Author recalls how Schindler's List was written

Fri Nov 14, 2008 12:57pm EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - In "Searching for Schindler" Australian author Thomas Keneally recalls how he came to write the award-winning novel "Schindler's Ark," which reached global fame through Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning adaptation.

Despite the title, and by the author's own admission, the new book fails to unravel the enigma of Oskar Schindler, a black-marketeering, womanizing Nazi who saved over 1,000 Jews from almost certain death in World War Two concentration camps. But it is a tribute to Leopold "Poldek" Pfefferberg, the Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor who encouraged and cajoled Keneally into writing Schindler's story and helped bully Hollywood into turning it into a movie.

The indefatigable owner of a Los Angeles luggage shop, without whom "Schindler's Ark" would never have been written, emerges as the real hero, and the new book is dedicated to Poldek, who died in 2001, and his wife who survived him.

"I thought this man is such a large character that he deserves a book in his own right," Keneally told Reuters in a telephone interview from Australia.

"Poldek ... knew nothing about publishing and yet he was more correct than the publishers; he knew nothing about the film industry but again he was validated," he added, referring Poldek's unbridled optimism in the potential of the story.

"It's particularly touching that he did it primarily to honor the memory of a man who had saved him and his wife ... Poldek was the first one to say to me he (Schindler) was Jesus Christ, and although he was Jesus Christ, a saint he wasn't."

Schindler, through persuasion and bribery, convinced Nazi officials that the Jews who worked at his factory in southern Poland were essential to Adolf Hitler's war effort.

As Soviet troops advanced in 1944, Schindler's bookkeeper drew up the list of workers he wanted to take with him to a new factory site further west, sparing them from death. Poldek, born in Krakow, Poland, was number 173 on the list.   Continued...

<p>Australian novelist Thomas Keneally sits in his study amongst hundreds of books at his home in Sydney, April 23, 2001. REUTERS/David Gray</p>