Schindler's Ark is a Booker Prize winning novel (1982) by Thomas Keneally, which was later adapted into the highly successful movie Schindler's List directed by Steven Spielberg. The United States version of the book was called Schindler's List from the beginning; it was later re-issued in Commonwealth countries under that name as well.
Although Schindler's Ark is based on actual people and events, it is classified as fiction. The book tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi Party member, who turns into the unlikely hero. By the end of the war, Schindler has saved 1100 Jews from concentration camps all over Poland and Germany. While the author wrote a number of well received novels before this book, this book was monumental and every book after this was shadowed by it.
Keneally was inspired to write the book by Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. After the war, Pfefferberg had tried on a number of occasions to interest the screen-writers and film-makers he met through his business in a film based on the story of Schindler and his actions in saving Polish Jews from the Nazis, arranging several interviews with Schindler for American television.
In 1980 Pfefferberg met Keneally in his shop, and, learning that he was a novelist, showed him his extensive files on Schindler. Keneally was interested, and Pfefferberg became an advisor for the book, accompanying Keneally to Poland where they visited Kraków and the sites associated with the Schindler story. Keneally dedicated Schindler's Ark to Pfefferberg: "who by zeal and persistence caused this book to be written."
After the publication of Schindler's Ark in 1982, Pfefferberg worked to persuade Steven Spielberg to film Kenneally's book, using his acquaintance with Spielberg's mother to gain access. The awarding of the Booker prize caused some controversy at the time. As the award is for the best fiction, it was debated on whether Keneally wrote fiction or was simply reporting on history.
This book tells the story of Oskar Schindler, self-made entrepreneur and bon viveur who almost by default found himself saving Polish Jews from the Nazi death machine. Based on numerous eyewitness accounts, Keneally's story is unbearably moving but never melodramatic, a testament to the almost unimaginable horrors of Hitler's attempts to make Europe judenfrei. What distinguishes Schindler in Keneally's version is not, superficially, kindness or idealism, but a certain gusto. He is a flawed hero, he is not "without sin". He is a drinker, a womaniser and, at first, a profiteer. After the war, he is commemorated as a "Righteous Person" at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, but he is never seen as a conventionally virtuous character The story is not only Schindler's. It is the story of Cracow's dying ghetto and the forced labor camp outside of town, at Plaszow. It is the story of Amon Goeth, Plaszow's commandant and Schindler's dark twin
His wife Emilie remarked in a German TV interview that Schindler did nothing remarkable before the war and nothing after it. "He was fortunate therefore that in the short fierce era between 1939 and 1945 he had met people who had summoned forth his deeper talents." After the war, his business ventures fail, he separates from his long-suffering wife, and he ends up living a dishevelled life in a small flat in Frankfurt. Eventually he arranged to live part of the year in Israel, supported by his Jewish friends, and part of the year as a sort of internal emigre in Frankfurt, where he was often hissed in the streets as a traitor to his race. After 29 unexceptional years he died in 1974.
In his 1980 novel, Confederates, Mr. Keneally recreated the American South during the Civil War in all its concreteness and lilt of language, surely a stunning feat for an Australian Irishman. This feat was repeated by the author more tellingly in this book. It reads as a novel, but is backed by detailed research by the author from archives in Yad Vashem, The Martyr's and Hero's Remembrance Authority, in Jerusalem. He has given Oskar Schindler the stunning reality of a man who was neither good nor virtuous but a genius of life, a savior.