The Holocaust as Film and Literature in Schindler's List

By Tabraiz, Anas | Creative Forum, January-December 2008 | Go to article overview

The Holocaust as Film and Literature in Schindler's List


Tabraiz, Anas, Creative Forum


The Australian writer Thomas Keneally found one of his biggest inspirations when he was shopping in a luggage store in Beverly Hills. Poldek Pfefferberg, the owner of a suitcase store, told him how he and his wife were amongst the 1200 Jews that had been saved by Oskar Schindler. Keneally transformed Pfefferberg's account into what he called a docu-novel, giving it the name of Schindler's Ark. The book, published in Britain in 1982, soon won the booker prize. While working on the book, Keneally interviewed fifty "Schindlerjuden" in seven nations. The events of the novel have been gathered from various sources and have been enriched by visits to the locations that figure in the novel. The information, about Oskar Schindler, and the events of the Holocaust, have further been gathered from the close wartime associates of Schindler, and researching other documentary sources. Keneally, further points out the medium that he uses in order to present the mass of information that he had collected:

To use the texture and the devices of a novel to tell a story is a course that has frequently been followed in modern writing. It is the one that I choose to follow here--both because the novelist's craft is the only one I can lay claim to, and because the novel's techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and magnitude as Oscar. (Schindler's List: 10)

Keneally further states that he has taken care to be faithful to the record and to eschew the element of myth that attaches itself to a person of Oskar's stature. He, however, had to resort to certain "reasonable constructs of conversations" because of the lack of records, but most of the exchanges and conversations are based on the recollection of the Schindler Jews and other witnesses.

The above information prefixed to the novel in the author's note, and the treatment of the material in the novel is proof of the documentary quality of the work. The historical event of the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews are arranged around the story of the central character of Schindler. The novel follows a narrative line that goes back and forth in time, including a number of individual narratives to give an idea of the history of the Holocaust.

It was in 1982 that Steven Spielberg, the popular Hollywood director, came across the story of Schindler through Keneally's novel. Spielberg says, that he, "had a hunger to make Schindler's List a few months after E.T. (The Extraterrestrial) opened," but he struggled with the script for four years and postponed the making until 1992. "It took me ten years to develop a kind of maturation in order to say, 'now I'm ready to make Schindler's List'", says Spielberg in one of his interviews. The period of ten years that Spielberg took to reconceptualize the material in terms of his art is an indication of the difficulty that lies behind the transformation of a written work into the medium of film. A look at the two versions of presentation, through the two media of novel and film, reveals the complexities of the adaptation of the one to the other. We shall analyze in this paper the very different effects that are produced through the presentation of the same historical facts via different media. It is only through a thorough study of the two works of art that we can come to know the boons and limitations of one form of art over the other. In the course of the discussion one can also take a look at the different embedded agenda of the two artists and analyze how the arrangement of recorded events can integrate the relative positions of the two artists, working from their own respective contexts.

The extant debates about the adaptation of a novel to a film mainly deal with the adaptation from creative fiction. In adapting the fictional schema of the novel to the medium of film, the question of fidelity to the primary work inevitably arises. In dealing with Schindler's List the question of fidelity to the original does not, at least, occupy the central position. …

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