Question: ‘Schindler’s List’ is no less a “Jewish story” or a “German story” than it is a human story. And its subject matter applies to every generation. ’ [Stephen Spielberg] Discuss. The film ‘Schindler’s List’, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally, gives us an insight into the corruption and destructive capabilities of humans. This film portrays many themes, all of which are evoked due to the factual historical event of the Jewish Holocaust which occurred in Germany during WWII.
The exploration of the themes of hope, use and misuse of power, the nature of evil and courage makes this film prominent over others. Spielberg’s purpose in making this film was to raise awareness of the horror experienced by the victims during this era and to inspire todays and future generations to understand the impact of, and end, such prejudice. As such, we are presented a human story, the subject matter of which applies to every generation. The film focuses on the Holocaust, an era when millions of Jews and others were murdered for their ethnicity and religious beliefs – an era which many wish to forget.
Although one of the darkest periods in human history, many people of all ages know little, if anything about it. Spielberg’s film enables an understanding to develop in the viewer and thus, encourage respect for the Jewish people in light of the brutal facts. As the film opens, Oskar Schindler is portrayed as an ordinary German businessman with one thing on his mind – money. The film opens showing a man dressing with impeccable style, his face unknown. The Swastika lapel pin identifies him as a member of the Nazi party; a significant symbol throughout the film.
The technique of keeping the man’s identity a mystery suggests that to begin with he is a ‘no one’; however, as future events take place, his name and actions become a significant imprint in history. Initially Schindler sees the Jewish people as any other German would – slave labour, a way for him to make easy money. His ability to connect with the Jews seems to be lacking, yet the first flicker of a bond is shown when he saves his accountant, Itzhak Stern from Auschwitz. Up until the liquidation of the Ghettos, Schindler was oblivious to the reality of the war.
He was only focused on himself and his own well being, rather than looking at the bigger picture. During this incident, Schindler’s attention is directed to a young girl in a red coat. This isolated element of colour is surrounded by a sea of black and white, representing the innocence of the Jews being slaughtered. The instant Schindler sights the child it marks the moment when he is forced to confront the horror of Jewish life during the Holocaust and his own hand in it.
We witness the beginning of Schindler’s redemption and Spielberg’s exploration of the universal theme of loss of innocence in the face of the abuse of power, and the courage of those who stand against such negative forces. As the film progresses, Schindler’s attitude begins to change, along with his view about life. The contrast of black and white allows the director to deepen the impact of the story. This contrast marks Schindler’s face, which is often half in shadow, reflecting his selfish, dark side. However, his face becomes more lit as he makes the transformation from war profiteer to saviour.
Although Schindler initially made small attempts to save the Jews, he didn’t have the true motivation to put his heart and soul into becoming a saviour. However, later in the film, as Schindler sees the body of the little girl in the red coat being exhumed and wheeled into the fire under the direction of Nazi officers, he decides to save as many Jews as he can with his profits from the war – the death of the young child was the death of innocence and Schindler’s hope. Stern, with Schindler’s assistance, types a list of 1,100 Jewish workers known as, “Schindler’s List”. The list … is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf” (Itzhak Stern). Lists are an extremely important motif in the film, the majority of them symbolising evil and death, however Schindler’s list represents pure good and hope. Without this list, thousands of descendents of the Schindlerjuden would not be alive today – they owe their lives to one man. ‘Schindler’s List’ explores the issue of power and the misuse of power. The differences between Oskar Schindler and Amon Goeth clearly display the different viewpoints regarding power and its use.
Schindler wields a great deal of power, mainly due to the amount of money he has, whereas Goeth, the Nazi commander of Plaszow, uses his power to corrupt and destroy human lives. Amon was a man who wavered on the brink of madness. His sick sense of reality was shown throughout the film. His intense hatred for Jews led him to perform horrific acts of cruelty, portraying his misuse of power. A prime example of this is when he willingly and callously shoots innocent Jews from his villa balcony at the Plaszow labour camp.
His inability to see the Jews as humans allows him to kill without sympathy, justification and guilt. Amon’s power is fuelled by fear, making him the symbol of evil in the film. He takes pride in extinguishing the Jewish Ghetto and rules the Plaszow labour camp without mercy. When a Jewish engineer advises him that he needs to re-pour a foundation, he has her instantly executed – her seemingly black blood spreads through the pure white snow. This contrast in colours emphasises the split between good and evil.
The blood pouring from the victim’s head is both literally and metaphorically the life blood pouring out of the Jewish race. We begin to define the line between good and evil and the way in which it can corrupt human beings. The message portrayed that evil and the misuse of power is an ongoing matter, one in which could affect anyone and is partially an involuntary act – the evil animalistic behaviour becomes engraved into minds; like Goeth. Goeth can also be considered to be Schindler’s foil, as they can parallel one another in many ways.
At the beginning of the film, this parallel is shown through the use of mirrors and reflections, however, as the film progresses along with the character transformations, they become opposites. Like Schindler, Goeth is a practical man, not a thinker, but also fancies himself as someone of great importance; he also has a weakness for liquor. However, what defined the two as good and evil was that, unlike Schindler, Goeth was a cruel man who was physically abusive. He uses his power to construct a road paved with Jewish headstones, symbolising the destruction of the Jewish race.
