Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Chapter 37 | Summary

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Summary

In April 1945 Schindler celebrates his 37th birthday with the prisoners. They give him a handmade gift, and Niusia Horowitz makes a speech. Schindler has two loads of white bread delivered, which he distributes among the prisoners as well as the SS officers. Schindler makes a speech to the prisoners in front of the SS guards who are there to monitor the party. He promises that "the great tyranny" is almost over and that he will remain at Brinnlitz until after the end of hostilities.

Just prior to Schindler's birthday, Mietek Pemper intercepts a telegram sent by Hassebroeck to Commandant Liepold, which contains orders for the "disposal of the population in the event the Russians drew near." Pemper brings the telegram to Schindler, who begins pressuring regime officials to remove Liepold from his post at Brinnlitz. He gets Liepold drunk and walks him through the factory, where the commandant threatens to hang all the workers. This provides additional evidence for Schindler's claim that Liepold's behavior is excessive and disruptive. Orders for Liepold's transfer to Prague arrive a few days after Schindler's birthday.

Schindler and the workers anxiously anticipate the impending capture of Moravia by Allied forces as the war seems about to end. In the hope of securing merciful treatment for Schindler at the hands of the Allies, the prisoners write a letter in Hebrew describing his good deeds. News of the German surrender is announced on May 7, with hostilities set to cease at midnight on May 8. Schindler broadcasts Churchill's victory speech on the factory floor while the workers attempt to go about their normal routines.

Knowing Schindler will soon be forced to flee, some of the prisoners prepare a gift for him. Jereth donates his gold fillings, which the jeweler Licht melts into a ring and inscribes with the Talmudic verse "He who saves a single life saves the entire world." On the evening of May 8, Schindler makes a long speech to the prisoners and guards. He asks the SS to depart in an orderly way, without inciting panic, and thanks them for their service. He acknowledges the enormity of the crimes committed against the Jews, while urging his workers to "refrain from any individual acts of revenge and terror," expressing his hope that all present will go forward making "nothing but humane and just decisions." In the new, uncertain time after surrender, the SS guards leave, and the workers present Schindler with the ring, which he solemnly places on his finger.

Analysis

Schindler knows the Allied forces are drawing near and soon everything will change. The balance of power will shift, and when the Allies reach Moravia, it is the Nazis—rather than the Jews—who will be in mortal danger. The coming of the Russian troops is especially feared. The Nazis are also aware of this, and Hassebroeck's telegram to Liepold, with its instructions for the quick disposal of human evidence, indicates the regime's increasing anxiety. Schindler cannot allow these lives to be lost so close to the end of the war. Although he has always kept the SS out of the factory, he now manipulates Liepold into causing a drunken disruption on the factory floor. For the final time, Schindler employs the industrial argument in the protection of his Jewish workers, claiming that Liepold's disruptiveness threatens essential industry. It works: Liepold is transferred from Brinnlitz. With this, his last great trick, Schindler saves his workers from wholesale liquidation in the final week of the war.

Schindler's prisoners express their gratitude as well as their commitment to ensuring his safety after the war. The ring they offer, made from Jereth's dental work and inscribed with a Talmudic verse, is both physically and symbolically imbued with Jewishness. Schindler places it on his finger after his final speech, a gesture reminiscent of a wedding ceremony. Indeed, throughout the war, Schindler has been more married to the Jews than to his own wife; he has tied his fate to their fate and has worked tirelessly for their survival. The relationship will not end with the liberation of the camps. Both Schindler and his workers know that now is the time for reciprocity, and he is as willing to accept their help as they are to give it. While the ring is symbolic of the prisoners' commitment to Schindler, the letter they write—a testimony of his good deeds—is a practical expression of this commitment.

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