A reflection on Schindler’s List

6.12.2014

Schindler’s List is always mentioned in some sentence about epic directing or the contrast between a child’s red coat and the grey background, or some artistic rant about the subjugation of something or the other. I watched it, years ago, and didn’t really understand it. And I’m finally at that point in my life where I’ve given up (some) of my pretension and accepted the fact that I don’t have the time to read every classic I want to read or the inclination and if I want to understand all those literary references I pretend to get, I’m gonna have to start reading abridged versions cause there is just not enough time in this lifetime to waste on reading every classic back to back. Who knew I would ever agree with my mum but there you go, people change. So that is how I came to be reading an extremely abridged version of Schindler’s List by Penguin Readers, probably written for high school kids studying it at school. Ugh the lows we sink to….

Nevertheless, despite the lack of literary grandeur in this venture, it still got me thinking about a lot of different things based on the story line itself. I think Schindler’s List, more than any other true story, makes you realise that there is good and bad in every person. A quote from the Talmud stuck with Schindler, guiding him through those dark years ‘He who saves the life of one man, saves the world’. And in trying to save just one person and valuing that one life, Schindler valued so many Jewish lives and was able to save countless Jews by employing them in his factory where he fed them and housed them in better conditions than all the other concentration camps even though they continued to product nothing valuable. Even though Schindler was a terrible husband, a womaniser who had 4 women in his life at any point, he made up for his flaws in his personal life by saving the lives of so many Jews from death in the concentration camps. And in my mind at least, the goodness in him balances the hurt and pain he obviously caused his wife and his other girlfriends. And while I realise that it will never repair the damage he has caused them personally, it partially redeems him as a human being, when you see the good he has done, jeopardising his own life in the process.
However this leads to the question, if a man can redeem himself for the bad he has done to people in his personal life, by helping to save an entire population from extinction, then can the opposite also be true? It feels wrong to even think this, let alone say it, but here goes…could Hitler also redeem himself for the bad he has done to an entire nation of people, if he was a good husband, a good father? The very thought of it makes me shiver with revulsion and it feels like an instinctive no. There is no redemption for the systematic killing of a group of people for no fault of theirs, the methods of which were terrible and inhumane. I hope that the world will never allow a crime like that to ever happen again. But it does beg the question, was there good in Hitler too? Was he a good father, was he a husband who understood his wife and put their son to bed? Did his son ever wonder why people were afraid of his father? Did they smell the burning and not know why there was ash in the air?

I’ve read a few books on the holocaust over the years, The Diary of Anne Frank, Maus I & II, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas to name a few. And this idea of Hitler as someone who had good in him reminds me of the father in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. He was obviously a loving father, a good husband at some point, yet over the course of the book he becomes immune to his wife’s depression, his job takes over his life, to the point where his job is what claims the life of his son. How could you live with yourself, knowing that your own child, your flesh and blood has been gassed in the concentration camp you created to kill boys just like him who happened to believe in a different God.

Another thing that Schindler’s List makes me wonder about is the generations after. Is there some sort of guilt that is passed down, from one generation to the next? I remember reading about guilt at some point vaguely in my Sociology of Emotions paper, about how one can feel shame at the crimes their country has committed and how this can lead to a shame and rage spiral as they internalise the guilt of their nation as their own. For example, many Australian’s felt shame about the treatment of the aboriginal people and internalised it, the consequence being to hide away the source of this shame so they were not confronted with it, leading to policies that disguise the problem and shove money at it, to fulfil their need to disassociate themselves from this shame. Similarly, do young German boys and girls, descendants of SS Officers and young girls marching around with Swastika’s on their arms, feel some sort of guilt for the crimes of their ancestors and make up for it subconsciously.

I wonder if this guilt would be enough to propel them towards being attracted to people of Hispanic, Jewish, dark-skinned backgrounds, whether they realise it or not. I hope that it isn’t, no one should have to pay for the sins of their ancestors. God knows if you look back far enough, we all have thieves, murderers, liars and cheats in all our families, it doesn’t matter where we come from – All that matters is where we’re going. And I hope that all they look for is someone who makes them happy, because the older I get, the less race matters, the less age matters, the less gender matters and all these lines and liminalities drop away because we’re all human at the end of the day.

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