A Review of Steven Spielberg’s Historic Film “Schindler’s List”

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It is easy to believe what you have not seen and even easier to believe what lies before your eyes. Steven Spielbergs historic film Schindler's List has undoubtedly affected and persuaded millions of viewers to accept Oskar Schindler as a hero. Through the memories of those who knew him, along with historical documents and facts, the film can be said to possess a factual recollection of this historical figure. Although there are minor discrepancies between the historical facts, the novel, and the film, Spielberg's version concerning Oskar Schindler is a reliable source of the truth behind this mysterious man. Even though the novel and the film are fiction, they present a reliable truth about Schindler's life and his actions during the Holocaust.

The film is based on the novel written by Thomas Keneally. This strips the film of its credibility as a documentary because both the film and novel present fictional dialogue. However, both Keneally and Spielberg interviewed witnesses in an effort to make Schindler's story as historically correct as possible. In the novel, Keneally states in his author note:

I have attempted ... to avoid all fiction, since fiction would debase the record, and to distinguish between the reality and the myths which are likely to attach themselves to a man of Oskar's stature. It has sometimes been necessary to make reasonable constructs of conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record. But most exchanges and conversations and all events are based on the detailed recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews), of Schindler himself, and of other witnesses to Oskar's acts of outrageous rescue. (Qt. in Fogel 315)

These words assure the reader that the events of the novel are not fiction at all and that the book is a historically correct recollection of the type of man that Schindler was. In effect, Spielberg's Schindler's List contains very few significant details and episodes not drawn in some fashion from Keneally's text (316). It is important to note that Spielberg was forced to compress an entire novel's story into a three-hour film. It was then necessary for Spielberg to delete many scenes from his film while trying to keep the authenticity of Schindler's persona presented in Keneally's novel. Now, throughout the world, both novels and films have been recognized as credible sources for the story of Oskar Schindler. The story they present, however, sends mixed messages as to the motive behind Schindler's heroism during the Holocaust.

The film introduces Schindler as a rich Nazi. He is seen counting his money and putting a Nazi pin on his suit. He then proceeds to an elegant party swarming with powerful military men (Schindlers List). These images give the impression that Schindler was a businessman with money on his mind. It is obvious that he goes to the party to make powerful friends that will later help him build his business. Schindler willingly participates in the Holocaust and takes advantage of the war effort to make himself a wealthier man. He does not seem to care about the Jews and their losses because their losses became his gains. He views Germany's war effort as an opportunity for profit, and he is quite willing to cooperate with German officials providing him with a source of cheap and willing laborers (Furrow 212). In comparison to the book and historical facts, along with eyewitnesses to the events, these dealings show that Schindler was, in fact, an eccentric man only interested in profits, no matter what the cost.

Schindler succeeds in bribing military generals to sell him Jews, as cheap labor for his factory. He exploits cheap Jewish labor, and his initial assessment of Nazi atrocities does not dissuade him from identifying with and assisting the regime (Furrow 216). According to moral standards, this man was a monster whose only sense of self-worth was to be as powerful as he could be. If not for his heroism in saving more than a thousand Jews from death, he would have been persecuted and sentenced to death for simply following the German war machine. But Schindler was not all that bad. While the Nazis were killing Jews by the millions, Schindler seemed furious when a soldier killed one of his workers. He protested I lost a worker. I expect to be compensated (Schindlers List). However, Spielberg Schindler is simply another Nazi who regards the killing of Jewish slaves as a senseless business practice (Gourevitch 50). Even though he is still not sympathetic towards the Jews, in this part of the movie, Schindler takes the first step in protecting his workers from the fate they would otherwise face in the concentration camps.

As the film progresses, Schindler begins to gain a better understanding of the Jews' struggle. He slowly becomes more sympathetic towards the people in his factory, especially his accountant. When his accountant is taken by mistake, Schindler goes to some length to personally retrieve him (Furrow 216). The movie shows Schindler desperately trying to convince the soldiers that they must free his accountant before the train takes him to the concentration camp. This act alone is noble and praiseworthy, but Schindler retracts his kindness by telling his accountant, What if I got here five minutes later, then where would I be (Schindler's List)? Schindler makes his accountant believe that the rescue was for his personal well-being, disregarding the danger that awaited his Jewish accountant at the train's last stop. Even so, from this point forward, Schindler's actions serve to help his workers at the expense of his wealth. He spends all of his money buying Jews from a concentration camp so that he can keep them safe in his factory. These facts can hardly be disputed when many of Schindler's Jews are still alive to retell the story of their savior. Most people now come to accept the fact that Schindler was a hero, but some still believe that this only came to be by accident.

