Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Chapter 5 | Summary



Around Christmas in 1939 Schindler meets with a group of his friends at a nightclub in Cracow. The location is chosen specifically because it will afford the men some privacy. Those in attendance are men who work within the regime but do not approve of it. They discuss recent developments regarding the situation of the Jews. While the general tone of the discussion is somewhat critical, the men suspect one among them of being a plant when he is too openly critical of the recent seizure of the railway system.

In recent weeks the SS has seized control of the railway system, previously used by the army to deploy troops for the war effort. The Nazis have begun the practice of transporting Jews on cattle cars and using the term concentration to refer to such actions. One of Schindler's guests remarks that the worst possible fate awaiting the Jews is exile to "Madagascar, where the weather is better than it is in Cracow." Governor General Frank has established the Judenrats, or Jewish Councils, elected groups of Jewish officials that work in each community to implement the regime's orders. Frank has also ordered Jews to wear a star. The chapter closes with a mention of a Jewish businessman who buys forged papers to escape to Hungary.


Schindler's dinner guests attempt to make sense of these latest developments, which they find somewhat baffling. Even though they are speaking in a location that affords privacy, they are wary of being too free in their criticisms. The men are paranoid that one among them is a plant, and they are reluctant to agree with his open criticisms of the regime, lest they endanger themselves. Such paranoia is a sign of the increasingly strong hold the regime has on the entire Polish psyche.

Despite the recent actions of the regime, no one suspects that the Nazis will soon begin the systematic extermination of an entire race if they can. That subject does not come up because it is very early in the war and the Nazi occupation of Poland. To Schindler's dinner guests, it is understandable and even acceptable, if ominous, rather than outrageous that the regime would relocate Jews to Madagascar. The implication is that this would be a good thing for the Jews, as the weather is better there. Despite working for the regime, these men are naive regarding its ultimate aims. But not everyone is so naive: The Jews—the regime's targets—sense something worse coming. Those who can escape, such as the businessman who flees to Hungary, take any opportunity to do so.

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