Schindler’s List makes a claim for the real by blurring the boundaries of fact and fiction and leaning, at times, toward a deliberate documentary style. Schindler’s List is one of the most popular movies portraying fears and distress, hardship and terrible sufferings caused by Holocaust. Schindler’s List is based on the book Schindler’s Ark written by Thomas Keneally. Thus, Spielberg brings to the narrative his own vision and feelings about the period and its impact on the population. The Holocaust has traditionally been conceived as defying representation. Although Schindler’s List is a classical Hollywood film, it integrates into its narrative various devices traditionally coded as belonging to documentary modes. Schindler’s List is a realistic film, as most Hollywood narratives are. The realistic code of the film is re-created in documentary style.
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In general, the movie lacks historical accuracy and objectivity. Spielberg uses the Holocaust events as a framework of the movie. The film vividly portrays atrocities and hardship faced by Jewish population Spielberg accurately depicts the Krakow ghetto and cruelties of the SS, Spielberg vividly portrays everyday life in the Krakow ghetto and the selection of running naked women by Nazi doctors (Dwork and Pelt 2003). The film’s evocation of “involuntary memory” through places (the images of young forests and fresh grass in the former destruction sites in Poland) of invoking memory through material objects (Schroeder et al 2007). Not only memory is invoked through places. Before any ghetto or concentration camp was established, the Nazis kept themselves busy with Jews who still lived in their homes. One evening we heard loud steps and loud voices in the hall. Soon there was a knock on our door. When we opened the door, four Germans in uniform came in, asking for all of the occupants. Since my brother worked for a Ukrainian firm, they left him and his wife alone, then turned to me and ordered me to get ready. Spielberg objectively portrays that when it was first established, the ghetto comprised about 320 residential buildings, and the inhabitants numbered around 16,000. A wall was built along the perimeter of the ghetto, using symbolic Jewish monuments and tombstones from the cemetery. People gradually became accustomed to their new life-style. The ghetto soon established an Labor Office, where people working outside the walls of the ghetto would obtain the appropriate stamps for their Kennkarten. Wearing armbands on their coat sleeves and carrying their Kennkarten, thousands of people passed through the gates to their jobs in the city, while those who did not have jobs, or were old and sick, remained behind the ghetto walls. Each day brought new rules and regulations, and an already difficult life was becoming worse (Bauer and Keren 2002).
Schindler accurately portrays that the activities of the Judenrat included implementing all Gestapo orders; general administrative duties with regard to identification and travel documents for Jews; census taking and maintenance of statistical categories, for example, age, sex, and prewar occupation; registration of all stores, available supplies, and ration quantities; and so forth. Unofficially, the Judenrat also took care of the needs of the poor, the old, and the sick. The Nazis, obviously, were not concerned for these people. The Judenrat took upon itself the task of seeing to it that food was available to them and that they had the medical care they required and enough coal to guard against their freezing to death (Dwork and Pelt 2003). The Gestapo had direct, personal contact with members of the Zivilabteilung; among the responsibilities of the Ordnungsdienst members; whose contact with the Gestapo was more indirect (usually through the Judenrat), were carrying out the orders of the Gestapo, maintaining law and order in the ghetto, discovering and disclosing any criminal or subversive activities, and accompanying SS men when the need arose. Often, the OD men were responsible for much heartache of the Jewish people in the ghetto (Bauer and Keren 2002).
Day-to-day brutality continued. SS men passing in the ghetto streets attacked and kicked Jews at random. They would grab elderly religious Jewish men and shave their side locks and beards, all the while making vicious jokes (Schroeder et al 2007). Despite this very difficult fife, there were some optimistic Jews who believed that the war would shortly end and that the Nazis and Germany would be defeated along with their allies, the Ukrainians, Italians, Bulgarians, and other members of the Axis. Many people were sure that the United States, England, and Turkey would step into the war effort and bring liberation to the Jewish communities of Europe. The movie vividly and accurately portrays that the ghetto atmosphere became increasingly tense; the fearfulness of the people was everywhere apparent, reflected especially in their faces. The Jews started to gather discreetly, to discuss their situation, and to ponder their uncertain future (Niven, 1995).
