I suppose I’m being unfair, but I’ve always had an issue with Schindler’s List in that it doesn’t show the full extent of the torture the Nazis put their victims through.
Don’t get me wrong; cinematically, this movie’s a masterpiece. Yet I have personal reasons for my problem with the film, and it’s because I knew people who survived the Holocaust and told me their story.
In seventh grade, my history class was given an assignment to write about someone who experienced World War II. Initially, I was going to speak to my grandmother about life in the United States during that time, but then my parents suggested another option: interviewing Jack and Bela, an elderly, married couple who worked as tailors in our Manhattan neighborhood.
They had been in Auschwitz.
I’ll never forget this interview. I recorded them and transcribed the conversation to paper. They told me horrifying things, one of which I’ll never forget … not because it was the most violent act the Nazis committed, but because of the humiliation involved. As I recall, I was told that in Auschwitz, if you had to use the toilet, you used it in public, and the Nazis slapped and/or insulted you while you were doing so — you couldn’t do your business in peace. Somehow this affected me strongly; out of all the monstrous events that occurred at Auschwitz, this was the one that bothered me most.
Perhaps it’s because the Nazis wanted to break the Jews and other victims. They wanted them to suffer as much as possible from a psychological as well as physical standpoint. And I think that’s what disturbed me about this. Their victims never had peace. Even in their most private moments, they were subjected to intrusion, humiliation.
I got a very good mark on my paper. I still have it somewhere. And I like Schindler’s List quite a bit — in fact, I think it’s one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest films. I don’t think it covers everything, though, and to the argument that asks, “How can it?” I say it did attempt to show many of the evils the Nazis perpetuated. It didn’t, however, show all of the humiliation people endured at their hands, and that’s something I feel is missing.
Jack and Bela endured this and survived it. To me, they will always be voices I remember.