Distributed By: Universal Studios
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Some would say that this should be a Turn Back the Clock review. After all, the movie Schindler’s List was released in 1993, over a decade ago. But for this to be a Turn Back the Clock review, I would have had to have seen this movie some time ago and would thus be writing how special this movie has been to me over the years. That is not the case. In fact, it would be more truthful to say that I have been avoiding seeing this film for the simple fact that it hits too close to home. Raised in the Jewish faith, I have been told stories of the Holocaust on numerous occasions. These stories have all been hard to hear, but somehow easier to deal with, for so long as there were no visual aides to go along with the stories, that is all they remained – stories. Not to say that I ever doubted their authenticity…never that. I know the nightmare of the Holocaust was real, no matter how many people try to deny or downplay its existence. It’s just that I don’t think I was ever truly prepared to deal with such a real-life horror. That is, I was unprepared until now.
I must admit, that it was with some trepidation that I placed this two-sided DVD into my DVD player. Schindler’s List, based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, was reported to be the most accurate and therefore most chilling representation of the Holocaust ever created by an American filmmaker. It was said that Steven Spielberg was dedicated to telling the tale of Oskar Schindler and his crusade to save as many Jews as he could manage and therefore had created a film that touches the soul of the viewer in ways that no other filmmaker has been able to do before or since. But the events that take place in this film are a part of my ancestral history that cannot be denied and so, I set my self down on the sofa and watched intently as the story unfolded before me.
When Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) arrived in Poland, he had no intentions of becoming a savior. He was there to make money. Ingratiating himself to the local Nazi faction by throwing around money and black market goods, Schindler takes control of an abandoned factory and turns it into a mess kit manufacturing plant. Of course, any business with such lofty goals must have investors and so Schindler approaches Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), an official in Krakow’s Jewish Council. In exchange for the investment of the Jewish business community, Schindler will provide a small share of produced product. The next necessity is a work force. In order to make a profit, Schindler needs to hire cheap and what workers would come cheaper than the Jews living in the Krakow Ghetto. Stern manages to convince Schindler to hire on Jews with no skills in the manufacturing industry in an effort to save their lives. Knowing that teachers, musicians and the like are the first lambs led to slaughter, Stern creates new identities for these individuals who learn new skills while training at the factory.
Things go well for a time, until the construction of the Plaszow Concentration Camp. Under the watchful eye of Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes), the Jews in the ghetto are routed – no one is to remain in the Ghetto. All are removed to the concentration camp or killed. As Schindler witnesses the senseless slaughter from a hilltop far above the Ghetto, something in him changes. These are no longer simply factory workers whom he exploits for profit. These are people being beaten and murdered for no other reason than their religious affiliation. It is then that Schindler decides to use his ties to the Nazis for good. Approaching Amon Göth, he persuades him to create a sub-camp for the use of his plant’s workers. In this way, Schindler seeks to spare his workers the wrath of Amon Göth’s unexplainable killing rampages. Stern assists him by reclassifying targeted men as skilled workers and sending them to Schindler’s camp.
Unfortunately, word comes from Berlin that Plaszow is to be dismantled and all remaining Jews to be sent to the horrific concentration camp known as Auschwitz. Schindler, in a last ditch effort to save as many people as he can, orders Stern to create a list of a thousand concentration camp members. He then approaches Göth with an offer – a tremendous bribe in which Schindler offers to buy each of the members on his list. His goal is to bring these people to a factory in his homeland in Moravia to work on armaments for the German army. A trainload of male prisoners are sent to Schindler’s factory, but, unfortunately, the train carrying the women is sent to Auschwitz. Schindler rushes to Auschwitz to save his workers, nearly arriving too late as they have already been shaved and brought to the showers. Fortunately for this group, water was what exited the pipes during this shower and not the gas that had already met many an Auschwitz prisoner in the past.
Schindler takes the women back to his new factory where he forbids all SS guards to harm any of his workers. He puts on his very best show at creating armaments for the troops, knowing that none of the artillery he produces will ever meet the standards – he has already miscalibrated every machine in the place to ensure that no artillery made at his plant would ever be used in the war effort. Schindler somehow makes things last until Germany surrenders to the Allied forces. He then, being a member of the Nazi party, is forced to flee, taking with him an affidavit signed by every worker in the factory telling of his effort to save their lives in the face of Nazi tyranny.
When one sits down to view a film, either one of two things happen - you either sit there and enjoy the show knowing that all that occurs on screen is just a fantasy and that when the film is over, you will return to reality, or you immerse yourself in the film, the characters and their stories and the tale becomes more than a film to you…it becomes a reality. For Schindler’s List, it was important for Steven Spielberg that he create a reality for his viewers. After all, the Holocaust is not a fantasy event and Oskar Schindler and the people he saved are not fictitious characters. These are real people who survived a terrible time in history and who deserve to be recognized as such. Schindler’s List is therefore not just a movie – it is a testimony to Oskar Schindler and those fortunate individuals who were placed on Schindler’s list.
This movie is three hours plus in length and not an easy film to watch all the way through. The subject matter is difficult to deal with on film and even more so when you realize that the events depicted actually took place, sometimes even worse than what was depicted on screen. The idea that one person can hate a person so completely simply for their differences that they are willing to wipe out a whole race of people is absolutely shocking. If you are not horrified by this notion, it would do you good to look into the mirror and recognize the differences in yourself and realize that one person may feel this way toward you. Now imagine an entire army full of individuals who wished to wipe your perceived differences from the face of the Earth. And believe me – if people don’t learn from genocide, it will happen again and again and again. History is doomed to repeat itself unless civilization learns from the history of their mistakes.
The filming of Schindler’s List in black and white does much to reflect the gloom and despair felt by the people of the Krakow Ghetto. Hard as they tried, they could not hope – hope was for people with a future and these people could not see a future past the misery and suffering they were already forced to endure. The music, composed by John Williams, also reflected the sadness and pain of the people while also displaying some of the ethnic qualities of the music native to the area.
Those who were saved by Oskar Schindler have never forgotten him and it is testimony to this fact that his story lives on through these people who have told it again and again to all who will listen. There is a scene at the end of the film which shows the surviving members of the list and the people who portrayed them in the film paying homage at the grave of Oskar Schindler. This is perhaps one of the most important moments of the film – the fact that these people were willing to participate in this event with members of the cast of the movie lends credence to Spielberg’s creation.
The DVD version of Schindler’s List contains a documentary called Voices from the List in which survivors whose names appeared on Schindler’s list discuss their lives before, during and after the war. Another featurette called The Shoah Foundation Story tells of that organization’s determination to archive survival stories from Holocaust survivors all around the world and make these stories available to all, spreading the word against hate by offering detailed accounts of what hate can do. Also offered in the bonus section of the DVD are information about the cast and filmmakers and a detailed biography of Oskar Schindler.
Schindler’s List is a powerful and emotional experience that one must prepare themselves fully to take. While I believe that this film would be an excellent teaching film for our children, I find that it may be too realistic for them to handle. Yes, too realistic…it was almost too realistic for me to handle. To believe that this sort of thing occurred in my grandparents’ time and that similar genocides are taking place in our time…sometimes this is too much for anyone to handle. But handle it they must, or the world will be plagued by such hatred that it will eventually eat itself alive. We must learn from the mistakes of our forefathers and the heroic acts of those who fought against them, with what little power they had, to save even a fraction of those victims from the slaughter. For, as the Talmud says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world.” Schindler’s List is such a powerful film that once seen, it is not soon forgotten.