CLASSIC REEL: 'Schindler's List'

Cast: Liam Neeson , Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and Caroline Goodall

Year of Release: 1993 

Director : Steven Spielberg 

Plot: Harrowing true story of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved several Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. 

(This week's classic reel  entry marks Holocaust Remembrance Day held yesterday and in memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.) 

Drawn from actual events and the best selling book, Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally,  Liam Neeson plays the title character, Oskar Schindler; in an award winning performance. The film itself, while a masterpiece, is brutal, as the viewers watch the re-enactment of one of the worst atrocities committed in history. All through Schindler's List, one would wonder just how those Nazi animals were able to sleep at night. The heart breaking scenes;  Jews forced out of their homes into the Ghettos,  men, women and even children massacred and  others sent to the camps, people shot at random... just terrible and sad. Shot mostly  black and white to emphasise the film's bleak and sombre subject matter,  it leaves the viewers in tears all through.

Director Spielberg,  Jewish himself, didn't sugar coat any detail; including how Schindler was portrayed. While he's forever remembered as the unexpected hero of the prosecuted Jews by his later actions, the late  industrialist was no saint. He was vain,  had many lovers , was a member of the Nazi party and his initial purpose was profiting from the war. Liam Neeson played him perfectly, up to the flawless German accent and we watch as he cunningly made friends with the top SS officers for business purposes, buying his enamel factory with the help of Jewish investors and hiring mostly Jews (the skilled ones)  for cheap labour.  To him, they were essential for production only... that is, until his eyes are fully open to the  Nazi

Party's atrocities. He was a witness to the ghetto liquidation, literally watching from afar but the most heart breaking scene... watching  the bodies of murdered Jews exhumed and then incinerated... one of them a little girl in a red coat (who was seen  running and trying to hide during the Ghetto Liquidation), his outlook is changed forever.

 Thus, a list is made- a list of  'his people' needed for his munitions  factory, taking huge  advantage of the fact that Jewish workers who carried


out essential duties were exempted from the concentration camps. While it was not smooth sailing for Schindler personally- he spent a huge fortune bribing the top brass for the lives of the people on his list, thus losing his fortune- he did a very honourable thing, choosing people's lives over money. Neeson goes from cocky, to angry, angry to emotional as he transitions from the greedy businessman to the compassionate humanitarian, fighting for ''his people's' lives'' at the risk of his own and treating them as human beings instead of cattle. 

Ralph Fiennes played Amon Goth, the Commandant of the Krakow Plaszow concentration camp, a little too well. Goth, like most of the top brass of the Nazi Party, was an animal- no shred of humanity, no redeeming features. Fiennes' portrayal was chillingly realistic- cold and brutal; we find ourselves cringing at his scenes of  atrocities, particularly using Jews for target practice,  brutalising his Jewish maid and overseeing the massacre and later incineration of the Jews. 

Sir Ben Kingsley played Schindler's accountant, Itzhak Stern, with the skilled  dignity he's always known for, a foil to  Oskar, despite him being Jewish and Oskar being Catholic. Their relationship is at first stiff and formal as they are bound together because of business, afterwards a warm friendship as the bond deepens due to the compilation of  'the list' and Oskar's reason behind it. 

Kingsley hardly shows emotion, keeping a stoical face at the brutality around him... except for the scene where   a tear rolls down his cheek after Oskar quietly assured him the current situation won't be forever.  Their  later scenes were heart-warming as the two men work hand in hand to help as many  Jews as possible, changing from a mere useful  employee to his confidant and friend, the voice of the Jewish community.                                                                                      

The most moving scene towards the end... Itzhak consoling Oskar when he broke down in tears, wishing he had saved more people, feeling he didn't do enough... Itzhak assuring that all the people around them were alive because of him, the said people hurrying to hug him when he kept weeping  over those  he wasn't able to save.                                              

The film is also notable for Spielberg's profound use of symbolism. While most of the film was shot in black and white, three scenes- besides Oskar's memorial-  were in colour. The opening scene, a Jewish family observing Shabbat in their home, depicted the normalcy of their lives before the Nazis changed their lives forever. 

Another was the candles being lit when Shabbat is observed in Oskar's factory by the workers, symbolising hope and warmth in the form of prayer. 

The third, being the little girl in the red coat- played by 3 year old Oliwia Dabrowska- her coat shot in colour as she runs to find a place to  hide during the ghetto's liquidation and later on seen among the dead, symbolising how the top members of the US government knew what was going on at the time, but did nothing to help, the atrocities plain as a child walking in a red coat but they turned their eyes away! 

Today,  generations  remember Oskar Schindler's  noble act, as the final scene depicted the survivors- the real life  survivors-  placing stones on Oskar's grave, according to Jewish custom.  Honestly, Spielberg knows how to tug at the heartstrings! 

Schindler's List is a film that stays in the mind, even if it's not watched more than once. 


-Ralph Fiennes looked so much like Amon Goethe in uniform  that a holocaust survivor-Milla Pfefferberg- who was introduced to him on set, was terrified. She was among the survivors who placed a stone on Schindler's grave at the end of the film. 

-Oskar Schindler remained close friends with Itzak Stern, who relocated to Israel after the war. 

-Oskar Schindler was buried  at Mount Zion Catholic cemetery in Jerusalem. 

-Among the people who placed stones at Oskar's grave at the end of the film were: 

Widow of Oskar Schindler
Widow of Itzak Stern


Amon Goethe's maid



Itzak Stern (to Oskar, holding up the list)   The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf. 

Oskar Schindler : I could have gotten more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more. 

Itzak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them. 


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