Copyright © Jason Voegele
The Holocaust is a difficult topic to deal with as subject matter for a work of art; its horrors have been explicitly brought to light countless times in several different formats and knowledge of these horrors has pervaded our society such that nearly everyone has been exposed to them in some way or another. In order to tell an effective story about the Holocaust, one must do more than shock the reader with the evils that took place in concentration camps or Jewish ghettos--this has been done once and for all by those who lived through it. In his book Schindler's List, novelist and playwright Thomas Keneally goes beyond such shock value by telling of the profound goodness that emerged--from such unspeakable evil--in the character of prison camp Direktor Oskar Schindler and his Schindlerjuden.
Schindler's List, although based on the true story of the events surrounding Oskar Schindler's life during World War II--primarily how he came to save more than 1,100 Jews from the gas chambers by employing them in his factory--is technically a novel. However, the work is not fiction. As Keneally explains in his author's note, "fiction would debase the record...and I have attempted to distinguish between reality and myths that are likely to attach themselves to a man of Oskar's stature...most exchanges and conversations, and all events, are based on the detailed recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler's Jews), of Schindler himself, and of other witnesses to Oskar's acts of outrageous rescue." In his telling of the story, Keneally's sure-handed prose adds credibility and its occasional delve into the poetic adds great emotional weight. The effect of such a telling is that of a slow toxin that siezes the reader by the heart and squeezes to the point of anguish, leading to a novel that is both deeply moving and absolutely believable.
As for the story itself, Keneally focuses mostly on the actions and ambitions of Schindler, leaving the horror stories recessed in the background, creeping around the edges. When such evils are brought to the forefront of the tale, they are potent and real, but somehow serve more as chiaroscuro to the divine goodness of Schindler's deeds. Thus it is that much more effective when Schindler spends every bit of his entire life's fortune to literally buy life for as many of the Jews as he possibly can. When all is said and done, Keneally has done no less than consecrate the sanctity of life by weighing its importance against that of essentially meaningless things such as money.
Schindler's List, by telling the story of a good man living in such evil times, has become an important addition to Holocaust literature. In showing what Schindler did--against all odds, perhaps even considered crimes against "humanity" (at least blond-haired blue-eyed humanity) by his "superiors"--Thomas Keneally has shown us that one man can make a difference. Amazing to think what could be done if we all worked together.