Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Schindler's List

Not since The Passion of the Christ have I experienced a movie quite like this one. It's one of those movies where you just sit there as the credits roll and blink, trying to process what you've just seen. And the first thought is, How is that even possible? How can anybody participate in the mass extermination of an entire people?

The movie is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler (played masterfully by Liam Neeson), a German-Czech business man who enters Krakow to start a new business. With the help of his Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern (played by Ben Kingsley), he amasses a fortune by using the Jews to work in his factory. His factory soon becomes known as a haven, a safe-house, and although he initially resists, he eventually becomes more active in helping to save Jews from death. This culminates when the entire Krakow work-camp is to be sent to Auschwitz, and Schindler uses his entire fortune to buy the lives of 1100 Jews to work in a new factory he's built in Czechoslovakia. The movie won 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director (Steven Spielberg, and was nominated for 5 more, including Best Actor (Liam Neeson) and Best Supporting Actor (Ralph Fiennes as the German commandant).

The movie doesn't pull any punches. It shows you the full depravity and savagery displayed by the Nazis as they ruthlessly slaughter the Jews. The fact that the entire movie, save the beginning and end and symbolic flashes of color throughout, is in black-and-white, does little to alleviate the brutality of what the audience sees. While you read in the history books that they stripped the men and women down in the middle of winter to see how physically fit they are or to herd them into the gas chambers, this movie shows it in all of its graphic detail. You read that the Jews would dig ditches, and then line up to be shot and buried in those same ditches; here you see them do it. You hear that when they burn the bodies, the ashes rain down like snow; here, the ashes fall right on Schindler's face.

When I walked through the Holocaust Museum, I was sobered by the reality of what occured during those ten years in Germany. Yet all you can see at the museum is pictures and text. This movie is like a live-action Holocaust Museum and is all the more brutal for that reality.

The character of Oskar Schindler fascinates me. He is one of those men who is great because he sacrificed his own fortune and his own safety in order to save the lives of thousands of Jews. When the movie finished, my mom instructed me that I was to name my first child Oskar. He is a truly amazing man, and I can only wish I would have done the same in his place.

The first question to come to mind when any account of the Holocaust is given is, "Why?" And I really don't have an answer for that. Sure, God predestined it to happen, but I can't for the life of me understand why. And although I know that man is inherently evil, still I can't understand how any man could stoop to do what thousands of Nazi soldiers did. It's humbling, to tell the truth, because the Bible tells me that, apart from grace, I am just like them. This doesn't seem possible, but I am a master at trusting myself. Sure, I may never have shot anybody in the head just out of spite, but I could. It's a scary thought.

These thoughts are a little hodge-podge, but I'm trying to pull them together. On the one hand, I am once again sobered by the depths of human depravity, but on the other, I realize that I too was a sinner like that before Christ saved me. I can't understand the Holocaust, but I can trust God that his ultimate purposes will be fulfilled through such a terrible event. And I can be thankful that he gives these kinds of movies to make us think and make us tremble.

*Disclaimer: this film contains graphic nudity, violence, and language. Most (but not all) of the nudity and violence is true to historical accounts of what actually happened, including stripping the women down to go into the gas chambers. There is some gratuitous nudity and sexual content, though. As such, I do not suggest it for anyone who is not fully informed of the content, and would also highly suggest watching it with a parent (like I did).

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