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Customer Review

on 26 March 2004
Schindler's List, Thomas Keneally's 1980 non-fiction "novel" about Oskar Schindler's transformation from a bon vivant German (actually, Sudeten German, born in what is now part of the Czech Republic) war profiteer to savior of over 1,000 Jews during World War II, is one of the most fascinating accounts about the darkest chapter of that global conflict, the Holocaust. It vividly portrays the horrors of the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jewish inhabitants in German-occupied Europe while at the same time proving that one person, no matter how flawed and contradictory in nature he or she is, can rise to the occasion and make a difference.
In his Author's Note, Keneally explains that he uses the oft-used technique of telling a true story in the format of a fictional account, partly because he is primarily a novelist (Confederates, Gossip From the Forest) and "because the novel's techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and magnitude as Oskar." He also acknowledges the persistence of Leopold Pfefferberg, a Los Angeles leather-goods store owner and one of the "Schindlerjuden" -- the handful of mostly Polish Jews saved by Schindler from the SS by Oskar's use of his charm, connections with high Nazi Party officials, and ultimately, the fortune Schindler had gone to make in Krakow after Poland's surrender in the fall of 1939.
Like Steven Spielberg's 1993 Academy Award-winning film it inspired, Schindler's List (published in Europe as Schindler's Ark) describes how Schindler takes over a factory -- formerly owned by Jewish investors -- and makes a fortune selling, among other things, pots and pans to the German Army. But as the war goes on and Schindler sees first-hand the horrible crimes the Third Reich is committing in the name of the "Final Solution," the well-connected charmer and ladies' man becomes more concerned about saving lives than making money. First, he has a few fortunate Jews listed with the SS as "essential war-industry workers" in his Krakow factory; later, when he discovers that SS Commandant Amon Goeth has been given orders to dispose of every inmate and slave laborer at the Plaszow Labor Camp before the advancing Soviets reach Krakow, he spends all of his wealth paying Goeth and other corrupt SS officials for the lives of nearly 1,200 of the Jewish men, women, and children who form Schindler's workforce.
While Spielberg's movie faithfully captures the novel's account of the Holocaust years, Keneally's book gives the reader more details about Oskar's life before and after the war, including a short account of his prewar activities and his postwar business failures in Europe and Argentina. However, Keneally's focus is on Schindler's inspiring transformation from shameless and charming entrepreneur to "Righteous Person," proving that decency and righteousness can triumph over even the most implacable tyranny and hatred.
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