Home > History, memoir > Searching for Schindler: A memoir

Searching for Schindler: A memoir

  • Author: Thomas Keneally
  • ISBN 10: 0385528493 
  • ISBN 13: 9780385528498
  • Publisher:   Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 
  • Published: October 14th 2008 by (first published 2007)
  • Pages: 288
  • Language: English
  • Format:  PDF
  • Price: $18.25


This is the captivating story behind Schindler’s List, the Booker Prize–winning book and the Academy Award–winning Spielberg film. Keneally tells the tale of the unlikely encounter that propelled him to write about Oskar Schindler and of the impact of his extraordinary account on people around the world.

Thomas Keneally met Leopold “Poldek” Pfefferberg, the owner of a Beverly Hills luggage shop, in 1981. Poldek, a Polish Jew and a Holocaust survivor, had a tale he wanted the world to know. Charming, charismatic, and persistent, he convinced Keneally to relate the incredible story of “the all-drinking, all-screwing, all-black-marketeering Nazi, Oskar Schindler. But to me he was Jesus Christ.”

Searching for Schindler is the engrossing chronicle of Keneally’s pursuit of one of history’s most fascinating and paradoxical heroes. Traveling throughout the United States, Germany, Israel, Poland, and Austria, Keneally and Poldek interviewed people who had known Schindler and uncovered their indelible memories of the Holocaust. Keneally’s powerful narrative rose quickly to the top of bestseller lists. Steven Spielberg’s magnificent film adaptation went on to fulfill Poldek’s dream of winning “an Oscar for Oskar.” (Keneally’s anecdotes about Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and other cast members will delight film buffs.)

Written with candor and humor, Seaching for Schindler is an intimate look at Keneally’s growth as a writer and the enormous success of his portrait of Oskar Schindler.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Australian author Keneally was awarded the 1982 Booker Prize for his novel Schindler’s List. How Keneally came to write that novel about Oskar Schindler’s rescue of more than a thousand Jews from the Holocaust is a tale that, curiously enough, began in Beverly Hills while the author was promoting his Civil War novel, Confederates. Looking for a new briefcase, he entered a luggage shop owned by the ebullient, charismatic Leopold Poldek Pfefferberg, one of Schindler’s survivors. Poldek gave Keneally copies of documents he had once assembled for a Schindler film that was never made. Nan Talese, then at Simon & Schuster, offered a $60,000 advance for a book, and Keneally and Poldek left on an international research expedition. That journey and the survivors they met form the compelling centerpiece of this moving memoir. With publication, the question arose as to whether Schindler’s List was a novel or history, but Keneally had planned from the start to write what Truman Capote or his publisher had called faction. The closing chapters cover the making of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film adaptation, which won seven Academy Awards. Photos. (Oct. 14) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Keneally is the author of the award-winning Schindler’s List (1982), which became an Academy Award–winning film. Here, Keneally revisits his subject, the enigmatic Nazi OskarSchindler, who saved hundreds of Jews from Nazi death camps by employing them in his various (often bogus) factories. In 1981 Keneally was already an established writer when he stumbled across Schindler’s remarkable exploits. In a Beverly Hills luggage store, he met a Polish-born Jew and Holocaust survivor, Leopold Poldek Pfefferberg, a charming, loquacious, and insistent man who believed he had a great story to tell. His revelations led Keneally on an odyssey across multiple continents to interview Schindler’s survivors and acquaintances who could verify and expand upon Pfefferberg’s story. Keneally provides some interesting insights into the process of turning a series of decades-old remembrances into a great book. The strength of this work, however, is the stories of the survivors and their efforts to live with a degree of normalcy. Schindler remains as puzzling a character as ever. —Jay Freeman


“Had I read Searching for Schindler before making the film, I may have made it an hour longer. I owe you so much. The world owes you more.”—Steven Spielberg

“In this touching and often humorous memoir, [Keneally] recounts months traveling to Germany, Israel, Austria, the U.S. and Poland with Poldek to interview ‘Schindlerjuden’ – the survivors rescued by Schindler…. Keneally engages the reader with tales about himself as well. He writes about becoming a novelist, his creative anxieties that fueled the writing process, his experiences with publishers and the toll writing the book took on him and his family. Hollywood anecdotes about Spielberg and the film’s stars, including Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, provide a fascinating insider view of how movies are made. What’s hard to fathom is that before Keneally walked into Poldek’s shop nearly three decades ago, Schindler was hardly known. This is the story of how that changed forever.”-USA Today

“The Australian author is a genial, unaffected companion in this leisurely voyage around Schindler’s List (1982)…. In prose so clear it glistens, he describes working on early drafts of the screenplay with Steven Spielberg (who eventually, gently, fired him) and the production of the film, much of which he observed…. An essential companion to the original novel.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Keneally provides some interesting insights into the process of turning a series of decades-old remembrances into a great book. The strength of this work, however, are the stories of the survivors and their efforts to live with a degree of normalcy.”-Booklist

“The star of Searching for Schindler, from beginning to end, is not Mr. Keneally but Mr. Page [the Holocaust survivor who introduced Mr. Keneally to Schindler’s story]. He begs, he exhorts, he presses money into the hands of the needy, he opens every door Mr. Keneally needs opened, often through sheer force of will and personality. He even turns out to be friendly with Leah Adler, Mr. Spielberg’s mother, from the kosher dairy restaurant she ran in Beverley Hills. Next to him Mr. Keneally seems like a wallflower. Both the comedy and the horror contained in this memoir are present in a throwaway comment Mr. Page makes to Mr. Keneally: ‘You wouldn’t have lasted two weeks with the Nazis. They loved killing guys like you. Poetic guys.’”-The New York Times

Most helpful reviews


By Jon Maksik

Thomas Keneally is among the finest, most versatile and prolific writers in the world. His fiction and non-fiction range from the American South, to Ireland, to Eritrea, to World War I Europe, to Antarctica, and to contemporary and ‘convict’ Australia, his native country. And, of course to the Holocaust and his Booker Prize winning “Schindler’s List” (“Schindler’s Ark” everywhere but in the United States). “Searching for Schindler” is a moving account of how Keneally first heard of Oskar Schindler, how he crossed the globe to do the research necessary to write the novel, and how he participated in the making of the Academy Award winning film.

