Gretchen ShortHumanities Core Course5 June, 2014Schindler’s List: What it Erases andHighlights about the Holocaust TheHolocaust that occurred under Nazi Germany’s rule in the Second World War isone of the events of history that humanity is still searching to comprehend,how Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism translated into the persecution, exclusion,and finally the extermination of the Jewish populations under their control.How could 6,000,000 Jews be controlled and killed in this manner? Moreimportantly, how can this number of people be remembered without making themall fall into one category of “Jew”? Since the Holocaust occurred, there havebeen countless attempts to teach the world about this event through media, suchas documentaries, published witness accounts, and fictionalized films. Many questions come into play when portraying such avolatile and sensitive topic. How can we perfectly capture the Holocaust in away to pass on the stories of the victims? Also, in these portrayals, how willthese victims be represented? As new generations are born away from this timeperiod, their elders feel the need to teach the younger population about thisevent. But how should this event be remembered as a whole, while also tellingthe individual stories? How can history manage to capture the horrible eventsthat took place? Instead ofbuilding a monument or constructing a museum, the famous director StevenSpielberg decided to create a film to capture the Holocaust in a fictionalizedretelling of the story of Oskar Schindler.
Based on the Thomas Keneally novelof the same name, Schindler’s List isan over three hour epic, following Oskar Schindler, abusinessman and a member of the Nazi party. His ambivalence towards the plightof the Jews in the Krakow ghetto and then the P?aszów1 work camp transforms intosympathy and a need to save them from extermination and particularly from theantagonist Amon Goethe. It is a story of growth and compassion set against aworld of hate and horror. As ahistorical artifact, the film can be examined in many ways, especially sincethe lengthy film is full of historical references and set in a well-knowntheater of the Holocaust, right in the middle of the conflict in Poland. Oneway examines the content of the film, or what is included in the story and whatis excluded. There are several voices of survivors from the movies who speakboth positively and negatively about the accuracy of the film and the types ofstories that the movie portrays. Another possible examination could be thereasons behind the actors chosen to represent parts of Oskar Schindler’s story,and the use of Polish people as extras in the film. One final way is to analyzethe film is to look at it as such: a film.
This is the most prominent part ofmy analysis, looking at the cinematography and how it relates to theremembrance of the victims. Film analysis of its filming style and editingprocess can be used to interpret the desired results of the director StevenSpielberg on his audience, and also the actual impact of the effects in thefilm. Some of these effects include the choice of black and white, ormonochrome for most of the scenes in the film, the choice of using color incertain parts of the film, and also the framing of shots and the angles thatcertain characters are shot.
In my analysis, the audience is specifically anAmerican audience, as that fact is also part of my analysis and the film’starget audience as a blockbuster film. The ongoing conversations about theseeffects all link back to the intentions of the director, and debating whetheror not these were his actual intentions. Then there is thequestion of the impact that the film, and specifically these effects, have hadon the way the Holocaust is received by the American public, and how it is usedto teach younger generations about this tragedy, and this is in regard to how itis shown, rather than the content of the film itself.It is difficult not to seethe impact that Schindler’s List hashad on the genre of Holocaust films, and also the impact it has left on thememory of the Holocaust as a whole, changing how we see and teach the event.
Althoughthe content and places may be accurate and used to make the Schindler Jews’experiences intelligible, the filming techniques and editing result indistancing the audience from the experience and creating a barrier between theworlds of the Holocaust and the modern audience, and shifts the Holocaust intoan American memory that is warped to teach the younger generations about thisevent in a dramatic and personal way that does not honor the countless victimsand the tragedy they endured.The barrierbetween the audience and the subjects of the film starts in the monochrome. Themajority of the film is in black and white, but the feelings of distancebetween the audience and the victims on the screen happens in particularscenes.
When the Jews are in the concentration camp at P?aszów,they make all of the Jews come outside and submit to physical examinations.Thousands of people are made to come into the filthy Appellplatz2,undress and run around in the nude, male and female together and be picked outat random and their fate would be decided whether they could work or not. Tothe Jews in the story, it is a massive humiliation to run around in the nude andto be under the scoping eye of the quack Nazi doctors.
This part of the filmwould earn the R-rating by itself, not blurring the genitalia of either sex andshowing 360 degree views of both the nude male and female body. The way it isfilmed is different, as in how the shots are all from faraway, making sure thewhole naked body is viewed but never focusing on a face. This isas opposed toother emotional parts of the film that are in a close up frame of people’sfaces in order to gauge their reactions. Before this scene, they had many closeups on the faces getting ready to go outside, and they were all wearing clothesand trying to look more alive by smearing blood on their cheeks, but the momentthey step outside and undress, that connection with the reoccurring charactersis severed and they all become one of many of the mass of naked bodies runningaround in humiliation.
