Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Chapter 33 | Summary

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Summary

The Schindler women board the train for Brinnlitz a week after the men. To their surprise, they are taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they are kept in conditions of extreme and horrific privation. They are not given tattoos, despite their expectations. They are unaware that Himmler, to appease the Allies and secure his own political future, has ordered that the practice of gassing be stopped. The Auschwitz doctors subject the Schindler women to frequent medical inspections, a practice intended to cull women who are not in prime working condition. Those who are deemed unfit are kept in separate barracks. One of these women, Clara Sternberg, is dissuaded by a friend not to commit suicide by throwing herself on the electric fence.

The factory at Brinnlitz, although it was built at Schindler's own expense, is subject to the regime's oversight. However, at this point, Schindler has "no serious industrial intention at all." When the Schindler men arrive at Brinnlitz, the camp is largely unfinished and there is no strictly enforced daily routine. Work proceeds slowly, and Schindler keeps the SS guards away from the workers. Schindler responds to the men's anxiety about their women with a promise: "I'm getting them out."

One day a group of Gestapo officers arrives at Brinnlitz. They question Schindler about his connection to Goeth and Goeth's black market dealings. They arrest him in front of his wife, Emilie, who has been living with him since his arrival in Brinnlitz. Schindler instructs his wife to call his secretary, Victoria Klonowska, and he is taken in handcuffs to SS headquarters in Cracow. The SS begins interrogating Schindler about Goeth's claim that Schindler bribed Goeth so that he would "go easy on the Jews." Schindler implies that Goeth extorted him and that he paid Goeth merely to ensure his labor force was not disrupted. On the fourth day an interrogator spits on Schindler and calls him "a Jew-lover." After a week the local SS head, Julian Scherner, visits Schindler and reassures him he will be released. On the eighth day, he is released.

Schindler sends a young woman to Auschwitz to bribe the camp administrators into releasing the 300 women on his list. When she does not return, Schindler attempts to negotiate the release himself. When his contact at Auschwitz points out that the women on the list have grown sick and weak and offers to replace them with 300 others, Schindler argues that they are skilled workers and thus irreplaceable.

While Schindler is away from Brinnlitz, Nazi authorities arrive at the camp, looking for children to use in medical experiments. The children and their fathers are boarded on a train bound for Auschwitz. An SS officer on the train tells them he has orders to transport some female Auschwitz prisoners back to Brinnlitz. He also offers some reassurance: "We've lost the war ... You'll survive."

The news of their imminent release occasions joy among the Schindler women at Auschwitz. The women who were on the list but who have been separated due to their poor physical condition argue with the guards that they should be allowed to rejoin the Schindler group. The guards refuse. Two women, including Clara Sternberg, manage to rejoin the Schindler group by forcing their bodies through the barbed-wire fence. Just as the Schindler women are boarding the train that will take them to Brinnlitz, the train coming from Brinnlitz, carrying some of their husbands and sons, arrives. The wives on the train communicate with their husbands and sons with whistles and yells. After a two-day journey, the women arrive at Brinnlitz.

Schindler greets the women warmly, telling them, "You have nothing more to worry about. You're with me now." Due to the threat of illness, the women are quarantined from the men. Nevertheless, the men and women manage to exchange messages through holes in the wall. The women who are sick are taken to the camp clinic, where Emilie lovingly cares for them.

Analysis

For the women on the list, deliverance to Schindler's camp in Brinnlitz comes only after a long, circuitous, and painful journey. In the previous chapter, the transport of male prisoners is rerouted to the camp at Gröss-Rosen due to a bureaucratic mix-up. Instead of deliverance, they encounter more suffering at the hands of the SS. Similarly, the women are taken to Auschwitz rather than Brinnlitz. However, while the men are in and out of Gröss-Rosen in a matter of days, the women are forced to wait at Auschwitz for weeks on end, causing their health to deteriorate. While some of these women lose hope, most manage to retain it. They maintain an almost religious faith in Schindler's powers of rescue, and he does not let them down.

Schindler continues to use the industrial argument to justify his actions and demands. His claims of essential industry and skilled workers are absurd, given the reality of the situation, yet he manages to employ such claims convincingly. At this point Schindler has "no hopes of production" and "no manufacturing ambitions left," but he knows his workers' survival depends on how well he can pretend otherwise. When Schindler petitions Auschwitz to release his 300 women on the grounds that they are skilled munitions workers whose labor is essential to the war effort, the official points out the list is full of children. Nonetheless, the women are released to Brinnlitz, perhaps because Schindler understands that although the industrial argument has its limits, bribery does not.

Until now Schindler and his wife have lived separately. Schindler's move to Brinnlitz occasions a domestic, not romantic, reunion with Emilie. Her transition into the role of helpful wife is seamless: When Schindler is arrested, she makes the call that sets in motion his release. She manages the camp's operation in his absence and tends to the sick in the camp clinic. Schindler and his wife, until now married only in name, for the first time find some common ground for their union. United in the task of managing the survival of the 1,100 workers, they are bound together at last by their shared belief in the dignity and worth of Jewish lives.

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