'Age of hatred has to end,' 'Schindler's List' author says

October 21, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Thomas Keneally was mindful of his youthful audience at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School yesterday, but he didn't exactly handle them with kid gloves.

He skirted the sexual exploits of his famous hero, Oskar Schindler, by saying "he was a terrible fellow to be married to," but he did not diminish the horrors of the Holocaust as he talked about "Schindler's List," Mr. Keneally's 1982 book that was made into an Academy Award-winning movie.

"You were always hungry, always scared of brutality breaking out," he said, describing how Jewish youngsters in Krakow, Poland, might have felt in the 1940s. "When you were sick and weak, you would travel by cattle truck . . . maybe for days. At the end of that you stumbled out into Auschwitz or some other destruction camp," he said, during a 45-minute lecture to about 800 Sudbrook youngsters and 200 students from five county high schools.

Toward the end of his speech, the soft-spoken author described what he had learned during and since the publication of "Schindler's List."

"We cannot afford the expense of hating," he said. "In the 21st century, all these conflicts cannot go on, absorbing lives, absorbing resources. You kids are going to have to take us into the sort of society where the validity of other groups is not denied.

"You must try to understand that the age of hatred has to end," he added. "You can begin by not bullying each other. You look at the SS and you will see a lot of bullies," he said of the Schutzstaffel, the brutal Nazi military unit that served as Hitler's bodyguard special police force.

The Australian novelist, who teaches writing at the University of California at Irvine, spoke to the students before an evening lecture sponsored by the Baltimore County Schools Office of Adult Education, several individuals and corporations.

Wearing a black "Sudbrook staff" polo shirt, khakis and white sneakers, Mr. Keneally began his student lecture by apologizing for his casual appearance. "The reason I don't look like a respectable citizen like those who proceeded me is because American Airlines lost my luggage," he said.

Although there was no time in the assembly for give-and-take and the students' questions were asked by Assistant Principal Cheryl Pasteur, the students lined up by the dozens for Mr. Keneally's autograph. Some wanted it addressed to them, others to grandpa or mom or an older sister.

As he signed the books and programs, Mr. Keneally kept up a gentle banter.

"It's a tough book for a kid your age," he told a girl who said she was half-way finished.

"Be good to yourself," he advised another.

Mr. Keneally told the youngsters he got his idea for the book when he was buying a briefcase in California and the man who sold it to him, Leopold Pfefferberg, mentioned that he had survived the Holocaust in Oskar Schindler's factory. He said that while he was waiting for his Australian credit card to be approved, Mr. Pfefferberg told him "how he was saved by this big, tall, charming member of the Nazi party" who protected at least 1,000 Jews in his factory.

He subsequently interviewed others who had lived because of Mr. Schindler's "humanity, man to man," and wrote the book mostly "on a beach near Sydney. The sand and surf was a relief from the horrors I was writing about."

Many Sudbrook youngsters said they had seen the movie, and most had talked about the story in classes. Many were impressed.

"I just didn't like how the Jewish people were treated," said Aaron McCoy. "I thought it [Mr. Keneally's talk] was pretty good."

His seventh-grade classmate Terris Squires agreed: "It was cool because a lot of other kids don't have somebody like that talk to them. It was a privilege."


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