Reviewer: Beth, of Beth’s List Love (first published March 2012)
In 1980, Thomas Keneally was in LA looking for a briefcase. A Holocaust survivor named Leopold Pfefferberg, may or may not have actually sold him one, but he gave him something much more valuable, a tale of holocaust heroism of which he had been one of thousands of fortunate participants. Pfefferberg introduced Keneally to others who had been a part of the story, and took him to the locations critical to the tale. The result was this novel, Schindler’s Ark also known as Schindler’s List, and the movie which we have probably all seen (and should see, if we haven’t).
Most books on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list aren’t there for the plot. They are there for the amazing prose, the literary innovation, the depth of psychological insight. This one, while its prose is fine, is there for the plot. So if you know the plot, since you’ve seen the movie, do you really need to read the book? Yes. Definitely, yes. The book contains the level of documentation and detail, in novel form, but not fictionalized, that helps a reader begin to fully grasp the immensity of what Schindler’s miraculous acts of heroism involved. The book does not paint a saint. Among other things, Schindler was an unapologetic philanderer. According to Keneally, “sexual shame was, to him, a concept like Existentialism, very worthy but hard to grasp.” But Schindler committed years and immense sums of money to protect over a thousand Jews from starvation, abuse, and death, all via an absurd con–a munitions factory that never produced a useful shell.
Schindler walked a high wire, using bribes, charm, and an incredible instinctive ability to read the characters of others, all to protect the Jews in his care and even to rescue his women workers from the bowels of Auschwitz when they were waylaid there on the way to his factory in Moravia. The question you have to ask yourself in reading this book is “Could I have had the courage to act in this way? Faced with Schindler’s choices and risks, could I have been a Righteous Person?” I wish I could confidently answer yes. I am certain of this: reading this book can only make that “yes” more likely.