Through the wars ending months, Schindler harbored as many Jews as he could in his artillery factory. Furthermore, he made sure that every piece of artillery manufactured in his factory would be faulty and useless to the German Army. Because he had Jewish slaves as laborers, his factory was under the supervision of the SS Generals. Even so, at considerable cost and risk to himself, Schindler's factory became a haven for Jews (Furrow 219). At this point, Schindler had already realized that it was up to him to save innocent families from a senseless death. As one of Schindler's Jews, Bernard Scheuer recalls: when he saw cruelty, he didn't like it (Qt. in Ottenhoff 164). This shows that Schindler had a human heart beating inside his chest. Contrary to the many Nazis responsible for the atrocities in the Holocaust, Schindler recognized the Jews' right to live.

In the novel, however, Schindler comes to identify himself with the Jews he saves, not exactly as a fellow victim of the Nazis but as a fellow prisoner of an abominable system (Gourevitch 51). Whether he wanted to escape the system or simply do what was right by saving Jews, the fact remains that Schindler was, in fact, a hero. In the film, Schindler says, I've done what I came here for. I've got more money than any man can spend in a lifetime (Schindlers List). Even though he had accomplished his primary goal, he still decided to spend all of his money on rescuing his Jewish friends. He was, consequently, bankrupt by the end of the war.

Schindler's wife, Emilie Schindler, who recently died on Oct. 5, was able to view Spielberg's work of art. She could be the best source for the facts behind Oskars life, but her comments rarely included the good man inside of him. She states: The man who was a hero to thousands had a drinking problem and abandoned his wife (Qt. in Szymanski 43). He did abandon his wife, and the film even shows him having an affair with another woman while he was working in the factory, but that is only a small piece of the puzzle. No one is perfect, and people shouldn't expect Schindler to be perfect, either.

While the movie does show Emilie briefly, it fails to show Emilie's unsung heroism. She brings up the fact that she was an essential part of the Jews' safety by saying, I would go and look for food; otherwise, everybody would have starved to death(43). Aside from Schindler's infidelity, she has some good memories of her husband but not many (43). Although the film fails to sing praise to Emilie Schindler, it does accomplish the task of depicting Oskars real life and actions. When the time comes, if it does, Emily's involvement alongside her husband could also be retold in a film.

Undoubtedly, there are discrepancies between Spielberg's version and the novel. The book tells of an event when Schindler armed the Shindlerjuden at Brinnlitz with automatic weapons so that the Jews were able to resist any order that might have come down to the SS to murder them (Fogel 318). This shows a side of Schindler that is never brought up in the film. He resorts to violence, even if it is his last course of action. The film always shows Schindler as a man who negotiates his way out of trouble. In the film, the Jews are always kept at the mercy of Schindler, even if they appear to be free from the Nazis. This is only one of the many segments that Spielberg had to cut from the film. Since Keneally's version tells more about Schindler's life, Keneally's Schindler is much closer to the historical figure than Spielberg's (Fogel 320).

Even though, in the end, Schindler is seen as a good person and a true hero, both the book and the film fail to tell what happened to Schindler after the wars ended. Schindler later confessed, shamelessly as ever, to having sold the "He who saves a single life" ring for schnapps (Fogel 319). This was a ring that the Jews gave him as a gift. He could only have sold it because he needed the money, but it is astonishing why he sold the ring that had so much sentimental value to thousands of people. It may be that he went back to his love of money if he ever lost it at all. To this day, no one can be sure as to why Schindler did save all of those people from death. It could have been that he was trying to secure his financial future, or he may have done it out of true kindness. The fact remains, however, that Schindler accomplished some truly good things despite his mixed motives (Ottenhoff 164).

Schindler may have been a good man, a hero, and now a legend in the memory of his Jewish friends, but he still remains a mystery to the rest of the world. People who knew him, including his wife, have retold most of his life. The little that is known about him can give us hints about his thinking and actions, but they can never really tell us his true motives. His actions and accomplishments are no mystery, but his ultimate purpose for saving the Jews still evades those among the most educated of our generation.

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A Review of Steven Spielberg's Historic Film "Schindler's List". (2023, Mar 06). Retrieved September 25, 2023 , from

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