Pat - wrote on 08/16/16
When one individual sacrifices personal safety and wealth to save the lives of others, the story must be told. It takes courage to stand up for humanity, and there have been heroes who have done so throughout the course of history. The Holocaust was a gruesome time in history when a powerful government was on a mission to take the lives of millions of innocent people. Although there were many heroes during this tragic era, one heroic man in particular became the focus of a feature Hollywood blockbuster: Oskar Schindler. The making of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was a necessity.
In 1932, the Nazis became the largest political party in Germany’s Parliament. The Nazi political majority would become the root of one of history’s most infamous tragedies. Initially, the German government created anti-Jew policies, which ultimately led to the violent and cruel attempt to eliminate all Jews in Europe. Ten years later, two thirds of the West European Jews were killed. The majority of these victims were Polish and Soviet Jews who were murdered by bullets or by the use of gas chambers. The Polish Jews were the largest Jewish community in the world, and 1.5 million of these Jews were killed at three main death facilities: Treblinka, Be zec, and Sobibor. Of the approximate 5.7 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, about three million were from Poland. After years of terror, in May 1945, Germany signed an unconditional surrender, officially ending their involvement in World War II and officially beginning the liberation of Jews.
The most successful Holocaust film of all time, Schindler’s List, directed by Steven Spielberg, made its debut in December 1993. The movie is based on the Thomas Keneally novel Schindler’s Ark, the story of Holocaust hero Oskar Schindler, who risked his life and fortune to provide a safe haven to over one thousand Jews in his factory. Schindler’s List is primarily set in Poland, where most of the Jews were affected by the Holocaust. In addition to telling the story of Oskar Schindler, Schindler’s List does an excellent job of portraying the events that took place in Poland during this time period. The film was critically acclaimed and received numerous awards including the Academy Awards Best Picture and Best Director of 1993.
Humankind must never forget World War II and the Holocaust. Because of the millions of innocent Jews killed during this time period, people must be educated so similar events are never allowed to happen again. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center serves as an important venue for educating people in the Chicago area. During my interview with Jessica Hulten, Education Outreach Coordinator at the museum, she explains, “Our Museum focuses on remembering the past and transforming the future. We fulfill this goal by reaching thousands of students each year through field trips to the Museum and hosting Student Leadership Days for multiple grades” (Hulten). When asked if many of the museum’s visitors have prior knowledge of the film Schindler’s List, the answer was definitely “Yes.” Jessica continues to explain, “Schindler’s List brought the history of the Holocaust into popular culture. A major movie production is meant for the masses and to capture its audience” (Hulten). The movie is especially enlightening for the many people who do not have the opportunity to visit a Holocaust museum. According to Jewish Philanthropy, there are only sixteen Holocaust museums across the United States (EJP). Therefore, very few cities can call themselves home to a museum specializing in the Holocaust. Because many people acquire their historical knowledge from popular culture, Schindler’s List is one of the primary elements that help the general public become interested, learn, and remember the Holocaust.
Outside the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center stands the Michael and Jacqueline Ferro Fountain of the Righteous. It pays tribute to the most courageous Gentiles who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Seventy-one people are honored as “Righteous Among the Nations,” and their individualized plaques form a circle around the fountain. Oskar Schindler is one of these heroes (See appendix p. 15). Inside the museum, there is a special section dedicated to Oskar Schindler and the Jews he rescued from the Nazis during the Holocaust. One of the rare artifacts on display is an actual release form of Maria Schlesinger, a Schindler-rescued Jew. In addition, the exhibit displays the important quote, “Schindler at first used such contacts to advance his business interests and later to learn of impending deportations, so that he could save his workers” (Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center). This quote refers to Oskar Schindler’s strong relationship with the Nazi officials that he first used for his own personal gain. Ultimately, he heroically used his position of power to save lives. The recognition of Oskar Schindler at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center proves him to be a legitimate rescuer with a worthy story. The main character of Schindler’s List is undoubtedly a true real life hero of the Holocaust.
The real horrors of the Holocaust during World War II are beyond anyone’s dark imagination in modern times. In the book Steven Spielberg A Retrospective, a Holocaust survivor is quoted: “If you see Schindler’s List, it’s not as bad as what happened to me, but it will give you a very small idea of what I went through” (Schickel 163). The movie gives the viewer a glimpse into the Holocaust atrocities, but it does not cross the line graphically, which would have been too disturbing. The movie Schindler’s List is a tolerable version for people to watch. The film’s tasteful depiction of the horrific Holocaust events is a clear reason why Schindler’s List serves as an effective educational tool.
Steven Spielberg filmed the majority Schindler’s List in black and white, showing only a few significant minutes in color. Spielberg’s point of view of the Holocaust was always pictured in his mind in a gray scale. He said in a BBC interview “You have to understand that my only frame of reference from not only the Holocaust but from the entire Second World War is black and white” (Spielberg). When Spielberg was young, he would hear the stories from his Jewish family about the Holocaust and envision them in black and white. Also, Spielberg was careful not “beautify” the film in any way (Steinmetz 3). The only color used in the black and white portion of the film is a little girl in a red coat, who serves as a symbol of murdered innocent children. It is very powerful to see the little girl in the red coat dead amongst the black and white scheme. Witnessing this innocent death is a turning point for Oskar Schindler and his outlook on the cruelty the Jews. The tremendous thought put into the color aspect of the production shows the genuine intention of the director. In fact, Steven Spielberg thought about the movie a long time before it ever went into production. He had the basis for Schindler’s List a full decade before he began shooting the film (Schickel 157). The amount of thought put into developing the movie contributed to its success and significance as a legitimate historical piece.
