|A few weeks ago, I wrote about a series of articles focusing on my five favorite movies. This week I’ll talk about the most serious film involved, Steven Spielberg’s "Schindler’s List."
The story of a Polish Nazi who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish workers during the horror of the Holocaust is a beautiful yet incredibly intense film.
For a little bit of back-story, Spielberg first worked on the film as a producer. While we mainly know him as the director of great films, he has in fact produced more than 130 different titles.
Spielberg shopped the project around to several accomplished directors and ended up being turned down by greats like Martin Scorcese and Roman Polanski.
Scorcese thought a Jewish filmmaker should make the film out of reverence for the story. Polanski, who had survived the Holocaust as a child, felt that it was too early for him to make such a personal film.
Polanski would eventually make "The Pianist" in an effort to try to bring closure to his painful experiences, winning an Oscar for Best Director.
Spielberg then decided to bring the incredible story of Oskar Schindler to life on his own terms. However, before Universal Studios would allow him to make the film, the studio heads forced him to make Jurassic Park first. They knew the director would not be able to make the comparatively happy film after such a deeply personal experience.
The film begins with Schindler (Liam Neeson) laying the foundation for the company he wanted to start in Krakow, Poland. He makes friends with key players in the Nazi party and wins them over with his style and his incredible personality.
Schindler, understanding the incredible resourcefulness and resolve of the Jewish people, used their expertise and money to make himself into a popular and incredibly successful businessman.
With investors from contacts from his forced right hand man, Itzhak Stern, Schindler started an enamelware company and staffed it with Polish Jews. He knew having been moved into a large ghetto, the workers would need items that they could trade for goods, their possessions having been stripped from them by the Nazis.
Eventually, the Krakow ghettos that the Polish Jews were forced to live in were liquidated so the people could be interred in a labor camp. Thousands of people were murdered in an effort to separate the “essential” workers from the undesired.
The labor camp was run by Amon Goeth, an S.S. officer who was a sadistic and unrelenting monster yet a respected member of the Nazi party. Schindler saw him as a necessary evil and he courted him as a friend. Spielberg chose Ralph Fiennes to play Goeth.
According to accounts, when one of the Schindler Jews met Fiennes on the set of the film, she began to shake uncontrollably due to the fact that the actor so resembled the evil man. From his home above the labor camp, Goeth was known to take a rifle and pick off the workers in a twisted form of target practice.
Schindler witnessed part of the massive liquidation. Horrified, he watched as Goeth and other storm troopers murdered indiscriminately and without remorse.
It was the same Krakow ghetto an 8-year-old Roman Polanski escaped from with his family.
After viewing the harrowing scene, Schindler began to treat his workers with much more respect. In addition he began to bribe Nazi officials in an effort to arrange the transfer of people from the forced labor camps to his factory, where he knew he could keep them from being murdered.
Schindler made millions from his factory and when all Polish Jews left Krakow to be sent off to Concentration Camps like Auschwitz, Schindler changed businesses from enamelware to munitions manufacturing.
He eventually paid those millions to Nazi officials to ship those known as the Schindler Jews to his new factory, in the form of a list he worked up from memory with Stern.
When they arrived, Schindler made sure that the munitions that his company made for the German army would never work correctly.
Oskar Schindler risked his life to keep the Nazis from winning the war in any capacity, supposedly going so far as to ruin the calibration on the factory’s machines.
He eventually went broke to save his 1,100 workers from the Nazis, never to achieve success again.
The epilogue of the film records the incredible deed that Schindler did for his beloved workers.
Today there are less than 4,000 Jews left in Poland and there are more than 6,000 descendants of the Schindler Jews.
While it can be incredibly difficult picture to watch, Schindler’s List is an amazing film.
It was Spielberg’s first R-rated picture and the most expensive black and white movie ever made. Refusing to take a paycheck from the film, he channeled the $300 million in profits to the Shoah Foundation.
In the end, he finally won an Oscar for Best Director.
I know the violence in the film is hard to take, but it is worse to ignore the brutal hardship the Jewish people endured and dismiss the film. Watching it brings us one step closer to humanity.