Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally, Simon & Schuster, 1982, Touchstone edition, 1993.
Review by Del Meyer, MD
LISTS are endless. Appointment LISTS. Grocery LISTS. Things to do LISTS. Life cannot go on without LISTS.
Joe Baltake, film editor at the Sacramento BEE, had his Oscar LIST which included Oskar SCHINDLER'S LIST. Seven OSCARS were indeed awarded on March 21 for the film "Schindler's List." The movie is still playing locally, nationally, and expanding internationally.
Thomas Keneally, the author of the book by the same name (Simon & Schuster, 1982, Touchstone edition, 1993, with MCI cover of helping hands with Schindler's List of Jews typed across them), states in his Prologue, "This is a story of pragmatic triumph of good over evil, a triumph in eminently measurable, statistical, unsubtle terms." And then confesses, "It is a risky enterprise to have to write of virtue." As Terrance Rafferty states in his "New Yorker" review, this is staggering because "Schindler's List" is a true story about the Holocaust!
This Universal Studio film opens in color and changes to black & white showing two candles at a Sabbath observance and the announcement of September 1939, "Germany defeats Poland." Hitler forces the registration of 10,000 Polish Jews requiring them to wear a star of David arm band. Thus the first LIST is made.
Enter Oskar Schindler, a German Catholic businessman, who seeks his fortune by buying a Jewish factory (Jews can no longer own factories) and employing Jews at a reduced wage, which, he argues, is better than the alternative.
We watch Jews being killed. A one armed machinist is shot in the head since he is not as productive. The Jews build their own labor camp. A graduate engineer points out a construction defect. The officer asks her for her rationale and then has her shot in the head. As she slumps, he gives the order to implement her recommended construction changes.
Schindler, wearing expensive clothes and accessories, mixes socially with the Nazi officers in a night club, orders expensive wines, gives expensive gifts and mixes with ladies expensively dressed. He has a maid, a mistress, and a secretary with whom he continues a liaison, while his wife remains in Moravia, Czechoslovakia. He persuades the officers into letting him have his own labor subcamp--just in time before the rest of the ghetto is liquidated.
Spielberg, who directs the movie, is able to capture experiences and emotions on screen. As naked men and women run around in a circle beyond endurance to convince the doctors they can work and not go into the line of those with "lives not worth living." Women puncture their fingers to draw blood to give their cheeks a "healthy" color.
The hiding and escapes are graphic--behind walls, under floors, inside pianos, inside of mattresses; showing kids crawling through privy seat holes and hiding in the liquid feces; to sewer scenes with men crawling into man holes surrounded by dead bodies and leaving other man holes piled high with bodies. Probably the most chilling emotional sequence, is when hundreds of women are herded into a "decontamination" concrete bin and the steel doors slam shut like steel prison gates. The women look up at the shower heads awaiting either cold water or lethal gas, when the curdling screams occur.
Oskar complains to the sadistic commandant, Amon Goeth, that his random killing of his workers for target practice is expensive to him by diminishing his work force. In his wine cellar he meets Goeth's Jewish maid who is freaked out from Goeth's random killing of a women working among other women. Schindler tries to comfort her by saying, "He shot the woman, one of many, because she meant nothing to him--neither pleasing him nor offending him. You mean something to him and so he won't kill you."
Later when Goeth makes advances to this Jewish maid, she's repulsed by her memory of his brutality and the consequences are shown graphically. A bullet through her cranium would have been more humane.
Once Oskar is given a birthday gift by his workers and he gives a thank you kiss to the lady making the presentation. Later he finds himself in prison for violating a "Nazi Law" prohibiting kissing a Jew. His style and money gets him cleared.
But as LISTS go, mistakes are made. Schindler's list to take to his new factory near his home in Czechoslovakia finds only 800 arriving and 300 women end up at Auschwitz. The Nazi's apologize and offer to deliver 300 "fresh Jews." Schindler declines and states he wants his own 300. The Nazi commander says he shouldn't get stuck on names. Schindler puts a handful of diamonds on the desk. The Nazi cautions that Schindler could be hanged for this. Schindler responds that he has friends in high places. The Nazi states, "What I meant is that I'm uncomfortable with these on my desk," as he scoops them up into his pocket. Thereafter, Schindler's 300 Jews go by train herded like livestock up chutes into box cars as truck loads of other Jews are driven off for extermination.
Schindler's final speech is given to his 1100 workers in his factory as the Nazi guards with rifles fill the balcony. He tells his workers, "The War is over. At midnight you are free to look for your relatives in Poland. I don't think you'll find them. I'm a Nazi and will be a hunted criminal and will leave at 5 minutes after midnight. I will flee" He then turns to the guards and says, "They are all here. You can continue to be murderers or you can go home to your families." They looked at each other and slowly one by one they turn to go.
A Russian soldier arrives on horseback AND tells the Jews that they are liberated by Russia. He is asked, "Are there any Jews left in Poland?" He looks shocked. He then advises them it would not be wise to go east. He looks puzzled and then tells them, "It wouldn't be wise to go west either."
In the final black and white scene, Schindler's Jews walk across the countryside when it changes to modern color and the remaining Schindler's Jews coming across the countryside, each accompanied by the actor or actress who played their part in the movie, young boy helping the old man he played 50 years younger, young lady helping the old lady she played 50 years younger, each helping the real life survivors with their crutches or pushing their wheelchairs, as they pass by Schindler's grave (1908-1974) to pay their last homage to the man to whom they owe their lives.
Spielberg mentioned when he received the Oscar for Best Director that he hoped this film will facilitate teaching about the holocaust in all schools rather than to allow it to become a footnote in history. When this non-docudrama appears on Video Disk, I will acquire one for my personal film library and one for each of my two daughters and hopefully for each grandchild to remind us from time to time of the inhumanity of humans to humans.