By Marc S. Sanders
Oskar Schindler was a handsome, well dressed man. A man of wealth, power, and influence. A successful businessman. He was a womanizer. And Oskar Schindler was a Nazi who saved 1100 Jews from the atrocities of the Holocaust.
On a filmmaking measure alone, Schindler’s List is one of the best pictures to ever be made. Steven Spielberg’s production value is incomparable. Nothing I can recall appears as grand (not sure that’s the appropriate word here???) and authentic as Schindler’s List. How did Spielberg pull off this feat? How did he direct hundreds, thousands maybe, of extras to reenact the vilest human suffering that a generation of people could ever encounter? I’m astounded. Positively astounded.
This evening was only my second time seeing the film. I always put off watching it over the last 30 years; reluctant maybe to see a horrifying truth. The first time I saw the film was on Christmas Day, 1993 at the Hyde Park cinemas in Tampa, Florida with my father. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in the beginning stages of the flu with a high fever. Midway through the film, I had to leave the theatre as my illness caught up with me. I mustered the strength to return to watching the remainder of the movie, as I recall I could not go without finishing this masterpiece. I was horrified and yet amazed; amazed that this moment in world history could have ever occurred.
To see a man like Amon Goth (brutally and uncompromisingly played by Ralph Fiennes), a high ranking Nazi, excuse himself from his nude mistress’ bed and perch himself on his balcony to sniper random Jewish prisoners as a means of sport was sickening and twisted to me. Twenty five years later, it is this moment that has always stayed with me, as much of the story and scenes left my memory from so long ago. This moment as well as Spielberg’s choice to highlight a young girl in a red coat amidst a most somber black and white picture have stayed with me all these years. The glimpse of red serves as a truth to Schindler’s naivety. Spielberg is a thinking director. He never follows the manual. He chooses to think outside the box. A glimpse of a child dressed in red in a sea of black and white where mutilated corpses and possessions are aimlessly strewn about. It’s a marvelously telling moment.
Liam Neeson plays Schindler. It will likely be the greatest role of his career. Schindler is a man who even fools the audience until the very end when he reveals that the war has ended and his salvation has rescued these 1100 souls. Finally, his humanity no longer hides and he weeps to his accountant and accomplice, Itzhak Stern (played subtly and beautifully by Ben Kingsley). Schindler weeps for he could have saved more. Neeson is superb in this moment. His commanding stature crumbles, his materialism and wealth have disappeared. Neeson translates all of that clearly, and finally my tears arrive. Prior to this moment, I was numb to the Nazi tactics of gas chambers, careless bloodshed and apathetic separation of families and friends; perhaps because I’ve extensively studied it during my years in Yeshiva. Before Schindler’s List, much of the history on the Holocaust seemed like textbook fare to me. Spielberg made its terrifying and tragic reality real.
Ben Kingsley’s performance is so important as well. The architect behind the list, his portrayal of Stern is countered with contained fear and leveled sensibilities amid the senseless intentions of a dominant force of evil. His instincts kept him alive so that only he could help keep his comrades alive.
Schindler’s List won the Best Picture Oscar for 1993, only 50-52 years following the events of the Holocaust. Many survivors thankfully remained to see Spielberg’s epic premiere. People who I share this planet with experienced the most insane and heinous evil ever encountered. They were well to do people living normally until they were violently pulled from their homes, stripped of their possessions, separated from their families, suffered at the threat of murder, witnesses to other murders and hate crimes, humiliated, beaten, forced into slave labor in tightly contained ghettos and eventually thrust into concentration camps. Yet, these few survivors lived to carry on with their lives and deliver new generations, beyond this morally ugly and evil historic episode.
I’m being redundant as I’ve said it many times before, but isn’t that the point? The Holocaust and the Nazi regime only occurred around 85 years ago. This happened before. This can happen again.
Thank you, Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List.
I don’t consider myself to be very religious anymore. Because of moments like the Holocaust, I question how a God could ever be possible. Still, for the survivors and those that perished, I can only say Baruch Hashem, and L’Chaim.
Peace. Progress. Love.
2 thoughts on “SCHINDLER’S LIST”
I couldn’t bring myself to watch this film until 2005. My heritage is German and I could never, ever, EVER see how so many people in towns surrounding the death camps had no idea. Didn’t buy it then and not buying it now. I recently saw the Hitchcock documentary (NIGHT WILL FALL) that was never completed and it was shattering.
I am glad Spielberg made this film, embracing fully his heritage, acknowledging so much pain and loss that those of us in later generations could only begin to imagine. I remember the documentary SHOAH, all 9 hours of it, with the director gently saying yes, yes, I know it’s difficult to remember, but we must. Both directors understood that the survivors numbered fewer every year and would soon be gone altogether. It is the reason a lot of descendants are now tattooing the numbers on their own arms….
Check out PAPER CLIPS sometime, if you haven’t seen it, about a school project.
I’ve always wanted to see Shoah. Never heard of Paper Clips.
Schindler’s List is arguably one of the most important films ever made.