Schindler's List

Schindler's List - Thomas Keneally I consider Spielberg's film based on this novel one of the most moving and powerful films I'd ever seen. Surely, I thought, that film would diminish the impact of the book. It's true that certainly many of the most powerful scenes in that film can be recognized in the book--the little girl in the red coat, the woman engineer shot by Amon Goeth, the rescue of the women from Auschwitz. But there's a lot more to the book than those scenes, a lot that never made it into the film. Keneally's book is in that uneasy territory between fiction and non-fiction called "creative non-fiction." As he writes in his Author's Note: To use the texture and devices of a novel to tell a true story is a course that has frequently been followed in modern writing. It is the one I chose to follow here - both because the novelist's craft is the only one I can lay claim to, and because the novel's techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and magnitude as Oskar. I have attempted, however, to avoid all fiction, since fiction would debase the record, and to distinguish between reality and the myths which are likely to attach themselves to a man of Oskar's stature. It has sometimes been necessary to make reasonable constructs of conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record. But most exchanges and conversations, and all events, are based on the detailed recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews), of Schindler himself, and of other witnesses to Oskar's acts of outrageous rescue. So yes, the book reads like a novel, and many of its conversations and thoughts are invented--but it is more closely based on fact than the film. Ultimately the Schindler that emerges is even braver and more audacious than Spielberg depicted... but it's a much more complicated tale. And there are other "Schindlers." In the film Schindler in vain tries to convince a fellow industrialist to go in with his scheme to transport his Jewish workers to Moravia. The film implied the man acted--or didn't act--out of cowardice or indifference or even greed. Keneally thought it was probably because the man involved--Julius Madritson--justifiably thought Schindler unreliable and the scheme unworkable. (Madritson saved many Jews himself and was honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.) An even more poignant figure in the book that never made it into the film was a SS Sergeant, Oswald Bosko, who together with Madritson saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Kraków ghetto, only to be executed by the Gestapo. There are a lot of differences like that between the book and the film. Spielberg's film is perhaps the more emotionally moving experience, although some of the book's impact on me might have been blunted by my watching the film first (and several times at that.) But this more complex, well-written, fast-reading novelized history is, I think, even richer in its panoply of people from the darkest demon black to well, never angelic white.... Oskar was hard-drinking, reckless with money, a womanizer--but absolutely admirable and inspiring nevertheless--a true-to-life Scarlet Pimpernel who saved over a thousand lives.