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April 01, 1994 - Image 8

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-04-01

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arbitrariness for the viewer who
then participates in a fraction-
al way in what the victims ex-
perienced.
Does it make Mr. Speilberg
an expert on the Holocaust? No.
Is this film the movie to see
about the Holocaust? I think not
— no movie and no museum, in-
deed, no single book or survivor
testimony or set of documents
or trial manuscript or what
have you is sufficient to begin
to appreciate the history of the
Holocaust.
First and most importantly,
it does not even begin to fully
portray the terrifying brutality,
the loss, the utter arbitrariness
and the scope of the violence
perpetrated against the Jews.
The distance between the his-
torical reality and Mr. Spiel-
berg's artful recreation of it
cannot even be measured much
less bridged. Events of the
Shoah remain unspeakable and
unrepresentable in any com-
plete way.
The history of the Holocaust
must include all the details, the
political, sociological, psycho-
logical, cultural, economic ele-
ments that composed the
mechanics of the Final Solution.
It must discuss the millions of
bureaucratic participants very
different from the sadistically
psychopathic SS commandant
Goeth. It must address the most
perplexing questions about the
millions of perpetrators and by-
standers which included people
from virtually every socio-eco-
nomic stratum, every age group,
normal, average — even banal
— citizens of Europe. It must
reach out and explore the par-
ticipation of Europeans outside
of Germany. And on and on it
goes. Most of this is not and
ought not be part of Mr. Spiel-
berg's film. My point here is that
the movie is not a history of the
Holocaust.
The questions of guilt and re-
sponsibility raised for the first
time by the film Judgment at
Nuremberg as early as 1960
(pre-Eichmann trial) loom im-
portantly in the evolution of
Holocaust films. But the movie,
for all its documentary footage
of Bergen Belsen and Buchen-
wald, is not a Holocaust film
and there are no sympathetic
Jewish victims in it. So, again,
it has waited for Steven Spiel-
berg to draw his audiences into
some sense of compassionate
participation with the victims.
That is an enormous service to
the general public who still
know little or nothing about the
Holocaust.
Once again, it is not a sub-
stitute for genuine Holocaust
education or informed history.
Audiences may — indeed do —
leave the theater having been
deeply moved by the picture,
but still ignorant about the na-
ture of the Holocaust.

Finally, Oskar Schindler is
the movie's center. An unlikely
candidate for rescuer, for hero,
he emerges as a human enigma.
Not a saint, but, here is the
point, not a killer. We do not
identify with him, he is too aloof,
too complicated, too much the
raconteur with venal motives
and unsavory connections.
The Nazis in the film, in-
cluding his nemesis Goeth,
seemed to genuinely care for
him and he for them in his self-
interested way. Mr. Schindler
demonstrated how extraordi-
narily difficult it had become to
help Jews.
To save Jews meant risking
one's life — and the lives of one's
family and friends. Mr.
Schindler not only gambled his
own life, but his fortune. Mr. Ke-
neally's book more faithfully
demonstrates how dose to death
Mr. Schindler came on several
occasions. The tortured exploits
of rescue — stopping a train,
trips to Germany to bargain
with members of the SS, mili-
tary and even political hierar-
chies, the extraordinary bribery
of guards and even the com-
mandant of Auschwitz — all
these seemed exhausting and
frought not only with danger
but with enormous administra-
tive and financial difficulties.
How hard it was to save a Jew
in Poland. How extraordinary
to have done so.
That-makes the film not so
much about the Holocaust as
about an individual. Schindler's
List proceeds to succeed from
this center superbly acted by its
cast, wrenchingly uncompro-
mising in its pursuit of emo-
tional consequences that linger
with all of us who know about
the inhumanity of the Holo-
caust. -
But we must raise questions
now about what message this
picture sends to the viewing
public. Will people ask how un-
usual the episode was? Will they
inquire about the destruction
process as it unfolded across Eu-
rope? Will they become curious
enough to examine the nature
of European history after World
War I? Will they ask how such
a person as Schindler could
wear a Nazi pin in his lapel?
Will they examine the rest of
the entrepreneurial undertak-
ing that surrounds the Holo-
caust and question the business
community about its complici-
ty? Probably not.
We should worry about this
because in the end it may well
distort the essence of the Holo-
caust, dehistoricize it, even san-
itize it. With more popular
education may come less real
learning. Krakow numbered
some 60,000 Jews before the
war. The overwhelming major-
ity did not survive the Holo-
caust. ❑

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