""The critique of culture is confronted with the last stage in the dialectic of culture and barbarism: to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric, and that corrodes also the knowledge which expresses why it has become impossible to write poetry today.Theodore W. Adorno
Encapsulated in quotes such as the above is the pure devastating influence across history of the Jewish Holocaust during World War 2. As an event of magnitude it becomes hard for one to detach themselves from the large picture of upwards of 6 million slaughtered Jews and look at the individuals who survived. It is, as such, a failing of many historians, and history as it is taught, that the Jewish Holocaust is utilised as an easily accessible lesson in morality. In other words it becomes easy for one to use the Nazi Germans as the great modern symbol for overwhelming evil and ignore the many other forms 'evil' has taken in Communist Russia or China. Yet, what Thomas Keneally does in his work, with sympathy and with respect, is to chronicle the tale of one individual, lost within the dark seas of The Jewish Holocaust. Rather than observe the overall event and decry it as humanity at its basest he chooses to go beyond the surface and look at the individuals shaped and changed by the circumstances within which they found themselves.
In essence this novel is a curious amalgamation of history text and fictional story. Though the underlying elements are factually based, Keneally must adopt some licence in order to tell the story of Oskar Schindler as a narrative without the basis of solid quotes to lean upon. As such, the narrative technique adopted is a form of omnipotent narration whereby Keneally sets out upon a linear progression, routinely leaving this linear chronology to impose his own historical viewpoints or to insert further facts into the narrative.
Many will have seen the famed movie by Steven Spielberg which was based upon this novel. Though the movie is a stronger visual and emotional work it lacks some of the finer details of the novel, helping to create another strong novel and movie combination. For instance one watching the movie may not necessarily note that Schindler had three key women who he related to, and that on top of that he was liberal with several other women. One would not be able to understand that there were some individual Jews who despised Schindler for not including them on his list (though he could only save approximately 1200). One would not also be able to note little facts that add a touch of definition to the character of Schindler such as that he hated Amon Goethe while appearing friendly towards him and that he never suffered hangovers from intoxication.
A further mention on the characters within this novel is fascinating as what Keneally deals with is fact rather than fiction, though it may be fact tempered with fiction. Yet one can still observe that Schindler was no typical hero. He was a man who drunk heavily (and did not suffer ill effects), a man who loved women and as such had a wife, girlfriend and mistress. In other words Oskar Schindler was a rogue with a good and honest heart, a man who recognised that the Jews were still people regardless of any propaganda the German Nazis spread. Though he may have initially set out to use the Jewish workers as cheap labour, in the end Schindler ended up saving thousands through his factory and it is this that truly matters.
Amon Goethe, as the other main character in the novel is revealed as a truly debased individual. He was a man who clearly lacked his full sanity, a man who expected respect from his peers and equals and who believed that all who served him and worked with him were friends and allies. He was, like Schindler, a heavy drinker and Keneally suggests that he was also a womaniser, yet, where Schindler was a saviour of Jews, Goethe was a destroyer. There are many accounts within this text of Goethe routinely lining up Jewish workers and individuals and shooting them for sport or simply because he disliked the manner of their appearance. In many ways Keneally through his representations lines up Schindler and Goethe as counterparts, two sides of the one coin. One man a saviour and one man a villainous murderer. In many ways history is full of such counterparts and it is fascinating to reflect upon this idea.
This is a novel to be read now and well into the future. It is a novel to remind us as readers that even in the blackest pits of history there is always some form of hope, that there is always some individual who recognises what is true and honourable. It is a novel of history and a novel of the human condition and as such deserves to be read and recognised by all readers.