskar Schindler is haunted by his own unwavering moral compass and the prospect of each person's potential. Although Schindler continually castigates himself for not doing more, (looking at his own dress, he cries out),
"This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this.... I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't!"
Kenneally is not in any way blaming Schindler for not doing more; instead, he has great empathy for a human being and his flaws. Schindler's actions were remarkable for his selflessness and his compassion, even if he was not perfect.