The shop belonged to a 'Schindler survivor' and Keneally's book is based on the detailed recollections of the Schindler Jews and other witnesses, including Oskar Schindler himself.
In his introduction the author states that he has used his craft as a novelist to tell a true story and has tried to avoid all fiction in the telling of it. Although at times it was necessary to reconstruct incomplete conversations, all events are based on eye witness accounts.
An unlikely hero was the term I used to describe Schindler: affluent, fond of good food and wine, a capitalist to the core and a womaniser, he moved in high places and used the strength of a debased and barbarous system to keep over 1200 Jews working in his factories from annihilation in the Nazi death camps.
His rescue work began in 1943 in Nazi occupied Poland with an act of kindness towards a misused young Jewish woman in the service of a brutal SS officer; but he neglected and frequently abandoned his wife who was loyal to him, and who was instrumental in saving the lives of many of his workers.
The rescued Jews 'had their attention taken by the grand, magical, omni-provident Oskar,' and it was hard 'to see behind the Herr Direktor to the quiet wife. But to the dying, Emilie was more visible...One wonders if some of Emilie's kindnesses...may not have been absorbed into the Oskar legend...'
Emilie said of her husband that he had done 'nothing astounding before the war and had been unexceptional since.' The war gave him an opportunity to summon up virtue for a season and Thomas Keneally has told his story well, taking care to distinguish between the real man and the myth, at the same time acknowledging the role Emilie Schindler played.
As they got closer to the gate, they became aware that Herr Schindler was standing in the midst of the SS men...A short, dark SS officer stood beside him. It was the commander...Liepold. Oscar had already discovered - the women would discover it soon - that Liepold, unlike his middle-aged garrison, had not yet lost faith in that opposition called The Final Solution. Yet though he was...the supposed incarnation of authority...it was Oskar who stepped forward as the lines of women stopped.
The women staggered across the cobbles in their tattered Auschwitz clothes. Their heads were cropped. Some of them were too ill, too hollowed out, to be easily recognised. Yet it was an astounding assembly. It would not surprise anyone to find out later that no such reunion occurred anywhere else in stricken Europe. That there had never been, and would not be, any other Auschwitz rescue like this one.
Places of interest:
The Jewish Virtual Library - a list of the names included on 'Schindler's list,' which he gave to the SS in order to convince them his 'factory workers' were essential to the war effort.