Schindler’s List

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The list is an absolute good.  The list is life.  all around its cramped margins lies the gulf.

I started reading Schindler’s List with the expectation of gruesome stories of the holocaust, and while I had braced myself for horror, instead I found it to be a beautiful love story.  There are horror stories, too, of course – the entire reason Schindler’s kindness was needed was because of the atrocities suffered by the Jews – but this book truly is about Schindler the man, and the selfless love he bestowed upon complete strangers.

Schindler saved generations of Jews from the death camps of Auschwitz by creating the facade of a work camp, which cost hundreds of thousands of his own dollars to maintain.  He wrote a “list” of approximately 1,200 people whom he listed by memory, people he wanted  brought to his camp to work – and to be given a guarantee on life.    When it was all over, he cried openly that he hadn’t be able to save more, just one more person.

He was very charismatic, and as a successful business man spent years building up his reputation, setting the stage for him to lie, swindle, pay off and manipulated the SS system from the inside.  He would convince them to send him more and more people, even though his factory was producing nothing (in fact, its product was routinely rejected due to terrible quality).  When they sent officers out to pull the plug on the operation, he would buy them off or name-drop important people.  Every lie he told brought him one step closer to being sent to Auschwitz himself, but he wouldn’t stop, becoming fanatical in his need to push the boundaries imposed on him and the Jewish people.

One of the most amazing things about Schindler  is that he was an average man.  Within the 6-year period of the German’s occupation in Poland, his career started, climaxed and ended.  His wife, Emilie, said of him, “Oskar had done nothing astounding before the war and has been unexceptional since.”  Sometimes war brings out the worst in people, but in Oskar Schindler it brought out the best.

The Jews themselves saw him as their savior.  Imagine traveling on a train for days, sometimes for over a week without food, to arrive at a snowy destination where you expect to be sent to your death in a gas chamber.  Instead there is Schindler, arms stretched wide, welcoming you to Brinnlitz where warm bread and soup are waiting for you.  There are no beatings, no deaths, in fact the soldiers aren’t even allowed onto the factory floor.  As one woman said, “he was our everything, our mother, our father, our savior,” but the true wonder of Schindler is that he wasn’t a savior or a god, he was simply a businessman who was overcome by his own sense of humanity.

This was an unforgettable book, at times moving me to tears and bringing me through page after page of emotional upheaval.  In addition to being a testament to the monumental importance of the holocaust, Schindler’s List is a book that holds monumental importance as a piece of literary history.

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