Searching for Schindler” is also intensely personal and the reader comes to know many of the survivors Keneally interviewed and the author himself, a writer with a staggering capacity for work and an unquenchable thirst for understanding humanity. I recommend this book and everything Keneally has written. I have, for many years believed Thomas Keneally deserves consideration for the Nobel Prize; this book is confirmation of that belief.

Good, not great

By Robert A. Saul

I was really looking forward to this book based on a review in this newspaper. Started out gangbusters! It lost its focus after awhile and maps to show the various locations visited would have been very helpful. Still glad I read it as an adjunct to the book and the movie.

Schlinder Memoir from the author

By Stanley Abramson

Enjoyable book about the meeting between the author and the former Jewish  prisoner who settled in the US and was determined to have his experiences about being saved by Schlinder published.

From Goodreads.com

Jackie Porter

Most people have read or heard of Thomas Keneally’s amazing book, Schindler’s List. However, in this 2007 book, Keneally traces how he got the idea for the book. He was in a leather-goods store in Hollywood looking for a brief case when he me Poldek Pfefferberg who related the story of Schindler. Poldek had been one of the many who Schindler saved. After this, Keneally begins a world-wide trek with Poldek to interview survivors, see Warsaw and Cracow, visit Jerusalem, and back home to Australia to write the book. Believing that the world needed to hear this story, Keneally states, “The writer is the ancient mariner who distracts the guests at the wedding feast, and is hell-bent on wrenching their imaginations in a direction they had not necessarily intended to take them.” Keneally also relates how the book was bought by Steven Speilberg, but it would be several years before it was to be put on film. There are some very intersting chapters where Keneally tells about the filming in Poland.

This is an excellent companion to Schindler’s List. It is also a wonderful account of how a writer gets an idea and writes the book. Excellent for high school libraries where students are familiar with the book and film.

Petra X

This book is precious, something special to read. This is the story of a man, Poldek,a victim of the Nazis who was saved by Oskar Schindler and eventually, “California, Beverly Hills” had a very good business in handbags and briefcases. His life’s mission was to have a book, then a film, made about his hero and a chance meeting with the Australian-Irish author Thomas Keneally who was looking for a replacement briefcase, brought it about.

Truly its a story of how Poldek introduced Keneally to the great humanitarian Schindler and induced him to write about it. How the two travelled through the US, Europe and Israel putting the book together and how, once it was written, getting it made into a film, a more than decade-long undertaking. As Poldek said right from the beginning, ‘An Oscar for Oskar’ (with the Booker Prize along the way).

The story of the writing of the book and making of the film is interlayered with Keneally’s life in Australia and California and in Eritrea too. The passages where he is both a reporter and later election observer in war-torn Eritrea do have a certain resonance with the main story of the awful inhumanity that was the Holocaust. The book, personalising this period in recent history with names, pictures and the updated, often successful lives of the survivors, makes it more real and more horrific than the pictures of living skeletons and the piles of bodies of the documentaries.

In the book there is a small story of Ralph Fiennes, a fine actor and a man much greater-spirited than myself. Keneally had met him in the bar where the film people were gathered one evening and had signed a book for him. Not knowing that Ralph was pronounced Rafe, he had heard Ray and written the dedication accordingly. Ralph Fiennes said nothing and later, when Keneally found out he went and apologised for his gaucherie. Years ago I had worked briefly for Ralph Fiennes famous explorer cousin, Ralulph Fiennes and when I left he presented me with a book he had signed for me. My name was spelled wrong. I said something…… After all these years, reading the greater generosity of Ralph Fiennes has made me embarrassed all over again.

The book is golden, precious, the five stars I’ve rated it at need to be golden and twinkling, like beacons in a dark and overcast sky.

Kathleen Hagen

The Search for Schindler, by Thomas Keneally, narrated by Humphrey Bower, produced by Bolinda Audio, downloaded from audible.com.

This book tells the story of collecting the stories of survivors from the holocaust, saved by Oscar Schindler, which ultimately became the movie, Schindler’s List.” Thomas Keneally is an Australian, and having Bower read this book imports the right Australian accent. Bower is also good at creating the Polish Jews’ accents.

Publisher’s Note:

A memoir of Tom’s journey around the world to discover the complete story of Oskar Schindler and those on his now-famous list.In 1980, Tom Keneally walked into a store in Beverly Hills owned by Polish Jew Leopold Pfefferberg Page to buy a new briefcase. For the next few years, Tom’s life was taken over by this charismatic and driven man, known as Poldek, and the story he wanted shared. The resulting book was Schindler’s Ark, which went on to win the Booker Prize and ultimately became the Oscar-award-winning film Schindler’s List.Tom and Poldek travelled across the US, Germany, Israel, Austria and Poland, interviewing survivors and discovering their extraordinary stories. Searching for Schindler is very much Tom’s journey; he reflects on his early days as a successful but less than confident writer, and how this book, the film it became and the people he met, changed his and his family’s lives forever.

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