Schindler's List

Spielberg's masterpiece focuses on an enigmatic non-Jewish businessman and the Jews whom he saved during the Holocaust.

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Humor, Irony, and Horrific Images

Like The Hiding Place [a 1975 Holocaust-themed film], Schindler's List is a movie comfortable enough with its cast, story, and intentions to use a little gentle humor. When Stern hires a man with one arm and Schindler angrily asks him about it,Stern calmly says about the man, "Very useful," much to Schindler's disgust. Moments later, when a suspicious Nazi officer asks Schindler why he hired a man with one arm, Schindler says, matter-of-factly, "Very useful."

More significant than the humor is the irony. When the Nazi camp commandant Amon Goeth, played with chilling evil by Ralph Fiennes, admires Schindler's silk collar shirt at a party, Schindler states with casual abandon, "I'dget one for you, but the man who made it is probably dead. I don't know."

In a story like Schindler's List, humor and irony are very quickly and easily overshadowed by sheer horror: Jews with foolproof hiding places are suddenly caught because of noise they make when trying to sneak out; children don't give a sec­ond thought to hiding in latrines filled with human filth; Goeth re­laxes in a chair on his balcony shooting Jews in the courtyard indiscriminately as if it were a carni­val game. It is Schindler's List at its most uncomfortable.

"One day this will all be over," Schindler says to Stern in the middle of all the insanity; "We'll have a drink."

"I think I should have it now," Stern replies. It, too, is a chilling moment.

Schindler becomes quite skilled at saving his Jews. At one point he grabs a girl on her way to Auschwitz and shows her little fingers to a Nazi official to point out how it is only little fingers like hers that can polish the inside of small shell casings in his factory.

The End & the Aftermath                    

At the end of the movie, appropriately gray and damp, there is a light that shines on Schindler when he talks to the soldiers ordered to kill the Jews before the camp is disbanded. "Here they are," he says. "This is your opportunity. Or, you can return to your families as men, instead of murderers."

The soldiers go, without firing a shot.

Upon first hearing the story of Oskar Schindler, Spielberg knew that this was a motion picture he needed to make both as an artistic and as a personal statement. He became interested in the book upon its pub­lication in 1982, though it was more than a decade before the film was completed. Al­though it does not concern itself with the previous lives of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler's ­Jews), the film does present them after this period of darkness. Several of them are shown at the end, as we read in a postscript that the group Schindler saved has more than 6,000 descendants.

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Joel Samberg, a humor and opinion columnist, also is the author of The Jewish Book of Lists.