Monday, September 13, 2010

To act without asking questions

Current book: Schindler's List
Pages read: 70 - 130

Well, I'd like to tell you about the plot of this book, but there isn't really one. It's pretty much, "Watch the dark, encroaching tide that is the Holocaust slowly engulf Krakow." I don't know, I mean, Oskar runs his metalware factory in Krakow, which makes pots and pans, and, as the situation grows more dire for the Polish Jews, he begins to hire more and more of them. He assures his Jewish workers that their positions will guarantee them survival because he has made it clear to the SS that the supplies and cut of his profits that he gives to the Nazi regime can only continue if his business remains successful.

Eventually, Krakow opens its ghetto, and all the Jews are forced into it. Even Schindler can't stop his Jewish workers from being forced to live there, although he does open dormitories at the factory for some of them. More and more Jews are disappearing, however, and, at one point, Oskar has to rescue his office manager and 11 other men from the cattle cars of the trains going to concentration camps. Oskar himself is arrested several times for minor offenses like kissing a Jewish worker, but always manages to call on his powerful German contacts and thereby escape. Meanwhile, the situation continues to worsen, and the SS begins systematic "relocation" of Jews from the streets of the ghetto to places unknown. Oskar and his mistress, Ingrid, witness the first day of these "relocations" (as well as the multiple shootings and beatings that accompany them) and are horrified.

I still maintain that this isn't really a novel. Every single time we meet a new person, we're treated to an explanation of his connections to other people in Krakow, and a paragraph or two about what happens to him during the course of the war. It's almost like a little encyclopedia of what Keneally discovered during his research rather than an actual story. I just find it obnoxious when the purpose of an entire book seems to be show off research, not to actually communicate something about humanity (or even just tell a good story). Like I said, it seems to me that this is more about what it's like to be in Krakow during the Holocaust than it is a work of fiction. I'm sure that some of Schindler's experiences and conversations are fictionalized, and that's why Keneally felt a responsibility to call this a novel, but really, he's just covering his ass for taking small creative liberties with history. He ought to have written a biography.

That doesn't mean it's not interesting and engaging, however, because it is. Sure, it's fairly informational, but Keneally is a good biographical writer, and he keeps you interested. He's doing fairly well with balancing what he's willing to report about the horrors of the Holocaust against the more mundane details of surviving a pogrom in Krakow, too. While I've read a lot of books about the Holocaust, Schindler's removed perspective - that of someone who is not immediately threatened by extermination but also does not buy into the Nazi message - is informative in a unique way. We're able to see that things are escalating and growing more horrifying, but also that are avenues through which "normal" citizens are able to influence the situation. The experience of attempting to live something that resembles a regular life during the period is interesting too, in that it's both completely understandable and a little reprehensible at the same time.

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