The way that thisis done in the film, the dehumanizing factor manages to distance the audiencefrom the humiliation. They may feel pity towards them, but do not regard thesubjects as their equals. Gone are the focus on the stories of the reoccurringcharacters, and the focus is on the people as a whole submitting to thiscruelty. They form a collective of people going through this struggle, and thatis all that is emphasized, not the humanity and their reactions to the degradationthat they had to endure. Their individuality has been taken away, and theybecome a part of a sea of naked bodies to be processed.
They are being treatedlike animals by the Nazis, and they are being perceived as animals by theaudience.This scene, while horrific to watch and very effective on itsaudience, has no true purpose in the progression of the film. The purpose isonly in its shock value and a way of getting the audience’s attention, but thisattention had no emotional attachment to the victim because it was likewatching a wildlife documentary and they could distance themselves from theterrible things happening to the Jews in Plazow.
The monochrome ofthe film was argued over many times during production, but Steven Spielberg wantedit to stay in and he won. The clearest answer he gave regarding the reasonbehind the monochrome was that he wanted it to feel like a documentary-drama.That being said, Spielberg changes his mind per interview question what thetrue purpose of the film is, either as a memorial or a documentary. He confessesin an interview that the scene analyzed above was very difficult to watch whilethey were filming, the extras they had been using for the film now subjected tobeing filmed clinically in the nude.
However, he says that it was much easierto watch when he replayed the scene in black and white (2, Royal). The directorhimself ended up distancing himself from the work, severing the emotionalconnection he felt the first time we watched the extras filming. Instead of theemotional appeal he had been trying to invoke in the audience, he sees theblack and white film serve as a way to mute the horrors of this particularscene of humiliation.He mentions this scene specifically, but he could mean anypart of the film, any of the mass shootings or violent crimes committed.
After the film wasreleased, critics and scholars had varying opinions on the use of the black andwhite, and also its impact on them as a viewer. Film critic Thomas Dohertybelieves that the grainy monochromatic filming “resonates with the documentarymemory of the Holocaust”(Doherty), and Philip Gourevitch states the black andwhite makes the material “appear more familiar by coloring it according to itsperiod”(Gourevitch). Both critics agree that the desired feeling of adocumentary style film has succeeded with the use of monochrome.Julie Rigg alsoargues that the “black and white for Spielberg also denoted ‘history'”(Rigg),like the scene is the equivalent of just peering into a textbook about theHolocaust. But is the documentaryfeeling helping or detracting from the overall story and message that Spielbergwas trying to convey? Referring back to the Appelplatz scene, a mass scene asthis one with no focus on particular people, the sea of black and white bodiesforms no emotional appeal for its audience. The audience is distanced from theexperience, and the humanity that the film is telling in its story of growthand compassion is lost in the mindless black and white scenes of nudity.Thehumanity is stripped away from the victims and the audience no longer regardsthe victims of the camps as human beings like themselves.
“For the most part,they are treated by Spielberg as a class, a group, a category: Jew,”(Rigg).The barrier isbuilt higher in the parts of the film when the Little Girl in the Red Coat isseen, not by distancing the audience from the narrative, but by immersing thememotionally into the scene. During the Krakow ghetto massacre, Oskar Schindleris looking down on the horrific scene from a hill on horseback with hismistress, and he sees the little girl (whom the technical consultant namesGenia) walking among the dead bodies and soldiers killing Jews coming from allthe buildings.
The color of her coat can be seen from a zoomed out shot, lostamong the sea of black and white. The scene cuts back and forth betweenobserving the girl walking through the carnage and close up on OskarSchindler’s face. When she disappears from site, he leaves the massacre lookingemotionally disturbed, and this is the first time in the movie that he hasshown any type of sympathy for the Jews. Many sources agree that the girl is afirst turning point for Schindler, who after this moment finds more chances tohelp the Jews instead of just adding to his wealth and avoiding their plight.Genia shows up in only one more moment in the film, and it is when bodies arebeing dug up from the massacre and burnt in a mass pyre.
