The Holocaust through Spielberg’s Schindler’s List

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Steven Spielberg's 1993 heart-wrenching film Schindler's List breathes new air into a historical tragedy through the outlet of a film. His attention to detail, whether it be through his shooting with monochrome film or his unconventional decision to center the piece around the life of a Nazi party member, shines a light on often overlooked aspects of the Holocaust. The name Oskar Schindler may be one that is commonly tossed around when the topic of the Holocaust is brought up. However, it is Spielberg's film that truly delves into the story that is Schindler's List.

Reading is a great way to receive a story. An author's words can create imagery that leads your mind to do what it does best, imagine. However, film, on the other hand, does what literature can't. The film has the ability to take this image and bring it to life. Schindler's List came out forty-eight years after the Nazis surrendered, yet it still manages to thrust you back in time. Watching the movie in class, I felt helpless, as though I was really there as a bystander watching the events on the screen unfold in front of me. I would say this is thanks primarily to Spielberg's attention to detail in conveying such a story. His most crucial decision in creating the film, which is also one of the key aspects it is most praised for, is the director's choice to keep the film in black and white despite when it was made.

Spielberg's choice of monochrome film gives the picture a much more authentic feel and creates a unique experience for the viewer that helps them to really grasp the story's time. Most films that are black and white were filmed at a time when panchromatic (color) film did not even exist. That being said, the film quality during this time was slightly below par. This is what makes Schindler's List's black and white scenery so important, and you get the feel of a time period that is several decades past, yet the story feels new.

Although Schindler's List is primarily a monochrome film, Spielberg pays keen attention to the details of his work by using a splash of color here and there, which provides us with the association of the film's most well-known image, the little girl in the red coat. In the film's scene where the Jews are being liquidated from the ghettos, the camera follows a young girl no older than six as she totters on the cobblestone, searching for sanctuary from the mayhem unfolding around her. The camera views the girl through the eyes of Oskar Schindler himself as he sits atop a horse on a hill. The last he sees of her, she has managed to find hiding in one of the now uninhabited buildings of the ghetto.

The little girl and her red coat are not seen again by the audience or Schindler himself until several scenes later when the Nazi army has been ordered to start killing off as many Jews as possible. In this scene, Schindler sees the young girl's body, still clad in her jacket, being carried away on a cart with the bodies of a dozen other murdered Jews stacked beneath her. This scene is one of the most impactful in the whole movie. By highlighting the color of the girl's jacket, even without knowing anything else about this girl, such as her name or her backstory, the director manages to upheave a wave of emotions in his audience simply through the use of color.

Since the tragedy of the Holocaust, there have been thousands, if not millions, of works, whether they be in the form of film, art, or books, that have derived from this event. However, it is very rare in passing that these stories contain a focal point that revolves around the point of view of the oppressor. In Schindler's List, Oskar Schindler, the movie's character of focus, is a Nazi party member but does not play the role of one. It is rare that we associate the words Nazi party and Hero together. I think Spielberg took this as an opportunity to go for a rather unorthodox approach to the subject of the Holocaust. Although the life of Oskar Schindler is one that is just as real as yours and mine,

Spielberg uses these facts to create an image of who Schindler was and his legacy that still lives on today.
Schindler's List has no restraint when it comes to using the shock factor. Spielberg's use of uncut hard-to-swallow scenes shows the reality behind the tale. One scene in particular that I believe truly stood out in this sense was when Itzhak Stern brings one of Oskar Schindler's workers into his office to thank him for saving his life. Moments after this scene, we see the same man being manhandled by Nazi officers and then, without warning, receiving a bullet to the back of his head and being left in the snow. Not much is known about the man who was shot, but the scene is still a powerful one that has a strong emotional impact on the audience.

An interesting aspect of Schindler's List is the way the movie goes from scenes that look as if they were taken a right from the time they happened to more personal scenes that focus on specific characters and relationships that documented footage can't provide. A scene such as the former would be more general scenes that focus on a group, such as when the Jews were being Liquidated from the ghettos or one of the first scenes of the movie where we meet Oskar Schindler and witness his interactions at the dinner party with the other Nazi party members. A more personal scene would, for example, be when we see the private conversation between Helen Hirsch and Oskar Schindler in Amon Goth's basement or when the camera follows the little boy around the camp as he looks for a hiding spot and inevitably ends up hiding in the outhouse. The use of these differentiating scenes is significant in the overall film because they help to give us an image of the reality of what happened while also keeping that movie feel.

Spielberg took a unique approach to the end of his film. In the final scene of the movie, we see all the actors and actresses who played the Jews that Oskar Schindler saved walking in a meadow. The screen changes from a black-and-white setting to full color and the actors are now replaced with the real-life people they portrayed. This scene tops off Spielberg's overall use of elements of film in trying to convey that real-life-to-movie connection by showing you just how real the story of Oskar Schindler was. The tribute scene that follows the previous reiterates the director's focus on making the story as real to the viewer as possible. Having all of the survivors he saved visit his grave not only creates this connection but also provokes a very emotional reaction from the audience, showing that Schindler's List is not just a movie but is the story of a real man and the people whom he gave everything to save.

The movie Schindler's List is a holocaust film, unlike others. Its focal point is that of a Nazi party member who is not to be associated with the common evils as the majority. Even though the film was made in the 1990s, the director still made sure to convey the realistic aspects of the story, although it is a movie, by keeping it black and white. Spielberg's attention to detail is shown through the use of his medium of film in the way he provokes an emotional reaction through imagery. Spielberg cuts right to the chase and doesn't hold back when it comes to this and does so by bringing reality and film together, whether that be by taking a further look into the personal lives of those the story focuses on or creating an emotional turmoil in his audience using characters we know little to nothing about. Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, maybe a film but his techniques and devices create something much more that gives its viewers a different look at a story that is just a piece of the Holocaust.

Works Cited

  1. Schindler's List. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Prod. Steven Spielberg. By Steven Zaillian. Perf. Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Ralph Fiennes. Universal Pictures, 1993. DVD.
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The Holocaust Through Spielberg's Schindler's List. (2023, Mar 06). Retrieved May 30, 2024 , from
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