Book Review: Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler:  The Untold Account Of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the Story Behind The List, by David M. Crowe

For readers whose only familiarity with the life and times of Oskar Schindler is through their familiarity the Spielberg movie or Keneally’s novel that inspired it, this book provides a vastly more complicated look at Schindler’s life.  For one, the author makes the judgment that Schindler was not a complex man, by which he appears to mean that Schindler was not a person who was philosophical or reflective but was rather someone who acted on impulse or intuition, something which is definitely in evidence throughout this book.  The author writes not as a novelist but instead as a scholar, and this book is full of a great deal of research into some aspects of Schindler’s life and career that are particularly murky, including his Abwehr career, his shared inability with his estranged wife Emilie to handle money well, and the conflict over his (and his wife’s) efforts to be named as righteous among the Gentiles.  Overall, this book makes for a powerful read, but one that assumes the author has read a lot of other books about Schindler and the Schindler Jews, and it has a deeply sad story to tell about Schindler’s postwar life and reputation.

At more than 600 pages of scholarly writing, this book is by no means a quick or simple read, although it goes in generally chronological fashion.  The author begins with a discussion of Schindler’s early life (before 1938), including his identity as a Sudeten German and his initial contacts with Abwehr (1).  After that the author examines Schindler’s service as a German spy involved in the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland (2).  Schindler’s efforts to acquire the Emalia factory led him to be charged with theft and brutality (3) and the author examines his hesitant and limited initial use of Jewish workers in Krakow (4).  The author discusses the origins of the Schindler myth (5) during the period of the closing of the Krakow ghetto as well as the relationship between Oskar, the sadistic Amon Goth, and the Jews of the area (6).  The author then moves on to discuss the establishment of Schindler’s sub-camp and his ties to the Jewish Agency (7) along with the investigations of Goth and Schindler by the SS and the closing of the concentration camp and the fate of the Jews of Emalia (8).  The author spends a whole chapter looking at the myth and reality of the creation of Schindler’s list by Marcel Goldberg (9) as well as the struggle for survival in Brünnlitz (10).  The rest of the book looks at the postwar period, including Schindler’s immediate postwar experience as a Sudeten German refugee (11), his time in Argentina, return to Germany, and the controversy over his status as a righteous gentile (12), the evening of his life and his struggle with fame and the initial efforts to make a movie about his life (13), and finally a look at his death and the long evening of Emilie’s life and her own struggle with the Schindler legacy (14) and some afterthoughts.

Ultimately, the author comes to the sensible and reasonable conclusion that Oskar Schindler was a man who combined some human flaws, including an inability to handle financial details, alcoholism, and womanizing, along with a fundamental sense of human decency that allowed him to overcome the limitations of being a German in World War II Poland and save the lives of a great many Jews who would otherwise have perished in the death camps.  The author engages in some complex moral calculus that demonstrates how he was able to have some enemies among the Jewish population (namely those who had financial axes to grind against him) but was viewed as a savior type figure by those whose lives he saved over and over again during the darkest days of the war.  The author provides some examinations of areas that have not been well-explored by many other writers and also points out that Schindler’s humanity cut both ways, and presents him as a somewhat tragic but also worthwhile figure.  And anyone reading this book who takes the time to read it all the way through will be similarly both saddened as well as inspired by the straightforward humanity shown by Schindler and his own need to be liked and appreciated by others, something his deeds well deserved.

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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