Book Review: Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler, edited by Bruce Thompson

This book is one of those inevitable compilations of materials that comes about in the aftermath of some sort of famous cultural phenomenon.  It is unlikely that this book would have been written in the absence of the popularity of the film for Schindler’s List and the various works that came out as a result of that movie to correct the story from a historical perspective from others who had survived the Holocaust thanks to Schindler’s efforts.  As part of a series on people who make history, this book definitely offers a great deal to readers, and it appears especially made for those who are engaged in historical or film criticism who want to examine the Holocaust and its horrors in a broader context that includes how such matters are understood and represented, and how it is that we appreciate a complex person like Schindler who defies easy understanding by people working with conventional frameworks on how to judge behavior.  As someone who appreciates complex people, this book, though small, did offer a great deal to enjoy and to think about, and I appreciated the skillful selection of materials across the corpus of books about Schindler that exist.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages and is divided into five chapters with several sections in each chapter.  After a foreword and an introduction that show the editor’s judgment of Schindler as a man of exceptional virtue, we begin with a look at the background of German Anti-Semitism, with excerpts about the pre-war persecution of Jews, the violence of the “final solution,” Hitler’s willing excecutioners, and the context of righteous gentiles like Schindler (1).  After this there is a discussion about Schindler’s efforts to save the Jews including recollections by his estranged wife, and a discussion of the man and his deeds by the writer of the book that inspired the movie itself (2).  After that there is an examination of various survivors (3), including the Rosner family, Abraham Zuckerman, Celina Karp, and Sam Birenzweig.  Several authors take on the difficult task of seeking to divine Schindler’s moral character and motivations for acting as he did, including authors who look at Schindler’s moral development, the economic puzzle of his actions, his compulsion, and his challenge to moral theory (4).  Finally, three people give different perspectives and reviews of the film Schindler’s List, with one person viewing the film as being more about Spielberg, and one other positive and negative review of the film from viewers (5).  After this there are some discussion questions, an appendix of primary documents, and a glossary, index, and suggestions for further research.

In reading a book like this, one has to understand that one is not merely reading for enjoyment or even reading for information, but one wishes to determine what the various people involved want to demonstrate and how they want to support their agendas.  The editor does a good job at blending different perspectives–there are even sidebars within various excerpts that provide contrasting opinions to the one being presented in the excerpt itself.  There are at least a few things that are clear to a reader from the author.  For one, the editor thinks the reader should think of Schindler as a moral individual and that his behavior should change one’s view of ethics.  Likewise, the editor presents Schindler as being complicated–corrupt, probably with a split personality of sorts, and someone who was unable to find a place in the postwar world.  The question of blame as far as who is responsible for that is not clear–the editor presents perspectives, though, that show that Germany was unwilling to really wrestle with its antisemitism in the aftermath of World War II, for all of its abhorrence of any demonstration of Nazism.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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