She is seen on acartload full of bodies, and again the film cuts to Schindler dropping hishandkerchief in disbelief, obviously moved by the fate of the girl in the redcoat. This is then agreed as a second turning point for Oskar Schindler to savethe Jews from being sent to Auschwitz, and the creation of the famous list.There should begreat significance in the fact that the girl in red is one of the very fewtimes that color is used in the film. By her being a small child, attention ison her and the audience is attentive to the fact that she is walking along thecarnage, in some ways the only innocent bystander, as she is walking calmly andnot running or shuffling like the adults shown around her. But, when she ishiding in the end of the ghetto massacre scene, and again when she is seen onthe cart with other dead Jews, she becomes one of the many dead, and justbecause she caused an emotional reaction does not mean she is exempt from theNazis’ treachery and murderous deeds.Behind the scenes,the character in the filming had an explicit purpose in the plot, at least toSteven Spielberg. Technical consultant Franciszek Palowski talks of the girl inred as a turning point for the character of Oskar Schindler, and how in hisinner mind, he has become the only witness to this event, the only witness toher death and resolves to do more about helping the Jews (101, Palowski).
Also,she is understood to be a representation of all of the children lost in theHolocaust, how the Jewish community lost nearly an entire generation throughoutthe war (Bulow). The talk of her emotional significance is not lost in the filmreviews and scholarly discussion about the film. Julie Rigg talks about thegirl in red, the splash of color among a sea of black and white carnage.
Shestates that Spielberg makes her appearance and meaning grossly obvious to hisaudience and how that in turn becomes just one in a line of cheap cinematicshortcuts that insult our “emotional intelligence”(Rigg). Spielberg uses thelittle girl as a cheap effect in his film to channel emotions that the audienceis already feeling, but is now having it paraded in front of them.In reference toscholarly discussion, Mark Anderson uses the girl in red for his argument aboutthe Americanization of the Holocaust, and how we transformed the way American’sreceive and teach about the event. In essence, the girl in red becomes a symbolfor the entire Jewish race, the entire people that was oppressed during thistime. However, Anderson believes that the emphasis on the child victim leadsthe entire Jewish race to be symbolized like a child. In this way, they mayseem helpless or defenseless.
This in turn causes the Holocaust to bepersonalized and the memory of the victims warped in the eyes of the audience,and makes a “false sense of solidarity and understanding” with the victims ofthe Holocaust by the American public (Anderson, 1). By using the young girl tostand in for the rest of the people, the Jewish people are again put under acategory, under a set of characteristics that lead them to need someone to comeand help them, someone like Oskar Schindler.In connection tothe infantilization of the Jews through the shots of the little girl, how OskarSchindler is portrayed and shot in the film is the final separation between theactual victims of the event and the audience. Steven Spielberg is known forusing low angle shots, in order to gain a childlike perspective on events, butin the film this is used to the extreme with scenes with the principalcharacter. When Oskar is filmed with the Jews, the camera is mostly angled up,like the audience is looking up at Schindler.
With Steven Spielberg’s pastfilms as a guideline, this focusing up on the character would seem normal, butit is what is used alongside the low angle shots that creates the distance. Incontrast, most of the mass Jew scenes, such as the shooting in the massacre andthe running medical exam in the Appelplatz show the audience looking down atthe Jews, shot from above or level to their faces, instead of looking up tothem. There is an unmistakable difference in how the principal hero of the filmis shot, in contrast to the victims that the film is attempting to remember.Angled up shotsare used in cinematography to endow power and importance, the audience viewingthem as an authoritative figure from their lower perspective. In conclusion,Spielberg has placed the savior in the authoritative figure seat, and placedthe Jewish population into the crowded and lower status places.
Withsimilarities to the child victim in the red coat, Oskar Schindler is endowedwith a fatherly demeanor, despite his indiscretions, and the Jews are againtrivialized and infantilized in the sight of the hero (Anderson, 10). Gourevitchcriticizes this focus on Schindler with the argument that he is never seen asmorally good in the film, but is still made the hero over the Jews, and thatthe Gentile needed to swoop in and save them all (Gourevitch). These specificshots and their continued use throughout the film is an example of how the filmdoes not perform its base task, to teach about the victims of the Holocaust,and is instead transformed into a hero’s journey, with the victims and millionskilled only used as a back drop for the amazing and benevolent Oskar Schindlerto come in and save the day.The usual order isthat history influences the works produced about the events that take place.
