Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Chapter 3 | Summary



In the autumn of 1939 Poldek Pfefferberg, a Jew from Cracow, is wounded in battle and captured by the Germans. He tricks the German guard and escapes to his old neighborhood. He begins to work with the black market while also preparing to flee the German authorities when they inevitably come looking for him.

Oskar Schindler acquires an apartment in Cracow after the Nazis displace its Jewish occupants. According to rumors, Schindler finds the displaced family and pays them money, which they use to escape Poland.

In November 1939 Schindler visits the residence of Mina Pfefferberg, Poldek's mother. Thinking the authorities have come after him, Poldek arms himself and hides, preparing to escape. When Mrs. Pfefferberg opens the door, Schindler asks her to decorate his new apartment. She is wary of Schindler, but her son comes out of hiding, and the two men begin to talk business. Through Pfefferberg, Schindler establishes a connection to the Cracow black market.


The newly installed Nazi regime wastes no time in instituting repressive policies against Polish Jews, but Poldek Pfefferberg's actions exemplify skillful resistance to an immoral authority. Resistance as executed by Pfefferberg requires a balancing act; it involves carrying on the daily business of life, as if everything were normal, while at the same time reacting skillfully to increasingly stressful and abnormal conditions. It requires courage and confidence to even try to survive.

Pfefferberg returns to his Cracow neighborhood by lying to a German guard. He resumes his work as a high school teacher, knowing all the while he must be ready to escape when the authorities come searching for him. His life in Cracow after the fall of Poland to the Nazis is at once normal and abnormal, but in the face of such a paradox, Pfefferberg retains his good spirits, exemplified by the way he jumps off the trolley just as he did during his childhood. He is adaptable. Unsatisfied with the reduced food rations allotted to Jews, he procures additional food on the black market.

Schindler also benefits from the Nazis' immoral policies. He accepts the advantages given to him while attempting to minimize the harm to others. Aware that the same situation that has benefitted him has caused great hardship to others, Schindler finds and compensates the Jewish family whose Cracow apartment he now occupies. Such actions are guided not by the prevailing ethics of the day but by Schindler's personal moral compass, which grows stronger as the Nazi policies grow more unjust.

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