Amon seems to be unsatisfied with merely wiping out existing Jews, so by planning the road he denies acknowledgement of many Jews final resting places. Despite his intense hatred for Jews, he is intoxicated by his Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch. Unable to touch Helen in love, his only acceptable option is to lash out at her with a horrific display of violence. “I would like so much to reach out and touch you in your loneliness…. Is this the face of a rat? Are these the eyes of a rat? “Hath not a Jew eyes? ” I feel for you, Helen. [leaning to kiss her] No, I don’t think so. You Jewish bitch, you nearly talked me into it, didn’t you?
He quotes Shakespeare’s Shylock from the Merchant of Venice showing that Goeth temporarily pauses in his rampage and listens to the voice of his victims, in this case Helen Hirsch. For a critical moment evil seems to pause and consider the fact that it may be possible to love this ‘creature’, although Amon’s face tells us no. His fists thrash out not so much at Helen, but at the recognition that he is doomed to loneliness by his evil By watching this film and witnessing the effects power can have on people, viewers can learn and gain a certain level of respect for those who are successful global leaders.
Schindler’s List displays Amon Goeth as an evil man who abuses power, but Spielberg also manages to show an unexpected depth and complexity to his character, displaying the tentative impression of how quickly power can change from good to evil. Throughout the generations good and evil have had a diverse range of meanings, each person with a different denotation. In practical thinking, even the most malicious criminal may contain a strong sense of love or compassion, whether towards parents, partners of children. Every person is capable of the noblest good or horrific evil; it just depends on the will power of the individual.
Good and evil are inseparable aspects of life . “Schindler’s List” is a true story which follows the man, Oskar Schindler and his transformation from war profiteer to saviour. Viewers watch this man’s actions become significant in history, but at the same time they begin to increase an understanding and connection with the Jewish people, in particular Schindler’s Jews. WWII in Germany was an act of mass destruction and loss of life , in this historic circumstance six million Jewish and five million other lives were lost. These large numbers makes portraying the Holocaust accurately extremely difficult.
However, Spielberg has managed to replace the vast numbers of Jewish people sacrificed during WWII with specific faces and names, enabling readers to make personal connections with the characters, positive or negative. Viewers follow the stories of various different Jewish families – Caja and Danka Dresner, Mila and Poldek Pfefferberg amongst others. Viewers meet these characters at the beginning of the film and follow their journey’s closely, beginning to develop a connection to these individual victims, who represent the vast numbers of the entire Holocaust.
By using this individualism, it forces viewers to confront the horror on a personal level, and to realise that every victim had a story, loved ones, a home and a life. To perceive the Jews of the Holocaust simply as a group or race dehumanises them a second time, removing their individuality and uniqueness, each person was a separate being and deserved respect – respect that the Nazi’s refused to give. In today’s society people still remain unique, their differences and individuality making the world a multicultural and diverse country.
Oskar Schindler himself also embodies this idea of recognising and caring for the individual, he begins to learn names, resulting in his extensive list. He is unable to stand by and watch his workers perish, he has made a personal connection with them and by seeing them die, and it is once again the death of innocence. Schindler embraces the chance to save his Jewish workers, at one point he grabs Danka Dresner on her way back to Auschwitz and shows her tiny fingers to a Nazi officer, pointing out that only little fingers like her can polish the inside of small shell casings in his factory.
His courage could have killed him hundreds of times, yet he still prevailed saving thousands of lives. This connection and courage allowed the Jews to gain hope, Schindler is their light, their saviour. As the war ends, Schindler is forced to flee as he is now considered a criminal. In an almost ironic twist Schindler himself is presented with a list of all 1,100 worker signatures, vouching that he is a good man with honourable intentions. Stern gives Schindler a gold ring, with the inscription, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire”. Schindler breaks down, stating that he should’ve saved more lives.
He shows that even the most collected people have a weak point and Schindler’s was guilt and regret. Schindler flees and the next day his workers walk free, marching to the tune of a Hebrew song. This black and white scene dissolves into colour and the actors/actresses turn into “The Schindler Jews Today” Spielberg carries the idea of individualism through to the final scene in the film, over 100 of the real Schindlerjuden appear. In tribute, each of the survivors places a stone on the gravestone of Oskar Schindler, accompanied by the actors who portrayed them in the film.
For every life saved, one rock is placed on the grave. The last mourner places flowers on the gravestone and stands with his head bowed, this is Liam Neeson. By connecting the real life survivors into the film it proves that the characters are real, not fictional and shows proof that the holocaust was real and shouldn’t be denied, it was a significant event in Human history and should be acknowledged. Although the war ended a long time ago, the impact and impression it left still remains. Hearts have been broken, families lost.
Yet still in a time of never ending darkness, there was light. This light was Schindler – he saved the lives of more than just 1,100 Jews – there are over 7,000 descendents of the Schindler Jews and they would not be alive unless one man decided to stand up against evil. Schindler’s list was not only the story of Jews and Germans, it was a human story. One which connects to every generation, enabling mistakes to be corrected and people to be forgiven, this can be done through learning and understanding, the holocaust shall remain in the minds and heart of thousands of people.