Schindler's List Summary
by Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List Summary

Schindler's List recounts the true story of Oskar Schindler, who saved over 1,200 Jews from being sent to concentration camps. 

  • Oskar Schindler makes a deal with the commandant of a labor camp to send about 1,100 Jews to work in Schindler's factory. 
  • Schindler grows attached to the Jews and goes to great lengths to protect those in his care, even successfully redirecting a train heading to Auschwitz by bribing officials.
  • After the war, Schindler goes bankrupt but is taken care of by those he saved. He dies in 1974 and receives an honorable burial in Jerusalem.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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Oskar Schindler, a Czech manufacturer and factory owner, is on his way to dine with Amon Goeth, Nazi commandant of the Paszów labor camp outside Kraców, Poland, in 1943. Schindler’s car travels on the broken Jewish gravestones that pave the road to Goeth’s villa. Inside the villa, as Jewish musicians play unobtrusively, Goeth is surrounded by local police and prostitutes. Schindler encounters Goeth’s maid, Helen Hirsch, who has been severely beaten by Goeth; terrified, she confides to Schindler about Goeth’s frequent brutality and begs Schindler to find and save her younger sister.

It is now 1908, and Schindler is born in Zwittau, Austria (later part of Czechoslovakia), a small industrial town where people speak German. Schindler, whose favorite hobby is motorcycles, studies engineering and expects to take over his father’s farm-machinery company. Soon, he marries Emilie, a farmer’s daughter, but he is never faithful to her.

In the fall of 1939, Schindler moves to Kraców and meets Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant who has many valuable business insights and contacts. In November, Jews are required to register with the Nazis, and the restrictions and brutality against Jews begin. With Stern’s advice, Schindler purchases an enamelware and cookware company called Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik (Emalia) and initially employs 150 Jewish slave laborers. By the end of 1939, Schindler is often seen socializing with high-ranking Nazi officers and administrators, many of whom he bribes with rare black-market items to purchase their influence, protection, and support.

In early 1940, Kraców’s Jews are forced into an overcrowded ghetto, while their Christian neighbors harass and spit at them. Despite vicious slogans and posters promising violent punishment for those who help Jews, Schindler assures his workers that they are safe with him.

Shortly thereafter, Schindler is arrested by the Nazis on a trumped up charge of some irregularity in his bookkeeping, but because of the intervention of bribed Nazi officials, Schindler is released. Later, however, when his workers throw him a birthday party, Schindler is denounced for kissing a young female Jewish worker. He is rearrested but soon released because of intervention from ranking Nazi officials.

Schindler’s office manager, Abraham Bankier, is missing, so Schindler uses bluster and bravado to retrieve him from the cattle cars departing for the death camps; while on horseback overlooking the grisly scene, he sees the brutal liquidation of the Kraców ghetto. His terrified eyes focus on one young girl in a scarlet coat, in front of whom the Nazis are shooting and bludgeoning people to death. After witnessing the cattle cars and the death of seven thousand people, Schindler fully realizes the Nazi’s plan to exterminate all Jews.

Plunder, too, runs rampant in Poland, as Jewish jewelers are forced to appraise gold left behind in suitcases by fellow Jews on their way to death. So hard is it even for Jews to believe their imminent fate, that Schindler travels to Hungary to warn Jewish leaders there about the horrific reality of the camps.

Nazi commandant Goeth takes control of the Paszów labor camp. His first act is to nonchalantly order the murder of a Jewish architect who had informed him that the Paszów buildings are unstable. Goeth rules with an iron fist, and more than four thousand Jews who try to...

(The entire section is 4,422 words.)