Schindlers List is a movie that though I had heard much about, I had never seen. I dont know if it was out of lack of interest for the subject, fear of the reportedly graphic scenes, or just the knowledge of its length that I avoided the film, but I did. I can remember when I was in 8th grade hearing an announcement over the loudspeaker that all of the seniors had to bring in their permission slips so that they would be allowed to watch the film in the auditorium the following week. That certainly piqued my interest. What was it about this film that was so bad that it required a permission slip, yet so good that it was being shown in school for the students? When I learned that we would be watching the film in class, I was excited and curious to finally see what all the hype was about. What I found out was that it was a very sad, very depressing, and very beautiful film. Not beautiful in the sense of those Jane Austen pictures with the rolling English landscapes and multi-colored dresses, but beautiful in its complexity and honesty. It was brutally graphic, but not in a gratuitous way like the popular films of today, it was graphic because it was an accurate portrayal of true event in history. Without the violence and nudity it would have betrayed the truth, sugarcoating it, and providing a dishonest picture of the evil that was the Holocaust.
The film begins in Krakow, Poland just after the collapse of the Polish army and at the beginning of the German occupation. Oskar Schindler, a tall handsome womanizer arrives in the city looking to open a factory in order to profit from the war. Since the Jews are no longer permitted to own businesses, Oskar obtains a factory from a Jewish man named Itzhak Stern, and appoints him as his accountant and manager. The two form a strange relationship, Oskar taking advantage of Sterns talent, and Stern distrustingly but obediently following Schindlers orders. Schindler gets the rich Jews from the ghetto to invest in the factory and he uses Jews to work for him since they cost him little. Through the black market, Schindler obtains numerous delicacies such as liquor and chocolate for the SS and German officers and sends them large gift baskets that place him in their good favor.
Schindler spent his days entertaining the Nazis and his many women, while leaving the work of running the factory to Itzhaks very capable hands. Whenever he did meet with Stern, the intelligent manager would feed him little stories of how the Jews were being treated. Though at first he took these stories with a grain of salt, Schindler began to feel more and more impacted and would make small moves that showed that inside the seemingly callous man, was a compassionate and caring individual.
Schindlers factory became a haven for the Jews among all of the chaos. The word quickly spread that in Schindlers factory nobody died. Schindler himself was apparently unaware of this fact until one day, a young Jewish woman disguised herself, and went to ask Schindler to please hire her parents who were at a labor camp. He was appalled by this request and fearful of what could happen to him. His angry outburst scared the poor girl out of his office, but a few days later she rejoiced when she saw her parents being shepherded into his factory by German officials.
Several days later, all of the Jews in the camps are asked to strip and put through numerous exams to see whether they are sick or healthy enough to work. They are separated and the weak ones are gassed. All of the children are placed in trucks, and they are sent away.
The Russians are nearing, and to avoid them, the Germans plan on moving the Jews to a different camp further into Poland. Schindler realizes that he is running out of time and he makes a deal with Amon Goeth to buy the Jews. Working with Stern the two compile a list of 1100 workers from memory. These Jews are given over to Schindler who then releases them to go their own way. The grateful Jews melt their gold fillings to create a ring, which they present as a gift to Schindler. He accepts it, but with regret that he did not do more to save more Jews. He looks back at all of the money that he wasted on parties, and drinking and cars and realizes that each of those items that he spent his money on could have saved one more life. The Schindler Jews, as they called themselves, dont condemn him for this, but rather they praise him for his sacrifice and all surround him in a group hug.
I thought that this was an amazing film. It was difficult at times to watch, and I often found myself in a sort of daze as I was walking out of class. What I did like about the film was that it did not idealize Schindler (at least not until the end). It showed him for what he was: a war profiteer and a womanizer who liked to party and really did not come to Poland with the idea of saving any Jews. He slowly changed due to the bits and pieces that he heard from Stern and the atrocities that he saw with his own eyes. It wasnt a total and complete change, for I am sure that he did not abandon his ways completely, however he did make a great sacrifice by giving up all that he had worked for to save the lives of 1100 men and women.
I know that I learned from this film, not really about facts about the war or the Holocaust, because I learned those from books and documentaries on PBS. What I did get from it was a clearer picture of the horror that these people encountered, and of the senselessness of it all. There was no reason why this had to happen. Just seeing the cruel acts of people such as Goeth, with their indifference and insensibility, is chilling. I know that it is all true and that is why it is so frightening. Once again, a film places before me the question of how a person, a human being, can be so desensitized as to perform these acts without the slightest sense of remorse. The fact that such things have also happened in places such as Cambodia and Ethiopia, and will probably continue to happen is disillusioning. Its almost as if we dont learn or dont care. I dont know who could watch a film such as this and not be affected, and yet these things go on. Schindler was a good man and he did a great thing, but what still stays in the back of my mind is all those, like the one-armed man and the little girl in the red coat, that he couldnt save.
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