The people who had been selected for the transport were assembled in long lines. They took whatever it was possible to carry, but their faces were bathed in apathy. (Certain of their fate, they seemed past the point of caring.) There was chaos, and people who had been passed over in this selection did not dare show themselves in the streets. The news reached the ghetto that all things of value had been taken away from the people on the transport (Smith 2002). There was shooting everywhere–in the streets, in the hospitals, and in the halls of some apartment buildings (Smith 2002). The Jews in the ghetto were stiff grieving for those who had been deported and killed when rumors started to circulate that another transport would shortly take place because of the Germans’ dissatisfaction with the one that had just occurred. The ghetto was still surrounded by Sonderdienst, and they continued to patrol the ghetto. There was an unofficial, unannounced martial law imposed upon the ghetto, and anyone appearing in the streets, or seen standing at a window, was shot (Bauer and Keren 2002).
The main limitations and inaccuracies are that Spielberg omits many important historical events and leave it to viewers to decide outcomes and possible actions of the heroes. While Spielberg does show graphic killings and undocumented events, such as ghetto aktions, he signals at the film’s end that all this painstakingly (re)created detail is only partial (Sicher, 2000). The Holocaust is ‘shown’ in his film, and also figured. The presence of unusual narrative devices; the mode of narrative voice, tense and speech representation all serve to disrupt the impression of a seamless fiction. Thus the problem of establishing Schindler’s motives is the product of a backshadowing view: viewers see the results of actions he took, and want to project backwards to know why he acted as he did (Smith 2002). Spielberg inaccurately portrays actions and behavior of the main characters. To some extent, thoughts and actions of are only a sketch of the movie.
Sceptics might argue that even Schindler’s own accounts of his motives partake of this benign back shadowing, as he provides a consistent and altruistic narrative to link up his actions (Sicher, 2000). In Schindler’s 1945 testimony his constant use of the phrase ‘my Jews’ of his factory-camp workers is just one of several indications of such a consistent narrative of intention to rescue. In most of these instances from Schindler’s List, the narrator is describing events from a character’s point of view so that the irony is in part theirs although no markers indicating free indirect speech are present, in keeping with the text’s usual practice. Variation from the truth or failure to tell the whole truth (as he knew it) are not necessarily sinister or reprehensible (Smith 2002). For Spielberg, as for other American Jews, the Holocaust has become central to the self-understanding of their Jewish identity. Hence, Spielberg’s road back to Judaism involved a cinematic voyage to the Holocaust, the new locus of Jewish identity in American public discourse (Sicher, 2000). Schindler’s List thus merges Spielberg’s much-publicized rediscovery of his Jewish identity with the public’s and critics’ rediscovery of Spielberg as a reborn director (Niven, 1995). Consequently, Schindler’s List functions as a redemptive rite of passage for Spielberg. It is a narrative of personal and collective redemption. Indeed, the subtext of many reviews of Schindler’s List is that the true wonder of the film is that Spielberg made it, not that it is a powerful depiction of the Holocaust in and of itself (Sicher, 2000). It is as if in and through Schindler’s List Spielberg is against himself, Spielberg is against the grain of Spielberg, or Spielberg transcends Spielberg. Spielberg, following the Hollywood model of the historical epic, chose an individual to function as a protagonist in history (Smith 2002).
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In sum, Schindler’s List is not an “authentic” “reexperienced” memory but rather a cinema memory produced and recycled by the movie industry. The conscious reliance of Schindler’s List on the constitution of film as a collective memory thus weakens the link between public memory and personal experience. Although Schindler’s List is based on a real experience, this experience (except in the last scene) is never subsumed into the narrative, which prefers reconstructed real-like images to evocative ones. Schindler’s List attempts to provide the popular imagination with a master narrative about the Holocaust.
Bauer, Y., Keren, N. A (2002).History of the Holocaust. Franklin Watts; Revised edition.
Dwork, D., Pelt, van R. (2003). Holocaust: A History. W. W. Norton & Company.
Niven, W. J. (1995). The Reception of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ in the German Media. Journal of European Studies, 25 (38), 165.
Sicher, E. (2000). The Future of the Past: Countermemory and Postmemory in Contemporary American Post-Holocaust Narratives. History and Memory, 12 (2), 56.
Smith, L. (2002). Voices of the Holocaust. Penguin (Non-Classics).
Spielberg, S. (2004). Schindler’s List. Universal Studios.
Schroeder, G., Moss, G., Upshur, T. The Twentieth Century and Beyond-A Global History. 7th Edition McGraw, Hill. 2007.