Over the course of history, humanity has stained itself with pitiless and unrepeatable crimes, terrible acts of violence which modern generations fail to understand when asking why they happened and why they were not prevented. The passing of time may have brought mankind culture and wisdom, but the most infamous and iniquitous crimes happened in the last century, the stage for the Second World War and its most barbaric crime: the persecution of the Jews.
Ever since the end of the conflict, cinema has sought to help us understand the enormity of that mad and unprecedented genocide, but one attempt to do so stands out from the crowd: Steven Spielberg’s timeless masterpiece, Schlindler’s List.
The film is the big screen version of Thomas Keneally’s novel Schindler’s Ark and tells the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who managed to save the lives of about 1200 Jews.
The film is set in the period leading up to the Shoah: it starts with the setting-up of the Cracow ghetto, and finished with the so-called Final Solution – the murder of Jews in the extermination camps.
The beginning coincides with Oskar Schindler’s arrival in Cracow and his purchase of an enamelware factory. He is then able to take on hundreds of Jews in the factory on account of their low labour costs.
Schindler’s financial considerations, however, take second place as the inhumane drama unfolds around him. He decides to use his influential position to save as many people as he can.
The famous director was initially in two minds about whether to direct the film, on account of his Jewish origins and the extremely sensitive nature of the subject in question, but decided to do so and filming began in Cracow in March 1993.
Spielberg and the photographic director Janusz Kaminski decided to make the film in black and white, to make it seem more like a documentary and original footage arising from that period. This proved an excellent choice, since the dramatic nature of the film and indeed its timelessness were accentuated.
When it was released later in 1993, Schindler’s List received an enthusiastic reception from both the viewing public and the critics. It won seven Oscars, including those for Best Picture and Best Director.
Spielberg’s film is nowadays considered not only a milestone of the cinema, but also the best screen representation of the Shoah, bringing one of the most virtuous and heroic, yet hidden, heroes to light.
After his death Oskar Schindler himself was nominated as Righteous among the Nations by the Yad Vashem council. His grave is in a small cemetery on Mount Zion in the old part of Jerusalem. The stone bears the above inscription and The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1,200 Persecuted Jews.
Cracow, February 2019