Onthe contrary, the film Schindler’s Listhas changed the event itself, at least how it is remember and how it is taughtto the younger generations. As the American people start to teach their youthabout the Holocaust, Schindler’s Listwould seem like a quick and efficient introduction to that education, a threehour lesson plan in the Holocaust; covering the life in the ghetto, life in thecamps, the threat of death by gas chambers, and the rare compassion fromGermans in effort to save the Jews. In fact some Holocaust remembrancewebsites, like Yad Veshem, have lesson plans that focus on Schindler’s List and how it can teach younger Jewish generationsabout the Holocaust. However, scholars believe that this dependence on Schindler’s List should be met with”resistance”(Bernstein, 432). Bernstein discusses the “Schindler’s List effect”, that the movie itself has had such aninfluence and such fame that it has shaped the outline for how the Holocaust isrepresented, and in turn how the Holocaust will be taught in the future.
Hebelieves that the muted and misguided focus of the film Schindler’s List should be avoided as the main way to teachgenerations about the Holocaust, because the film does not give due diligenceto the victims of the tragedy. Instead of the history being more objective andattentive to the victims of the crime, it just serves as another platform toteach the younger people only what is included in the film. Bernstein is notalone in beliefs and in fact another scholar Alan Mintz believes that “‘Mostgroups are stumbling along into the future under the cover of the convenientmystifications about the Holocaust and complacently vague banalities about theimperative never to forget'”(Cole, 131).Mintz believes that the convenientmystifications in works like Schindler’sList build a barrier and cover up parts of the Holocaust, and only leavecertain parts to be remembered, erasing the parts of history that do not makeit into the chapter, or make it off the cutting room floor. The film does notprovide a way for conversations to start between the world of the Holocaust andits modern audience. Through the personalized and distorted nature of thememory, the victims are not being remembered as they were, but just how thedirector wanted them to be shown: as a wildlife documentary that pulls at theheartstrings but does not show them as human beings.
Spielberg, instead ofbeing faithful to history and to the victims he represents in his film, hascreated his own tale of the Holocaust, and how he wants it to be remembered. Inteaching the younger generations with dramatizations and movies with specialeffects trained to target our emotional appeals, we cannot connect to thehorror on the screen and focus instead on the personal connection we felt tothe victims. Meanwhile, the victims and their stories of struggles andindividual turmoil are silenced.There is no way toremember everything about the Holocaust; no doubt many artifacts and storiesare lost. However, there are misguided ways of remembering the parts thatsurvive, and how they get taught and reproduced for the next generations.
Throughthe monochrome and the effects to pull at the heartstrings or insult theemotional intelligence of the people, the modern audience is distanced anddrawn in at the same time, causing the Holocaust to become a personal memoryfor them. It focuses on the hero Oskar Schindler himself, and makes the Jewishvictims into a defenseless people who need a savior to guide them, which effectivelyends the connection to their pain and suffering as individuals. This does notleave the victims to be remembered in their entirety, and that they only liveon in films to perpetuate the pity for their plight, and nothing more. Theirhumanity and individuality has been taken away from them, and they become theevent that they lived through. They are stuck in the past, in their grainyblack and white world. Works CitedAnderson, Mark M.”The Child Victim as Witness to the Holocaust: An American Story?” Jewish Social Studies ns 14.
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Bulow, Louis.”World War 2, The Little Girl In Red and Oscar Schindler.” The Holocaust, Crimes, Heroes and Villains.
N.p., n.d. Web. 8 May 2014.Cole, Tim.
“Representing theHolocaust in America: Mixed Motives or Abuse?” The Public Historian 24.4 (2002): 127-31. JSTOR.
Web. 22 May 2014.Doherty, Thomas. “Schindler’sList.” Cineaste 20.3 (1994): 49. Academic Search Complete.
Web. 27 May2014.Gourevitch,Philip. “A Dissent On `Schindler’s List’.
” Commentary 97.2 (1994):49. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 May 2014.
Palowski,Franciszek, Anna Ware, Robert G. Ware, and Thomas Keneally. Witness: The Making of Schindler’s List.London: Orion, 1998. Print.Rigg, Julie.”The Question Spielberg: A Symposium Part Two: Films and Moments.
” Senses of Cinema RSS. Sense of Cinema,July 2003. Web. 15 May 2014.Royal, Susan.
“Schindler’s List – An Interview with Steven Spielberg.” Inside Film Magazine n.d.: n. pag.Inside Film Online.
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DVD.”Schindler’s List EducationalResources.” TheInternational School for Holocaust Studies. Yad Veshem, n.d. Web. 04 June2014. 1 Polish, pronounced”pwa-shov”2A compound German wordmeaning “roll call” (Appell) and “area” or”place” (Platz).
The location for the daily roll calls in Naziconcentration camps. In the film, it is a large open space surrounded by theprisoners’ barracks.