Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Chapter 10 | Summary



Poldek Pfefferberg takes a part-time job working for the OD, the Jewish ghetto police force founded in March 1941 with the ostensible goal of protecting Jews inside the ghetto. He also works on the black market, moving goods between the ghetto and the larger city. Outside the ghetto, the regime is conducting an anti-Jewish propaganda campaign. In April 1941 Schindler visits the ghetto and is appalled by the overcrowded conditions he encounters.

During the early summer of 1941 shifts in power put the SS in charge of the administration of the ghetto. Julian Scherner, an SS officer, is now responsible for the ghetto's operations. Symche Spira, an orthodox Jew loyal to the SS and its ideals, rises to power in the OD and establishes the so-called Political Section. Rather than protecting the residents of the ghetto, Spira and his men begin supplying SS leadership with lists of ghetto residents they accuse of being seditious. Appalled at the shift in the OD's mission, Pfefferberg fakes an injury and thereby secures his release from the OD. At the end of June, Germany invades Russia, and World War II greatly expands in scope and destruction.


In Nazi-occupied Poland, those who wish to undermine the regime—such as Schindler and Pfefferberg—acquire the power to do so only by some measure of participation in its activities. Successful subversion depends on an embrace of situational irony, and the most subversive characters in this story manipulate the discrepancy between appearance and reality. Things are not what they seem: Schindler can save Jews only because he exploits their free labor. Similarly, Pfefferberg can participate in the illegal black market only because he works for the OD, an organization charged with enforcing law and order within the ghetto on its own.

But moral men such as Schindler and Pfefferberg have limits. They are not corrupted by the power they acquire by playing along with the regime. Unlike Spira, Pfefferberg does not turn against his own people, and he refuses to participate in Spira's witch hunt of seditious ghetto residents. He is willing to give up the power that comes with his OD job because the OD's mission under Spira crosses a line into blatant immorality. He goes to great lengths to secure his release from the corrupt organization by faking an injury.

Schindler is aware that the events of the first half of 1941 do not bode well for the future of the Jews. There is no longer any separation of power in occupied Poland; the SS is now responsible for making policy as well as enforcing it. Schindler understands Germany's invasion of Russia at the end of June as emblematic of "a more systematic pursuit of a racially impeccable empire." He realizes that for years to come Hitler's unrestrained racist and imperial ambitions will direct the entirety of life in Nazi-occupied Europe.

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