Schindler's List

Schindler's List, Thomas Keneally

Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.
— Thomas Keneally, Schindler's List

I will fully admit that I saw the movie for this book before I decided to read it. That being said, I now think that everyone should read the book even if they have seen the movie. While it's been a while since I've seen the movie, I absolutely agree that there's a reason it is so well known, and won so many awards when it was released. What the book adds, however, is a deeper examination into the background of Oskar Schindler - his upbringing, his actions, his motives, his process. 

One of the aspects I enjoyed most about this book was the examination of good and evil: Schindler is the protagonist and ultimately saves thousands of lives but he is an adulterer, indulges in personal riches, lives a lavish lifestyle for his own amusement, sells product to the Nazis, and is constantly in the company of Nazis. He has 'distaste' for the government and the many terrible people it employs but works within the system instead of directly against it. 

Schindler is portrayed as a hero, yes, but Keneally doesn't shy away from painting a true portrait of the man. He doesn't hide Schindler's faults under the facade of this almost mythical hero-figure. 

Another thing that I liked was the perspective on Schindler's actions. In the context of the millions of murders that happened during the Holocaust, saving a little over 1000 people could seem like a blip on the radar in comparison to the devastation rendered, Schindler's List brings home the important fact that these are still 1000 people. Living, breathing people who each had their own individual lives that were just as important as any other. Even though 1000 is minuscule when held up against millions, for each person that was saved, it made all the difference. 

Interesting note. At the end of the movie, Schindler is incredibly repentant, saying 'what if I had paid more, what if I had sold the car, etc,' and insinuating that he should have gone further to save more people. This scene was invented and didn't occur in the book and I almost like it better without it. Schindler did everything he could to save the people he did save and spent his entire fortune doing so. In the end, he knew the value that had and didn't have any regrets. 

What I Liked About It:

  • It surprised me. I think I was expecting an incredible depressing book. While Keneally did bring show the deep abyss + full potential of human evil, I felt that he really made the point that good can come even from those who aren't cut out to do good. This was very uplifting. 
  • It amused me. Is that terrible to say? Keneally, in what seems to be a reflection of the mindset of some of Schindler's Jews (or Schindlerjuden as they referred to themselves), was able to put small amusements or ironies into this incredible story. Examples of moments gave me this impression: Schindler bathing with the SS guard in the bathtub above the shop floor, Goeth's unfailing belief in his friendship with Schindler, the cleverness of the little girl in the red cap - (look up her name).  
  • The perspective. Keneally worked very closely with Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor and one of Schindler's Jews, in writing this book. In fact, Pfefferberg was the one who pushed Keneally to write the book in the first place. Because of this, I felt like the account given of Schindler was representative of the way the people he saved viewed him. 

What I Didn't Like:

  • # of Characters. There are a lot of stories to be told in this narrative, and understandably so. However, to some degree I felt there were so many characters that it was hard to keep track of them all. For me, in an effort to tell as many stories as possible, we lost some of the depth in the individual stories. I would have loved to learn much more about certain characters' relationship to Schindler, for example, Stern. I think Keneally's goal was to show the many ways in which even small interactions determined the course of individual lives affected by Schindler's actions - I respect the thought behind this effort and do see the value in seeing small parts of more stories. 

Favourite Quotes: 

  • “If Frau Rasch, in the last and fullest days of her husband’s power in Brno, had idly—during a party, say; a musical recital at the castle—gazed into the core of the diamond that had come to her from Oskar Schindler, she would have seen reflected there the worst incubus from her own dreams and her Führer’s. An armed Marxist Jew.” 
  • “The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.”