Thomas Keneally's Schindler's List is the historical account of Oskar Schindler and his heroic actions in the midst of the horrors of World War II Poland.
Schindler's List recounts the life of Oskar Schindler, and how he comes to Poland in search of material wealth but leaves having saved the lives of over 1100 Jews who would most certainly have perished. The novel focuses on how Schindler comes to the realization that concentration and forced labor camps are wrong, and that many people were dying through no fault of their own. This realization did not occur overnight, but gradually came to be as the business man in Oskar Schindler turned into the savior of the Jews that had brought him so much wealth. Schindler's List is not just a biography of Oskar Schindler, but it is the story of how good can overcome evil and how charity can overcome greed. Schindler's List begins with the early life of Oskar Schindler.
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The novel describes his early family life in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his adolescence in the newly created state of Czechoslovakia. It tells of his relationship with his father, and how his father left his mother. His mother is also described in great detail. Like many Germans in the south, she was a devout Catholic. She is described as being very troubled that her son would take after her estranged husband with his negligence of Catholicism. Oskar never forgave Hans, his father, for his abandonment of his mother , which is ironic considering that Oskar would do the same with his wife Emilie.
In fact Hans and Oskar Schindler's lives would become so much in parallel that the novel describes their relationship as "that of brothers separated by the accident of paternity." Oskar's relationship with Emilie is also described in detail as is their marriage. The heart of the novel begins in October 1939 when Oskar Schindler comes to the Polish city of Cracow. It has been six weeks since the German's took the city, and Schindler sees great opportunity as any entrepreneur would.
For Schindler, Cracow represents a place of unlimited possibilities because of the current economic disorder and cheap labor. Upon his arrival in Cracow he meets Itzak Stern, a Jewish bookkeeper. Schindler is very impressed with Stern because of his business prowess and his connections in the business community. Soon Schindler and Stern are on their way to the creation of a factory that would run on Jewish labor.
Around this time, the persecution of the Jews of Poland begins with their forced relocation into ghettoes. This turns out to be timely for Schindler as now he is able to get very cheap labor. The next few years would go well for Schindler and his factory for they turned a great profit. In fact he made so much money that he is quoted as saying, "I've made more money than I could possibly spend in a lifetime." His workers were also very happy. This is because "Schindler's Jews" were treated as humans as opposed to being treated as animals. For them, working in Schindler's factory was an escape from the ghetto and from much German cruelty. They loved Schindler so much that his factory became known as a haven throughout the Jewish community.
However, things began to go sour for Schindler, when the Germans ordered the liquidation of the ghettoes. Soon all of the Jews in the Cracow ghetto were relocated to the Plaszow labor camp. By this time Schindler had grown so affectionate toward his Jewish workers that he refused to hire Poles, and instead sought of a way to keep using the Jews that he had grown so accustomed to. As the Cracow Jews were relocated to the Plaszow labor camp, Oskar Schindler came into direct dealings with the camp's director, Amon Goeth. He did not like Amon, but he tried to get in on his best side in order to keep using his Jews in his factory. Amon agreed to let Schindler use them, and thus saving his Jews from some of the harshness of the Plaszow labor camp. As the war began to go badly for the Germans, they decided to accelerate their "final solution" by sending the Jews to more sinister concentration camps such as Auchwitz.
This is when Oskar Schindler finally comes to the realization that he had the power to help his people. The now enlightened Schindler decides to use his entire fortune to buy the lives of the Schindlerjuden in order to save them from the gas chambers of Auchwitz. This is how Schindler's list came to be. 1100 Jewish names that had in some way touched his life.