Thursday, December 30, 2010

Schindler's List : Part I (The Book)

I am obsessed with The Holocaust. Not in the Nazi "The Final Solution to the Jewish question" way, of course. It's more towards the amazement that the killings of these people were done coldly, swiftly, in quantities unprecedented, by means ranging from the most primitive (beating and hanging) to the most modern (electric fences, gas chambers, lethal injections); and most importantly, with the rest of the world kept in the dark about it.

I bought Schindler's List (the book) about 4 years ago, but never actually got around to finish it. 50 pages was my personal record, at which I would stop reading in favour of some other more fun activities, start becoming oblivious of the book's existence, and later forget everything I'd read. Lather and repeat.

Throughout the years, I've had the chance to visit one of the concentration and extermination camps in Dachau, read books and biographies of people involved directly or indirectly in the Holocaust, talk to grandchildren of the Holocaust survivors (a friend of mine actually has a grandmother who fled Hungary to escape the Nazi), and even talk to some Israelis I met during travels. Having been raised in a society where Jews and Judaism both mean scheming, money swindling, slick bastards whose only raison d'être is to corrupt Muslim people and conquer the world via fraudulent means, I've grown apprehensive of the Jews. In my country, a mere mention of the word Yahudi could cause endless debate on how the Jews are comparable to rats - dirty and resilient, with a cunning mind.

I watched Sophie's Choice a couple of years ago, and was appalled by the atrocity of it all. The idea of a Herrenrasse, the Hitler ideology, the punishments carried out on people who didn't have the chance to be born Aryan, the decadent lifestyle of blue-eyed German officials whose livers got to enjoy filtering the best Martelli cognac at the expense of unpaid Jewish labourers, most of whom would end up dying by virtue of their race.

So I picked Schindler's List (again) off my bookshelf, determined to finish it once and for all. I spent, in total, almost 25 hours on the train during the holidays without, at all, reaching for my iPod. The book was engrossing enough, even with Thomas Keneally deadpan penmanship. He didn't let emotion or judgment weigh in on his writing. Every torture, every killing, every act of suffering was presented as matter-of-factly as possible, with extra attention to details. He didn't make Oskar Schindler a saint, because at the end of the day, he was still one of the SS-officials who reaped profit from the system. He was a big drinker, gambler and womanizer, who might even have been involved in transactions of the flesh in order to get what he wanted.

The only difference between him and the other Nazis, was that he had a heart. This led to the compiling of the famed Schindler's List, a list of Jewish workers he wanted transferred from the Plaszow concentration camp to his enamelware-cum-artillery components factory, to be used as factory workers. People begged, fought, and bribed to be on the list, because they knew what the list actually symbolized: deliverance. They heard rumours on how the soup at Oskar's had more body, how his workers got to eat twice as much bread, how the doctors at Oskar's actually cured people instead of administering lethal injections, and how no one would die if they worked for Oskar Schindler. Next to Plaszow, Oskar's factory was not just a haven, it was a paradise.

I loved the book. And from now on, I will swear on Thomas Keneally's writing style. If there's anyone who can make true accounts of gruesome stories literary and poetic, it's Keneally. During the course of the book, we skipped from story to story, from a person's point of view to another. It took more than just bland recounting of a story to make it interesting, and Keneally knew it all too well. That was why he told the story of three-year-old Genia who witnessed the assassinations of the adults around her, the story of the German Josef Bau courting a Jewish girl he fell in love with and ended up marrying in one of the prisoners' barracks, the story of Schindler and his philandering ways, as well as the story of the villain Herr Kommandant Amon Göth, to whom murdering a person is as trivial as lighting up a cigarette.

At one point, he so vividly described the cold weather in which the prisoners were told to strip naked and run around, and I happened to be reading while waiting on an open-air platform of a train station (it was 3 degress outside) and shivering to my bones, that I felt as though I was one of the Jewish prisoners. Running for dear life.

I'd recommend the book to anyone if it weren't a bit hard to read, both grammatically and figuratively, as Thomas Keneally - as exceptional as he is as a writer - tends to emblazon his sentences with lengthy descriptions in between commas, so much so that oftentimes I got lost in descriptions and missed his point entirely.

It's still a great book (the Booker Prize it received can attest to this). I know my holidays have been enriched because of it, and now my perception of the Jews has radically changed for the better.

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