The content of Schindler’s List showed in detail what happened to many Jews during the Holocaust. In the book Steven Spielberg A Retrospective, Steven Spielberg is quoted: “The movie needed to say a lot about the Holocaust, the process of it. The Holocaust was a script that Satan wrote. The whole process of taking away some of your liberties, forcing you to wear a star, forcing a black market inside the Jewish ghetto just for goods to survive, the liquidation of the upper-class Jewish neighborhoods and everybody being ghettoized and then the dissemination of all these people into forced-labor camps or directly to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps for immediate extinction. These were important steps to show the world that there was precision and malice aforethought that led up to the greatest crime in modern history” (Schickel 158-159). With all of this addressed, it is essential to have a historically correct movie depict such a sad and terrifying era. Not everybody is familiar with what actually happened to the innocent Jewish groups and individuals. As a result in 1993, Schindler’s List clearly presented the entire process of what happened to the Jews to modern cinema. That year was also an appropriate point in time to finally make a Holocaust-themed movie as a piece of educational literature because it was nearly fifty years after the Holocaust ended. By 1993, the Holocaust was a piece of non-recent history.
Schindler’s List brought attention to a group of inhumane criminals carrying out evil acts. In the entry "Schindler's List, Inglourious Basterds, and the Problem of Evil in American Cinema," a particular viewpoint is stated: “Spielberg’s Holocaust epic served to strengthen the moral goodness of Americans at a time when American identity desperately needed to fill the void left by previous constructions of otherness such as Soviet Russia or Sadam Hussein’s Iraq” (Steinmetz 5). Because of the global current events of the time, Americans were particularly concerned with the immoral actions of world leaders. The popularity of Schindler’s List strengthened the desire for ethical wellbeing in American society and around the world. Later in the entry, Steinmetz refers to a quote from famous film director Stanley Kubrick, “‘Schindler’s List is about success. The Holocaust was about failure’” (Steinmetz 13). The film emphasized the positive actions of the hero Oskar Schindler, while at the same time showing the terrifying events of genocide. Through Schindler’s List, the ability of Spielberg to simultaneously tell two stories, one heroic and one petrifying, was truly remarkable. As a result, the well-known triumphant actions of Oskar Schindler can serve as inspiration to other people in tragic situations.
The impact of the movie Schindler’s List continues with the educational use of visual history testimonies made available through the USC Shoah Foundation, the institute for visual history and education. As stated on the Shoah Foundation website, “After completing Schindler’s List in 1994, Steven Spielberg was inspired to found the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation with the goal of capturing video testimonies from Holocaust survivors before their stories would be lost forever” (The Shoah Foundation). Refusing to accept any revenue from the film, Steven Spielberg gave his full salary to the Shoah Foundation. According to the foundation, “The institute houses nearly 52,000 audio-visual testimonies conducted in 61 countries and in 39 languages” (The Shoah Foundation). Due to the success of Schindler’s List, the memories of the holocaust survivors will be forever preserved and will serve as an educational tool for generations to come. The work of the Shoah Foundation is the legacy of Schindler’s List, and is one of the most compelling arguments that creation of the movie Schindler’s List was an absolute necessity.
One could argue that the details of Schindler’s List are not sufficiently balanced between depiction of failure and success, and therefore, it is not crucial to showcase the film to an audience. In an online professional critic review of Schindler’s List by Jeremy Heilman, it is explained, “True to Hollywood form, the focus is squarely on the survivors and not on the victims. The mindset also turns up on a larger scale near the film’s end, in a tasteless suspense scene that mines thrills over whether the titular list will arrive in time to save the Jews from getting gassed in a death camp” (Heilman). It is true that the movie shows more about the survivors than the victims who lost their lives. And the movie does keep the audience in suspense over whether the Schindler Jews will survive the shower scene. However, Schindler’s List is intended to be a story about Oskar Schindler and the Jews he rescued. Even so, Spielberg does a superb job of showing the general tragedy of how the Jews lost their liberties and were murdered. The amount of information about the brutal treatment and murder of Jews is sufficient to serve as a general education to the public. Obviously, those who are interested could research more specific stories regarding the atrocities of the Holocaust. The Shoah Foundation, founded because of the movie, would be an excellent resource to find Holocaust survivors’ accounts of specific events. The main outcome of Schindler’s List is its display of heroism amongst terrible tragedy, and that is an extremely valuable lesson to society.
Steven Spielberg’s epic masterpiece Schindler’s List is an extremely sad film given its accurate representation of historical events during the Holocaust. While viewing the movie, it is depressing to know the film is not “just a movie” because it is based upon real-life events. Overshadowing the darkness lies a truly inspirational story of one man who gave up all his fortune in order to save over a thousand people, who would have otherwise been killed. The actions of Oskar Schindler led to generations of Schindlerjuden, the term given to the Schindler-rescued Jews and their many descendants; now over six thousand Schindlerjuden are living today. Schindler’s List was a necessary film in order to educate and remind the general public of historical events. Oskar Schindler serves as a figure of genuine inspiration to all of humankind. Also, the lasting legacy of the movie is the Shoah Foundation, the ongoing educational organization of Holocaust testimonies. Schindler’s List will remain in the heart forever.