Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Chapter 2 | Summary



After the German takeover of Poland, the East Trust Agency is established to seize and run Jewish-owned businesses. Two German officers visit a Jewish textile manufacturer, J.C. Buchheister & Company, in Cracow. They purchase some cloth, paying with worthless currency despite the objections of the Jewish clerk. Sepp Aue, an accountant placed in charge of the business by the East Trust Agency, discovers the discrepancy. He summons Itzhak Stern, a Polish Jew and the company's original accountant, to settle the matter.

Schindler, who met Aue at a party the previous night, arrives to speak with Aue about potential business opportunities in Cracow. Aue gives him a tour of the facilities. They return to the office to find Stern waiting. In private, Aue asks Stern how he would handle the matter of the worthless banknotes. Throwing them into the fire, Stern says he would account for the theft by the German officers as "free samples"—a response that pleases Aue.

Aue introduces Schindler to Stern so he can make business connections. After Stern confesses his Jewishness to Schindler, Schindler responds that he is a German. Recent edicts passed by Governor General Hans Frank require Polish Jews to state their Jewishness, carry a special identification card, register themselves with the government, and submit to forced labor and reduced food rations.

Aue leaves Schindler and Stern to talk in private. Schindler wins Stern's trust by stating he is a capitalist who dislikes bureaucracies such as the East Trust Agency. Schindler is impressed by Stern's knowledge of the Cracow business world, and the two men discuss how Schindler might take over the operations of Rekord, a failing enamelworks producer, by securing military contracts to produce field kitchenware, an important necessity for the war. Stern tells Schindler of recent policies discouraging the employment of Jews in any aspect of business. The two men cement their friendship by discussing the common ground between Christian and Judaic ideas and expressing their shared distaste for what is happening in Poland.


Just weeks after the Nazi occupation of Poland begins, the new government has passed numerous laws limiting the rights of Jews. Stern, a learned man and an intellectual, is aware of the recent laws and the ominous future they suggest. Disruption and violence in Jewish lives has begun, and while many Jews are optimistic about how things will go, Stern's view is more pessimistic. He submits to the laws, exemplified by his dismissal of theft as "free samples" and his admission to Schindler that he is a Jew, only because of his desire for self-preservation.

Despite the fact Schindler wears a swastika and is ready to engage in war profiteering, Stern decides Schindler is trustworthy, in part because of Schindler's body language. Under the new order, body language—such as the way Schindler laughs and rests his hand on Stern's shoulder—has become more meaningful than words, which are limited. It allows men such as Schindler and Stern, men critical of the regime, to communicate these feelings to one another.

Schindler and Stern's discussion of common themes in Christianity and Judaism is seditious. In this discussion, the two men express their disgust with the regime. Stern, momentarily forgetting his position, boldly expresses his opinion that Hitler will not succeed in destroying the Jews. When Schindler doesn't react, it confirms Stern's suspicion that he is also critical of the regime. Schindler refrains from criticizing the Nazis directly. Instead, he embeds his criticism in a biblical reference, saying, "It must be hard for the churches" to maintain the pretense that their "Heavenly Father cared about the death of even a single sparrow." Stern responds by quoting from the Talmud, a book of Jewish law: "he who saves the life of one man saves the entire world." Neither man is yet aware that Schindler's true vocation isn't profiteering but working to save Jewish lives. It is this work that will become Schindler's legacy as well as Stern's saving grace.

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