Archive for April 9th, 2013

Oskar Schindler, a slick and self-indulging saint, spares lives amidst Nazi atrocities

April 9, 2013

In 1980, the Australian novelist Thomas Keneally went shopping for a briefcase in a Beverly Hills, Calif., luggage store. The store’s owner, Leopold Pfefferberg, was one of about 1,300 mainly Polish Jews whose lives had been spared during World War II by the heroic efforts of Nazi industrialist Oskar Schindler.

It was a fateful meeting: After years of attempting to interest a writer in doing a full-length treatment of Schindler’s story, Pfefferberg finally found a receptive ear.

Keneally went on to interview 50 Schindlerjuden in America, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Israel and West Germany. With Pfefferberg, he visited European locations frequented by Schindler and the people protected during the war. Keneally’s researches and other efforts went on to inform the 1982 book Schindler’s Ark, which was published in American under a title well known to moviegoers: Schindler’s List.

The book is categorized by its author as a novel, and Keneally admits to having made “reasonable constructs of conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record.“ However, it reads as a work as journalism, with speculation and extrapolation on certain matters clearly labeled as such by Keneally.

I recently read an American volume of Schindler’s List and found it to be an incredibly moving tale. (This was no surprise; Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film adaptation of Keneally, which I watched last summer, had a similar effect upon me.)

A paradox lies at the heart of this book. In his inimitable fashion, Schindler merrily wined, dined and bribed Nazis as part of a determined effort to spare the lives of about 1,300 workers and their families at his kitchenware and munitions plants in the ancient Polish city of Cracow and, later, the rural Czechoslovakian outpost of Brinnlitz. To find this story inspiring, as I do, is simultaneously to embrace and to deny the backdrop to this feat: The six million European Jews cruelly murdered by Hitler and his armies.
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