The tale that Keneally tells so well here is full of pain, but the edge is dulled by a sliver of hope and even most improbably of joy. Millions died; 1,300 were saved by Schindler's list. The fraction saved was so small, the action risked so unique, the reaction shared so strong that only joy of a deep spiritual kind can account for it. Indeed, in the dark pages of human history only a heart yearning for God can account for the presence of joy.
Keneally unfolds the tale so quietly that it feels like a whispered remembrance from an acquaintance we haven't seen in years. The author's note calls it a "true story" told using 'the texture and devices of a novel," and it reads like the best of a classic without embellishments. It is tempting to say the story writes itself, until you compare it to other attempts at the genre, and until you realize that no one had told this story in the 35 years since it happened. So the book earns its classic rating on both the power of the story and the power of the telling of it.
At different points of the story, Keneally steps outside the account and asks the question of motive, for the Oscar Schindler of history and this story is neither saint nor hero. He is a German business man who profits from his Jewish slave labor and his SS contacts, he is a corrupt business man who bribes and parties with his Nazi suppliers and buyers, and he is an immoral man who cheats openly on his wife with multiple women at once. Yet he gambles his business and his life for his workers, arrested and jailed three times even as he promises them safety and life after the madness ends. He openly faces down the bureaucracy that enriches him, rejoicing in his anarchic victories large and small. He is a clear-eyed business man who sabotages his factory output to deprive the German war machine of the material it needs to finalize its ultimate solution.
At most and best it must be said he was the right man in the right place with the right abilities and contacts to make a difference--and he did. He promised his workers life, and he gave it to them. At the very end, as the German army scattered, the feared Russians approached from the east, and the Americans paused to the west, when the risk was at its greatest because of the vortex of fear in the center, Schindler managed his transition from boss to prisoner and coached his workers in how to survive the coming freedom his list had won for them. "Though no one quite understood it, it was the instant in which they became themselves again."
That was the gift worthy of the pain and the joy and makes this book and movie such classics.
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