Schindler’s List and Searching for Schindler by Thomas Keneally

In 1982, Schindler’s Ark  (later renamed for the movie) was published. It is the tale of Oskar Schindler, an egotistical, womanizing, gregarious black marketer and war profiteer, who lived during the atrocities of World War II. This calculating member of the Nazi party has passion for money, alcohol, and German cigarettes, and little regard for anything sacred, much less his own wife, Emilie.

The real McCoy...err, Schindler

So what makes this story so inspiring? Because this Cognac-loving mogul saved over 1,000 Jews from the horrors inflicted upon them by emptying his pockets, bank-accounts and soul into his mission. Because the hero had no history of being a hero.

Schindler was one of many war profiteers who obtained businesses and property from bankruptcy courts. His sole intent is obtaining money through cheap labor, but we see early on that although Schindler may be many things, he is no racist. Meeting who would eventually become a trusted friend, Itzhak Stern, for the first time, Stern halts the conversation and says, “I am required by law to tell you that I am a Jew.” Schindler merely shrugs and intones, “I am a German, so there we are.”  The relationship of Schindler and Stern, both opportunists, becomes vital. Stern was able to bring out Schindler’s shaded moral side, and influenced the German heavily.

Stern and Schindler

The war goes on, and the day comes when Schindler witnesses a ghetto liquidation. This changes his view on the war and the camps springing up all over Germany. Riding a fine horse, Schindler stops atop a hill over-looking the chaos, and his eye falls upon a child in a red coat, who runs through the bodies littering the streets below. Schindler falls sideways from his saddle and, propped up against a tree, weeps.

Schindler’s rather unsavory nature is then shadowed by a long series of good actions, in which his own factory becomes a camp in which innocent prisoners are treated like people, and given a good diet. Jews with occupations like musician or teacher are given forged papers, stating that they are metal workers and therefore “essential” to the war effort, saving them from deportation. Schindler reportedly kept SS officers out of his camp, either from bribes or invitations to come drink in his office, after which the soldiers would be too soused to remember their purpose at the camp. At one point, Schindler saves a young woman from Nazi Commandant Amon Goeth‘s (whose past-time was sniping prisoners from his balcony) home in a card game. Goeth would later be executed not far from the concentration camp he terrorized, though it took three tries for the noose to be effective.

Amon Goeth

Schindler’s rescues continue when a group of women scheduled to be placed into the safety of his camps are sent into Auschwitz instead. It is more than a mistake,it is a death sentence. However, Schindler somehow pulls off yet another saintly act. In this excerpt taken from the official Oskar Schindler Legacy website, ( a contributor writes, A Schindler survivor, Abraham Zuckerman, later recalled: ‘Can you imagine what power it took for him to pull out from Auschwitz 300 people? At Auschwitz, there was only one way you got out, we used to say. Through the chimney! Understand? Nobody ever got out of Auschwitz. But Schindler got out 300 …!’  When the women arrived to the factory in Brunnlitz, weak, hungry, frostbitten, less than human, Oskar Schindler met them in the courtyard. They never forgot the sight of Schindler standing in the doorway. And they never forgot his raspy voice when he – surrounded by SS guards – gave them an unforgettable guarantee: ‘Now you are finally with me, you are safe now. Don’t be afraid of anything. You don’t have to worry anymore.’ 

  Stella Müller-Madej tells in her book Through the Eyes of a Child that as Oskar Schindler walked along the rows of dirty, lice-ridden, emaciated women, he had a strange expression on his face, one of horror, pity and benevolence. One of the Schindler-women later recalled that on seeing him that morning she felt that ‘he was our father, he was our mother, he was our only faith. He never let us down.’

After the war, Schindler is destitute and is allowed to escape Germany through the help of grateful Jews. In 1948, he settles down in Argentina with his wife, where he eventually goes bankrupt yet again. He later abandons his wife, Emilie, and returns to Germany, where he eventually dies, penniless, leaving behind a brief-case containing the original copes of the List. Schindler wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, as he said, “My children are here”. Visits to his grave site in Jerusalem are made daily.

This obituary for Emilie Schindler, the wife Oskar was never faithful to, tells a bit more of her own side of the story. Emilie states in this article ‘that he had no trace of anti-Semitism and that he counted his workers among his friends, and indeed his mistresses.’

Thomas Keneally himself later stated that, “the truth is, if I were writing the book now, I would probably write about Oskar differently. You could say he was a jovial philanderer, but by another name he was a sexist brute.”

Emilie Schindler--Image by Diego Goldberg/Sygma/Corbis

Assuming most of us have seen the movie, the story we all know from Spielberg’s 1993 film Schindler’s List deviates from the actual occurrences a bit. For one, Stern never worked at Schindler’s enamel factory personally. This place was filled by one Abraham Bankier, the original Jewish owner. Also, the scene in which Schindler paces about the room while Stern types The List may have never occurred, as most evidence points to Schindler being away from Krakow at this time, securing the other factory in Brunnlitz. But slight discrepancies aside, the whole of the story is true.

Poldek Pfefferberg and Schindler after the War

After the release of the movie, the story is now well known. But these books and novels would never have come into being had author Thomas Keneally’s brief-case latch not broken on a business trip in 1980. Seeking out a small shop, Keneally meets the owner, Poldek Pfefferberg ((20 March 1913 – 9 March 2001), a survivor of the Holocaust who once had fought in the Polish army. Pfefferberg  is a bold, passionate fellow who has been trying to get Hollywood’s attention for a long while. He wants Schindler’s story out into the world, and when he recognizes Keneally for the author that he is, Pfefferberg  springs into action. Soon, Keneally is sifting through old documents and photos of D.E.F., the factory known by its workers as Emalia.

The story of Keneally and Pfefferberg’s journey obtaining the first hand accounts of other survivors across the globe is told in Searching for Schindler, a story I found riddled with humor and sobering images. The journalistic aspect also fascinated me. Pfefferberg’s quick wit gets them out of many jams, including a run in with some stiff border patrol in Europe, in which Pfefferberg convinces a soldier that he may have a chance to get into the movie business by letting them through the check point.

Being the proud co-owner of a Kindle Touch, I was able to listen to the Audible version of Keneally’s Schindler’s List. Ben Kingsley’s (who played Itzhak Stern in the movie) narration is smooth and easy on the ears. It’s a definite asset to the Keneally collection.

Having recounted some of the Schindler story now in this post, I cannot deny that Schindler did a noble and heroic thing, although he wasn’t all that noble or heroic himself.

For another aspect on digging up the Schindler story, here’s an amazing article.

SUBJECT MATTER REVIEW: As far as subject matter, Schindler’s List  recounts many scenes of murder and cruelty, something that should not detract you from reading it. Cursing is at a low minimum. Searching for Schindler, however, has a higher percentage of cursing, mostly “B” and “D” words.

I also found this youtube video entertaining (:

This entry was published on May 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Schindler’s List and Searching for Schindler by Thomas Keneally

  1. Thanks, Gram (: Maybe I could find them on the Nook.

  2. Malissa Goff on said:

    These are a must read! Thanks for the great review and for adding the youtube clips.

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