What are some discussion questions about the book?
Naturally, you will find a wide array of potential discussion topics on a book that is as powerful as Keneally’s. The most evident discussion questions would have to be with the character of Schindler, himself. I think that a healthy discussion could be had as to where exactly was the moment where Schindler moved from being purely about self- interest to being altruistic. Exploring this dynamic of how individuals can undergo change in specific contexts is fascinating because it helps to reveal the dynamic character of human beings, creating the essence of subjective evolution. Another discussion could take place in comparing and contrasting the characters of Schindler and Goeth. Specifically, what conditions allowed each to embrace the path that they did. I think exploring this would make for a fascinating discussion because it helps to distill the very nature of good and evil. I think that the idea of what makes a person “righteous” could also be worthy of discussion. Schindler is declared a “righteous person” by the Yad Vashem, but there could be a very healthy discussion about the purity of such a label. Schindler is a womanizer, someone who drinks, someone who is unafraid of cheating, and one who places a high value on profit. Yet, he saved the lives of Jewish people who would have otherwise died. When we think of “righteous” and what the term indicates, the immediate image is one of moral purity. The discussion could be whether people who do bad things could be righteous. In this light, we are able to actually explore the complex nature of human beings and go beyond the designations that might only reduce them from such complex beings.
Here are questions I ask my class, although we only use select readings from the book. Hope these are helpful to you:
1) Even Oskar Schindler does something very noble and unique by the end of the story, is he a good person?
2) How does Schindler change personally over the course of the story?
3) How was it possible for people like Commandant Amon Goeth to become so unfeeling and cold?
4) It would have been much easier for Schindler to take his money and go home, leaving his workers to their own fates. Why do you think he decided not to do this?
5) Why would a Jewish "Kapo" work inside the concentration camps when he knew that his own people were being slaughtered? What do you think this says about human beings and their desire to survive?
6) Why did the Nazis use the gravestones of the Jewish cemetery to pave the road leading to Pleszow Labor Camp?
7) How do both Schindler and Goeth treat women in the book? Why do you think this is?
8) What is likable about Schindler himself? Why do the SS men like him?
9) What makes the genocide detailed in the book different from other genocides that have happened before or since?
10) Do you think you could have done some of the things Schindler did, both good and bad? Why or why not?
What this book does effectively is to really force us to ask and question the nature of a "hero" - #3 has made a number of very valid points to show that Schindler was just another frail and sinful human being, and yet in spite of his weaknesses, he was able to achieve something truly good, at great risk to his own life. There is therefore ample room for debate about the true nature of a "hero", and in particular how all of us, no matter what our own personal moral standing is, are capable of achieving great things. This, to me, is one of the central messages of this powerful story and there would be lots of scope for discussion to do with this issue.