Book Review: Oskar Schindler And His List

Oskar Schindler And His List:  The Man, The Book, The Film, The Holocaust, and Its Survivors, edited by Thomas Fensch

This is an interesting book about a phenomenon.  Having done a lot of reading about Schindler’s list, it is fascinating to see the way that the book and the story and Schindler himself have been viewed by others.  This book is seemingly a compilation of reviews about the man, the book, the film, and portrayals of the Holocaust, and that puts this book at least another layer removed from the original story than those various phenomenon are.  If there’s no business like Shoah business, as this book is a book that certainly is a part of that business, and that only exists because people are interested in knowing what other people have thought about Schindler and his list.  Perhaps tellingly, it is far more dishy about the movie than it is about the man himself, and has immortalized what were meant as tossed off bits of praise about Spielberg’s growth as a director as well as the problems that some people had with the Holocaust being turned into compelling melodramatic film.  The book is certainly worth reading, but it is mainly of interest to those who enjoy reading criticism, likely because they write it as well.

This particular book of a bit more than 250 pages is divided into four very unequal parts.  The first part of the book looks at Oscar Schindler in the immediate postwar period and includes an interview with a person who knew him during that period and the account of that same person from the time (I).  After that there are three articles about the book, including Keneally’s appreciation of the movie Schindler’s list (II).  The third part of the book is by far the longest and this consists of numerous mostly short reviews of some aspect of the film itself.  Most of the reviews are very laudatory, and those which offer some criticism make the comment that criticism of this movie is difficult, to try to paint themselves as courageous for having said something about the melodramatic nature of Schindler’s List or the survival of Spielberg’s tricks even if this is a generally successful “serious” film. There is a great deal of interior Jewish dialogue about the film and what it signifies and its cultural importance and so on (III).  The fourth and final part of the book examines the question of the Holocaust, including the question of how many people actually deny its historicity, which is a very low number if one phrases the question correctly (IV).

This is the sort of book that makes me wonder if it is a good thing to enjoy it as much as I do.  Most of the essays and articles that are a part of this book were clearly not meant to be part of the enduring historical record.  Most of them are tossed off, even a bit gossipy in their attitude, and the fact that they are being read about fifteen years or so after they are written, many of them addressing nothing more substantial than questions about the box office draw of the Holocaust, or its awards show prospects, or about the personal life of Spielberg.  What is being written here is material on the same degree of timelessness as many of my more current events essays or literary criticism, and to see it contained in a book that seeks to look at Schindler’s List as a phenomenon is something quite striking and more than a little bit disconcerting.  I have to think that if some of the people thought that their writing would endure and be itself the subject of textual criticism that they would have gone about their job a bit better, and to see dishy articles mixed with very serious essays on the Holocaust and of the question of historical memory is admittedly a bit jarring, even if that is one of the reasons I appreciate this book, for its variety of material and its layers of register.  Still, I have to think that this is a book that will appeal only to people like me, or like the authors whose writings are part of it.

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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