Schindler's List Themes
by Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List Themes

The main themes of Schindler's List include virtue, good versus evil, and the impact of individuals. 

  • Virtue: Keneally’s book examines what constitutes virtue. Schindler, though not customarily virtuous, is remembered for his righteous deeds.
  • Good versus evil: Schindler appears to align himself with the Nazis, but his selfless defense of the Jews turns him into a force of good. At the end of the war, good triumphs.
  • The impact of individuals: Both Schindler and Goeth influence the lives of many, with Schindler acting for good and Goeth acting for evil. Each represents the choices made my many during the Holocaust.


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Keneally's reason for writing Schindler's List was to acquaint the world with Oskar Schindler and his contributions to the welfare of the people he was able to save. To do this, Keneally interviewed about fifty of the people who were on the list and reviewed documents on file in Israel. Using these sources, he was able to write the story of Oskar Schindler in its entirety for the first time. The themes of personal choice, the triumph of good over evil, the relationship of the Jews and those who tried to save them with the society of the time, and what one person can do to help others in the face of huge odds resound through the stories of historical personages and events reported in the book.

Schindler's personal choices build from small ones that do a little good and endanger him very little to choices that do a great deal of good and endanger him considerably. His first choices—to move to Poland and take over the factory—are motivated by greed. His second choice, to use Jewish slave labor, seems motivated less by greed and more by sympathy for his fellow human beings. By the end of the war, Schindler is choosing to save as many others as possible, with all concern for his own safety seemingly gone. His choices inspire other businessmen in Cracow to make life more tolerable for the Jews they use as laborers. In Brinnlitz he chooses not to manufacture the ammunition he is under contract to produce, so that "none of my shells will kill anyone." He is proud of the fact that none of his munitions pass any test.

A choice that affects many is Schindler's decision to build the Emalia camp—barracks on the premises for the workers at his plant. His workers are thus able to live outside the camp at Plaszow, Schindler is able to feed and clothe them, and the workers are relatively safe from the treatment they would have received in the camp. SS and Ukrainians guard the Emalia camp, with the guard changing every two days. These guards are kept on the outside of the fence, patrolling the perimeter. There are no dogs and no beatings inside the fence. The food is much better than in Plaszow. Schindler still has to fill his government contracts, so the workers work long hours. Schindler provides the camp, the extra food, the extra clothing, at his own expense. At the end of the war he presents a bill for $360,000 to the Joint Distribution Committee for the Jews for the food for the Emalia camp, giving an indication of the costs involved.

Oskar Schindler is not the only person who must make difficult personal choices. The Polish Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern makes his first personal choice when he and Schindler first talk and he tells Schindler why he believes that Hitler cannot succeed. This conversation takes place only seven weeks after the occupation of Poland, but Stern already knows he is in danger. Jews are required to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing. Members of the German army are taking what they want from shops. The governor is issuing edicts that give the Jews their first taste of what is to come. Later Stern asks Schindler to employ various Jewish people, and he finally comes to work for Schindler himself so that he can help Schindler unite the families of the men he has employed.

Others make personal choices for good. Leopold (Poldek) Pfefferberg chooses to trust Schindler, becoming his...

(The entire section is 2,218 words.)