Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

In early December 1939 Schindler appears at the office of J.C. Buchheister and warns Stern and the other employees something bad is going to happen in the Jewish part of Cracow the next day, information he has gathered from his contacts in the regime. This is to be the first of many so-called Aktions, violent raids against the Jews in their homes. The forces that will be conducting this Aktion are the Einsatzgruppen ("special duty groups"), recruits from the SD (security service, a Nazi intelligence agency), and the Sonderkommandos (squads composed of SS men).

The regime views the Jewish population as a problem that must be removed. Governor General Hans Frank believes all Jews should be sent to Madagascar, an island off of Africa, one of the various ideas at the time to remove this "problem" from Europe when "sporadic raids and massacres could not cut down the subhuman population of Eastern Europe." When the Nazi conquest of European countries accelerates, the surrounding countries start absorbing millions more Jews from occupied and annexed territories. Other than seizing their assets, the regime has no use for people they see as deadly enemies. The "solution" would be mass executions at death camps rather than exile to Madagascar.

Just as Schindler predicts, the violent Aktion happens the following day. The SS men go from door to door, stealing valuables and attacking Jews who resist. Meanwhile, the Einsatzgruppe men force a group of Jews into an ancient synagogue and make them spit on a holy Torah scroll. Afterward, they murder the Jews and burn the synagogue.

Analysis

This Aktion is intended to weaken and intimidate Cracow's Jewish population. For the Nazis, it is a step toward their ultimate goal of eradicating European Jews. The violence of the Aktion is both physical and psychological, and its effects are practical as well as symbolic.

The practical violence of the Aktion includes the theft of possessions as well as evictions in the wealthier parts of town. Such violence enriches the perpetrators at the expense of the Jews. At this point, many Jews still believe the authorities will take their grievances seriously. They cling to the idea of a world where the authorities act within laws to punish injustice. They do not realize the Nazi raiders do not submit to any authority higher than their own.

Einsatzgruppen translates to "special-duty groups," while Einsatz means "special chivalrous duty." This Nazi code of honor elevates German culture through the degradation and desecration of Jewish culture. In a typical use of euphemism, the "chivalrous duty" of the Einsatzgruppe men involves forcing Jews to defile the Torah, an act both humiliating and sacrilegious. The Nazis intend to destroy Jewish culture as well as Jewish bodies. They complete their chivalrous duty with a profound act of cultural erasure: They set the 14th-century synagogue on fire.

By warning Stern of the Aktion, Schindler establishes himself as a firm ally to the Jews. He is clearly affected by his own disgust for the Nazis. Although it is morning, Schindler is already drunk when he delivers the warning. Schindler's warning is clear, but perhaps because he is drunk when he delivers it, few Jews, including Stern, take his words seriously.

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