Schindler’s List, by Albert W. Vogt III

It was time.  This is a candid admission for somebody with a terminal degree in history, but I had never seen Schindler’s List (1993) before recently.  It was a Saturday evening, right in the middle of the weekend, meaning I need not concern myself with as much regimentation of my time as I usually do.  This is Albert-code for the fact that I typically watch shorter films during the week so I can go to bed early.  Yet, my perusing of the streaming offerings alighted upon today’s movie.  With the thought process just described always latent in the back of my mind, I decided that tonight would be when I finally watch it.  The whole of this review will be emotionally charged.  In the smallest of manners, and informed by the blessing that is hindsight, I identify with the title character, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), at the end of the film.  Having made it through World War II and with the roughly thousand Jews he helped survive the Holocaust, the enormity of the events of the last six years hits him.  His reaction is to say that he could have saved more.  We will get into that sentiment later.  For me, I could not help but think, why did I not see this sooner?

Appropriately, Schindler’s List begins with a prayer, accompanied by lit candles.  Like my own Faith, light is a symbol for the presence of God.  He also sends people to do His will, whether or not they acknowledge it.  Our unwitting messenger is Schindler.  I describe it as such because early on his only desire is to make money.  With the commencement of World War II, there are opportunities for members of the Nazi party and industrialists such as himself to profit from the hostilities.  He is also a keen observer of who he needs to befriend, and how to do so.  The connections he makes at a night club lead to him being able to open an enamelware factory in German occupied Krakow, Poland, to supply the German Army.  This comes concurrently with the beginning of the rounding up of Jews in Germany’s newly conquered neighbor and the opening of the Krakow ghetto.  Not wanting to pay non-Jewish Poles to work in his factory as they would demand higher wages, Schindler turns to the so-called “Untermensch” for labor.  This does not paint a flattering picture to this point of a man that history remembers as a hero.  Indeed, his philandering does not help, either.  What he does endeavor to do is to work in a fairer manner than his counterparts with the Jewish workers he employs.  The key to this is his hiring of the Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Sir Ben Kingsley).  At first, Stern is incredulous of Schindler’s promises of return on investment and good treatment for the workers.  Nonetheless, Stern sees an opportunity when Schindler proves his earnestness to get as many workers as possible picked from among the thousands being crammed into the ghetto.  For those who are picked, it means not having to stay within the boundaries of their neighborhood prison, affording them the ability to trade for items on the black market.  Things are going well until the liquidation of the ghetto is ordered.  If you are not familiar with the term, liquidation is a kinder term given us by history for wholesale slaughter.  The process is orchestrated by the newly arrived commandant, Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes), of the freshly constructed Plaszów concentration camp near Krakow.  Those who are deemed unfit for work at this new prison are sent to die in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.  Navigating the trauma of this upheaval is Schindler.  As he had done before, he puts on his best smile for Göth, who Schindler either bribes or flatters into keeping his workers where they are instead of going off to be murdered.  Then again, Göth is not keen on helping, sadistically killing Jews at practically every available moment.  People like him are the real Nazi monsters, but I digress.  As much as he relishes in indiscriminate killing, not even he is able to prevent the eventual dissolution of his camp.  Germany is losing the war, the Russians are closing in from the east, and the Nazis are beginning the process of erasing the evidence of their atrocities.  This means dismantling Plaszów and sending its inmates to Auschwitz.  Once more, Schindler must do what he can to save those he employs.  This is when he sits down with Stern and creates the list for which the film is known.  He then bribes everyone he can, including Göth, using a significant portion of the vast sums of money he had accumulated to that point in the war, to set up a new munitions factory in his native Czechoslovakia.  He has to use a great deal more when the women of his group, who are transported separately from the men, end up being sent to Auschwitz due to a clerical error.  He is able to save them, too, despite them being herded (and I do mean “herded”) into showers they suspect to be gas chambers.  What little money is left to him is used to make sure that his munitions factory produces faulty artillery shells, buying good ones to be sent in place of any from his floor.  Thus, by war’s end, his ambition of going home with two steamer trunks full of cash does not come to fruition.  What he has done is save the lives of around a thousand Jews that would have been victims of the Holocaust.  On the last day of the conflict, knowing that he must go on the run from the Russians since he is a high-level Nazi, his grateful workers make him a gold ring by which to remember them.  The final scene is of those real-life survivors in modern-day visiting the grave site of Oskar Schindler.

There is a great deal I left out in my description of Schindler’s List.  The film is over three hours in duration, and if I included everything this review would be ponderously long.  What happens in between what you read about above is meant to show the awful nature of the crimes perpetrated against our Jewish brothers and sisters during World War II.  In this respect, Schindler is not completely innocent, and this is something critics of the film like to mention.  Incidentally, he was a fallen Catholic, and there are a few scenes with him in a church.  When he informs his workers that the war is over, he crosses himself to pray during a three-minute silence he requests to remember those who had been killed.  Still, I am not sure what those who disparage this movie are looking for.  Schindler is portrayed as a war profiteer and a womanizer, and his wife Emilie (Caroline Goodall) seems tolerant of his boorish behavior.  What balances it, while not condoning it, is the fact that he was able to keep as many as he did from the gas chambers.  I will take the thankfulness of those that were personally affected by his efforts over any pseudo-intellectual who looks at this as a puff-piece, or feels like it does not go far enough, or too far, or whatever.  The one undeniable fact is that Oskar Schindler was a real person and he was responsible to over a thousand lives saved.  As mentioned in the introduction, as he is saying goodbye at the end and is given the ring, he breaks down sobbing and claiming that he could have done more.  As a sinner, I connect with this statement.  When you understand the incalculable value of one life, and how precious each and every one is to God, the weight of sin can sometimes be overwhelming.  I pray that you are not overwhelmed as the enemy would like you to be.  In the face of Schindler’s break down, Stern has some great words that we should all remember whenever we feel like our wrongdoings are too much to bear.  While they will likely not involve the literal life and death of others, it is important to remember certain truths.  Stern tells Schindler that one life saved is worth an entire world to that person.  In the same way, God’s love for us can far outshine any attempt to distance ourselves from Him.

Schindler’s List is an important film to see, although it is long and brutal.  There is nudity in it, and not only in the scenes where concentration camp inmates are being dehumanized by their experiences.  The level of violence, too, means that its R rating is well-deserved.  However, it should be watched so that we can remember these events.  They are not pleasant, but they need to be remembered.  The acts of a man like Oskar Schindler can help elevate that memory.  While he may not have had the best of intentions at the outset, in the end he did would he could.  That is all anyone can ask of you.

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