Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lorraine's Review - Schindler's Ark

Lorraine’s Review – Schindler’s Ark - 1982

The story of Oskar Schindler is now widely known in the world.

But it wasn’t always.

Thomas Keneally met Poldek Pfefferberg in 1980. Poldek was saved by Schindler during the Holocaust. Keneally had come into Poldek’s store in Los Angeles and while they waited for a Master Card authorization, Pfefferberg told him about Schindler and shared information and documents.

Later Keneally said in The Guardian (

But I began to see that Schindler and his Jews reduced the Holocaust to an understandable, almost human scale. He had been there, in Krakow, and then in Brinnlitz, for every stage of the process - for the confiscation of Jewish property and business, for the creation and liquidation of the ghettos and the building of labour camps, Arbeitslager, to contain labour forces. The Vernichtungslager, the destruction camps, had cast their shadow over him and, for a time, subsumed 300 of his women. If one looked at the Holocaust using Schindler as the lens, one got an idea of the whole machinery at work on an intimate level, and of how that machinery had its impact on people with names and faces. A terrible thing to say - but one was not defeated by sheer numbers.

I had a recklessness in me that made me open to writing the story. It took more persuasion: my natural timidity sat cheek by jowl with the challenge and richness of this tale. There were lots of issues to iron out - above all, I needed artistic control, as essentially as former prisoners must have the right to offer corrections of fact. But I had not, as some readers would later kindly see it, fought my way to the centre of a maze to emerge with one of the essential stories of an awful century. I had stumbled upon it. I had not grasped it. It - and Poldek - had grasped me.”

Keneally began researching and writing his documentary style novel - Schindler’s Ark. I feel this first title signifies the Biblical message of Schindler’s salvation of the Polish Jews he rescued in his factory in WW2. Akin to Noah saving mankind on his ark, Schindler’s factory was considered a safe haven – almost like paradise compared to the concentration and labour camps of the Nazi regime. In many references in the book, Schindler is compared to and considered God. The title was changed to Schindler’s List for the motion picture (1993) directed by Stephen Spielberg. I think this title represents a shift in focus to the people saved – the Schindlerjuden. They have a personal role in the film than in the novel as the remaining survivors and their descendents appear in the final frames.

This is a powerful and unforgettable story. I found the character of Oskar Schindler and how he answered the call of his conscience to be fascinating. He is complex, flawed, larger than life, and indomitable. Schindler is a real hero as he knew all of the dangers and yet risked his life in the face of the overwhelming and relentless horror of the regime. One of the horrors Schindler dealt with was SS Captain Amon Goeth who ruthlessly shot people at random at the camp at Plazow. The struggle between Goeth and Schindler is compelling. But I found the novel to be at its best in elucidating the stories of the prisoners like Helen Hirsch, Poldek, Pemper, the Rosners and many others. There is a real human touch to Keneally’s writing which helped me to feel the intensity of the Holocaust and realize the message of Schindler’s life.

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