Schindler’s List and the Eight Stages of Genocide

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Steven Spielberg’s 1994 film Schindler’s List deals with the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved more than a thousand Jewish people during the Holocaust. The Holocaust is one of the most relevant accounts of the eight stages of genocide: classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, identification, extermination, and denial. This film accurately represents the eight stages of genocide and thus is an appropriate teaching tool to use in Genocide classes.

To start, classification and symbolization are almost immediately shown. Classification is defined as the division of the natural and social world into categories; it is shown in the film whenever the Jewish people are referred to as “the Jews.” They are referred to this way only because the Nazis have created an “us versus them” mentality, causing people to see Jewish people as somewhat alien. Symbols to name and signify classifications are also apparent. Often, genocidal governments force members of a group to wear an identifying symbol or article of clothing, and in this case, it was the yellow Star of David that the Jewish people were required to wear.

Genocide is always an organized process, and this is clearly shown in the movie. The Nazi camps, such as Auschwitz, are the most obvious example. The Nazis had planned out a systematic approach to the murder of the Jewish people that were involved and thorough. Identification is also shown nearer to the beginning of the film when the Jewish people are required to register themselves as “Jews” before the Holocaust has even begun. It is shown later in the movie when lists of “Jews” are created in order to keep track of who is or is not Jewish.

Lastly, extermination and dehumanization in the film go hand in hand. Extermination is when all members of the targeted group are killed, including the children; dehumanization is shown when the corpses are either burned or buried in mass graves because they are not considered human. They are considered (and often referred to as) “vermin,” which is why the perpetrator’s group feels that killing them is an act of extermination rather than murder. The clearest example of these two stages in the film is when Schindler is overlooking the Krakow massacre from atop a hill and is heavily impacted by what he sees.

In filming Schindler’s List, Spielberg did a fantastic job portraying the eight stages of genocide. This movie accurately depicts all eight stages--classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, identification, extermination, and denial--and can definitely be considered an appropriate tool to use in teaching a Genocide class.

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Schindler's List and the Eight Stages of Genocide. (2023, Mar 06). Retrieved February 29, 2024 , from
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