What ought one to watch if one wants to know about Nuremberg? Which films best capture the essence of the tribunal? We continue with our series of recommendations from famed film aficionado Lydia Maslova, who has collected a unique list to accompany the “Nuremberg: Casus Pacis” project.
‘Schindler's List’ (1993, United States)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
Steven Spielberg's historical drama is based on the 1982 historical fiction novel Schindler’s Ark by Australian novelist Thomas Keneally. The book’s original title alludes to Noah’s Ark, casting German industrialist and Nazi Party member, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), in the role of the Old Testament patriarch who is given the task of saving God’s creatures from extermination.
Rather than two-by-two, Oskar Schindler saved more than 1,000 Jews from the Holocaust although at the start of the film he is a man without strong moral principles, an opportunist, a womaniser and a drunkard, driven primarily by self-interest.
However, Schindler goes to Krakow in Poland in 1939, spotting a profitable opportunity to staff his factory with cheap labour from the residents of the Krakow Ghetto. When the ghetto is liquidated and its inhabitants gathered together to be sent to Auschwitz, Schindler becomes aware of the unspeakable inhumanity of the Nazi project and decides to save as many people as he can, compiling a list of Jews he needs to transport to Czechoslovakia for work, spending all he has to bribe German high officials with the help of his bookkeeper Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), while ensuring that the munitions he’s meant to be making for the German war effort are entirely useless.
This is a deeply poignant film which justifiably won seven Academy Awards in the 1993 Oscars and though there are plenty of tragic moments, there are scenes which are profoundly moving and one of the loveliest must be when Schindler approaches Rabbi Menasha Levartov (Ezra Dagan) who is working in his factory and reminds him that, since it’s Friday afternoon, the rabbi should down tools and start observing the sabbath.
In the epilogue, the real Jews on Schindler's List - known as Schindlerjuden - and their descendants visit Schindler's grave in Jerusalem and place pebbles on the headstone (a traditional Jewish sign of respect when visiting a grave). In modern history, it is difficult to find a similar example when a businessman has been morally transformed as he realises that humanity is more important than self-interest.