In Poland’s deepest Autumn, a tall Young Man in an expensive overcoat, double-breasted dinner jacket beneath it and – in the lapel of the dinner jacket – a large ornamental gold-on-black-enamel Hakenkreuz (swastika) emerged from a fashionable apartment building in Straszewskiego Street, on the edge of the ancient center of Cracow, and saw his chauffeur waiting with fuming breath by the open door of an enormous and, even in this blackened world, lustrous Adler limousine.
“Watch the pavement, Herr Schindler,” said the chauffer. “It’s as icy as a widow’s heart.”
In observing this small winter scene, we are on safe ground. The tall young man would to the end of his days wear double-breasted suits, would – being something of an engineer – always be gratified by large dazzling vehicles, would – though a German and at this point in history a German of some influence – always be the sort of man with whom a Polish chauffer could safely crack a lame, comradely joke.
But it will not be possible to see the whole story under such easy character headings. For this is the story of the pragmatic triumph of good over evil, a triumph in eminently measurable, statistical, unsubtle terms. When you work from the other end of the beast – when you chronicle the predictable and measurable success evil generally achieves - it is easy to be wise, wry, piercing, to avoid bathos. It is easy to show the inevitability by which evil acquires all of what you could call the real estate of the story, even though good might finish up with few imponderables like dignity an self-knowledge. Fatal human malice is the staple of the narrators, original sin the mother-fluid of historians. But it is a risky enterprise to have to write of virtue.