Thomas Keneally, Schindler's List
Critical controversy over Thomas Keneally's novel Schindler's List centres on two issues. The first is to do with its genre and attendant debates over accuracy (if it is primarily fact) and adeptness (if it is fiction). The second concerns the book's choice of Oskar Schindler, Holocaust rescuer, as its subject. On the representativeness of such stories of rescue, the historian Raul Hilberg says: There is nothing to be taken from the Holocaust that imbues anyone with hope or any thought of redemption. But the need for heroes is so strong we'll manufacture them'-meaning that Schindler was hardly a hero. 1 Omer Bartov also sees its atypical nature as the story's weakness: 'The fact that this “actually” happened is, of course, wholly beside the point, since in most cases it did not': 2 accuracy must, apparently, include all details of a particular event including its context. In this chapter I will consider whether Schindler's List can be described as a Holocaust text, and how its concentration on rescue by an individual, on public rather than personal memory, and a 'happy ending', can be reconciled with such a description.
After winning the Booker Prize in Britain Thomas Keneally's book sold over a million copies, making it the highest-selling Booker Prize winner to date. Its sales increased greatly after Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning film of the book, also called Schindler's List, was released in 1993. I will refer to the book throughout this chapter as Schindler's List, although it was first published in Britain as Schindler's Ark; it has always been known as the former in the United States, and has since been reissued elsewhere under the film's title. Although the book caused its own critical flurry, the film had an even more remarkable worldwide impact 3 For various reasons, including the imminence of the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of the camps and 'a deep anxiety' over the 'gradual disappearance of Holocaust survivors', the release of Spielberg's film added to a sense of 1993 as 'the year of the Holocaust'. 4 The film created a preoccupation with Oskar Schindler himself-'Schindlermania', the 'Schindler effect'-and with issues of Holocaust representation, public and private memory, national history and contemporary racism. 5
The narrative of Keneally's text follows the career of Oskar Schindler, a Sudeten German entrepreneur who came to Cracow in December 1939, three