Oskar Schindler (Heroes & Villians), by John F. Wukovits
It is pretty clear from a setup like this book has that Oskar Schindler is viewed as a hero in the context of this series. This book, though, follows many other books about the subject in seeking to provide a warts and all view of its subject. To be sure, the book does not go into grim detail, but given that this book is a short one at about 100 pages and appears to be aimed at fairly young readers, this book is pretty grim for its intended audience. Part of what makes this book so grim and so vivid is the fact that the text is supplemented by pictures, including photos of the sadistic commandant of the Krakow ghetto with him holding a gun in a place where he would engage in target practice against the Jewish prisoners there. It is one thing to read about things, but to see it gives the imagination a great deal more to work with, and it is likely that this book and others like it have been the source of at least a few nightmares among those who read this book late at night, as I am prone to read.
This particular book is organized in a very straightforward fashion, seeking to give a narrative of Schindler’s life from beginning to end as best as possible, focusing on the WWII years, and also including the way that his story found its way into book and film and thus became a matter of general interest. The author notes that very little is known about the early life of Schindler, except his parents had a distant relationship that he replicated with his own wife and that his early friendship with Jewish neighbors helped inoculate him from the anti-Semitism that ran rampant throughout German society at the time. The book also makes clear that German anti-Semitism is something that outlasted the end of Hitler’s regime and something that reared its ugly head when Schindler’s List was being filmed, and that harmed Schindler’s own postwar existence when his kindness to the Jews led him to be labeled as a Jew lover and treated poorly as a result. This book also reveals just how much money went through Schindler’s hands without being profitably invested or saved in the postwar period as he struggled to find a place in the postwar world, unsuccessfully.
This book does a good job at presenting Oskar Schindler in all of his complexity. He was not a man who was simple or easy to grasp, and in his postwar and prewar life he was not the sort of person who would have inspired much confidence. Yet his very obvious attraction to dangerous and unscrupulous behavior ended up being a benefit to humanity in the course of World War II, as he flirted with danger and managed to bluff his way through the Nazi horrors. His native sympathy for Jews simply needed to be activated by a situation that appealed to his unscrupulous ways. This book shows a somewhat unpredictable hero compared to our general image of heroic figures, but it is the sort of hero that it is good to have around, a heroic antihero, if you will. Despite the fact that the photos in this book are often pretty chilling, they do provide some evidence of the sort of man that Oskar Schindler was from his youth onward, a man who liked fast cars and fast women and drinking and schmoozing, and who only found himself a hero at the very moment when heroes were most in need and where his failings became positive qualities in dealing with evil men.