Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Chapter 38 | Summary

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Summary

The weapons previously stockpiled by Schindler are distributed among the workers. The SS men leave for their unknown future peacefully, allowing the workers to take their weapons from them. Schindler presents Abraham Bankier with a key to a storeroom containing fabric, thread, and shoes, which are to be distributed among the workers.

Schindler and his wife, Emilie, dressed in prison uniforms, depart in Schindler's Mercedes. They are accompanied by eight prisoners who have volunteered to escort them and a truck full of luxury goods meant for barter.

After Schindler's departure, the workers receive their shares of the goods from the storeroom as well as cigarettes and vodka. A small group of prisoners forms a mob and overpowers the single remaining Nazi. Other prisoners cannot prevent them from hanging the guard and burning his body in the camp ovens.

On their way to Austria, Schindler's party is stopped by Czech partisans, who instruct them to spend the night in the police station for their own safety. The following morning, Schindler's party finds that their vehicles have been looted and are now unusable. They take a train headed south and then begin walking through the forest. They are stopped by American forces, including some Jewish infantrymen and a rabbi. After hearing the story of Schindler and his concentration camp survivors, the rabbi is moved to tears. Schindler and his party spend two days treated as guests of the Americans. The rabbi gives them an ambulance, and they drive to the Austrian city of Linz.

The prisoners remain at Brinnlitz, waiting for the Russians to arrive. Czech partisans arrive and tell them they are free to go, but they refuse to leave. Five SS men on motorcycles arrive and ask for gasoline. Some prisoners want to shoot them, but Pfefferberg advises cooperation, and a polite exchange ensues. After three days, a lone Russian officer, who surprisingly reveals he is Jewish, arrives on horseback. He makes a liberation speech, and the prisoners press him for information regarding the situation in Poland. They are seeking advice about where to go, but he doesn't have anything decisive to offer them. Slowly, the prisoners begin to venture out of the camp. At first they leave in search of food and then return. Within a week, they begin moving out.

In Linz the Schindler party is taken to a holding center in Nuremberg. From there they head toward Constanz, Switzerland, where the Schindlers will be safe. At the Swiss border, they are apprehended and searched by French officials, who suspect them of being concentration camp guards. Schindler's group is imprisoned in separate cells and interrogated. After a week the leader of the group, Edek Reubinski, tells the whole Schindler story, and when the stories of the other prisoners are found to match, the interrogators embrace them, weeping. The French transport the Schindler party to Constanz and pay for them to stay in a hotel.

Analysis

The end of the war marks an end to Schindler's wealth and power. In the war years Schindler derived his power from his German ethnicity as well as his steady access to wealth. As soon as the war is over, Schindler's ethnicity becomes a liability rather than an asset. During the war some Jews pretended to be Aryans, an identity that conferred freedom and safety; now Schindler attempts to ensure his own safety by dressing in prison clothes, almost as if he is an escaped Jewish inmate. Stripped of the power of his identity and forced to impersonate a Jew, Schindler is also stripped of his last remaining wealth when his possessions and vehicles are plundered by Czech partisans. More vulnerable than he has ever been, Schindler suddenly has nothing to protect him other than his Jewish escorts and their testimony regarding his wartime benevolence. Luckily, this proves to be sufficient.

While the end of hostilities leaves Schindler powerless, it confers power as well as freedom on the workers of Brinnlitz. This power expresses itself in one act of violence, but for the most part, the inmates honor Schindler's wish that their behavior remain orderly and humane. Although they are armed, they refrain from attacking the SS men on motorcycles. Instead they share gasoline with them, an act symbolic of the prisoners' commitment to cooperation and goodwill, which extends even to those who have committed violence against them in the past. Freedom, however, is something the inmates accept only gradually. They are so used to the boundaries of their lives being marked by the boundaries of the camp that it is difficult, at first, for them to leave. The camp has become a sort of comfort zone, and the world outside the camp walls is overwhelming in its uncertainty.

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