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Schindler’s Ark. By Thomas Keneally. Background to the author. Thomas Keneally began writing in 1964 and has published twenty-two novels since. He has had three novels short listed for the Booker Prize and won in 1982 with “Schindler’s Ark”

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schindler s ark

Schindler’s Ark


Thomas Keneally

background to the author
Background to the author
  • Thomas Keneally began writing in 1964 and has published twenty-two novels since.
  • He has had three novels short listed for the Booker Prize and won in 1982 with “Schindler’s Ark”
  • In 1993 “Schindler’s Ark” was made into a film by Stephen Spielberg and went on to win seven Academy Awards.
outline of the plot
Outline of the plot
  • The novel centres around the life and experiences of Oskar Schindler and his attempts to protect the Jewish workers during the terror of the holocaust.
  • The reader sees the progression of Schindler and the “Schindlerjuden” as the war progresses, changing from a fabric factory to producing faulty armaments.
  • The reader is left in suspense as it becomes increasingly difficult for Schindler, especially under the watch of high-ranking Nazi members. Will he succeed?....
background to oskar schindler
Background to Oskar Schindler
  • Oskar Schindler was born in Zwittau in present day Czech Republic. His family suffered in the great depression and he joined the Nazi Party. He was one of many German business men to search a profit after the occupation of Poland.
  • As one of the witnesses of a 1942 raid on the Jewish ghetto in Krakow, Schindler was appalled by the murders of those who tried to hide in their homes (also presented in the novel). He arranged with Amon Göth, the commander of Plaszow, for 900 Jews to be transferred to an adjacent factory compound where they would be relatively safer from the depredations of the German guards. Schindler was arrested twice on suspicions of conspiracy, but both times managed to evade being jailed.
  • When advances of the Red Army threatened to liberate the camps, they were destroyed, and a majority of the inmates were executed. Schindler managed to move 1,200 "workers" to a factory at Brünnlitz in Sudetenland in October 1944. He saved up to 1,200 Jews
image of the little girl
Image of the Little Girl
  • One of the most potent and prominent images in the novel and also in the film is the “scarlet girl”
  • In the novel she stands out from amongst the crowd and this point was particularly emphasised in the film as she is the only colour in the black and white film.

“His eyes slewed up Krakusa Street to the scarlet child. They were doing it within half a block of her; they hadn’t waited for her column to turn out of sight into Jozefinska……While the scarlet child stopped in her column and turned to watch, they shot the woman beneath the windowsill in the neck, and one of them, when the boy slid down the wall whimpering, jammed a boot down on his head as if to hold it still and put the barrel against the back of the neck – the recommended SS target – and fired.”

  • This particular incident occurs as the Jews are forced to move from the ghetto. Although, unlike the film, she is not the only colourful image, she has a clear presence as Oskar’s eyes are drawn to her and her alone. There is a sense of astonishment that the troops could be so brutal in front of someone so young and innocent. This is a clear account of the brutality of the SS troops.
brutality of the commandant
Brutality of the Commandant
  • Schindler’s Ark deals with one concentration camp in particular (Plaszow) and its commandant Amon Göth (as seen left). Göth is presented as being a brutal and dominating commandant who is fond of killing the odd Jew to relieve his boredom. A particular section of his brutality that I found interesting was his life outside his job…

“And through the fogs caused by the pyres, Amon went riding with Majda, both of them calm in the saddle – Leo John took his twelve-year-old boy off to catch tadpoles in the marshy ground in the wood. The flames and the stench did not distract them from their daily lives.”

  • I found this particularly interesting as it not only shows that they show no remorse despite their brutality but also the inter-textuality that this provides

“…Thus the Commandant at Belsen/ Camp going home for/ the day with fumes of/ human roast clinging/ rebelliously to his hairy/ nostrils will stop/ at the wayside sweet-shop/ and pick up chocolate/ for his tender offspring/ waiting at home for Daddy’s return…”

This extract from Chinua Achebe’s poem “Vultures” has clear links with the extract from the novel although they mention different concentration camps. It can clearly be seen that the two commandants show no remorse for the horrors they are carrying out.

  • The Oxford English Dictionary defines historiography as “  • noun1 the study of the writing of history and of written histories. 2 the writing of history”
  • One of the reasons why “Schindler’s Ark” is so fascinating is due to it’s ability to be used as a historical source. Not only does the novel provide us with an insight into the horrors of the holocaust and the terror the Jewish people faced, it also shows the difference between certain individuals, for example, as a Nazi Party member we would expect Schindler to be anti-Semitic and yet he rescues thousands of Jews.
  • It is plausible that “Schindler’s Ark” could be used as a historical source to someone studying the holocaust as it, in particular, highlights certain aspects of life in the Jewish ghetto’s as seen in the incident when the Jews are forced to move.
  • Although the novel may not be the most reliable of sources, Keneally acknowledges in his authors note at the beginning of the novel that he “attempted to avoid all fiction, though, since fiction would debase the record, and to distinguish between reality and myths…[however] sometimes it has been necessary to attempt to reconstruct conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record.”
what the critics say
What the critics say…

“An extraordinary achievement” – Graham Greene

“Brilliantly detailed, moving, powerful and gripping” – The Times

“Thomas Keneally has done marvellous justice to a marvellous story” – The Sunday Times

“The remarkable book has the immediacy and the almost unbearable detail of a thousand eye witnesses who forgot nothing” – New York Times Book Review

“A magnificent book, powerful, harrowing and beautifully written” – Sunday Express

“Keneally’s portrait of Schindler is inspiring… he keeps clear of the pitfalls of sensationalism, handling the almost unbearable with the tough delicacy it demands” - Listener

why i would recommend this novel
Why I would recommend this novel…
  • Quite simply because it is one of the most harrowing and haunting stories I have ever read. I found myself drawn into the plot and the reader really feels the emotions of Oskar himself and of the Jewish people.
  • I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone with a profound interest in modern history due to its ability to be used as a historical source but I would also recommend it to any reader as it clearly shows the true ability for human nature to be kind and it is a heart warming story of paternalism in the shadow of totalitarianism.
  • Seeing as though there is a famous quote about the holocaust said by George Santayana, “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it”…I would truly recommend everyone to read this novel to see the horrors of mass genocide.