Setter’s ‘Spectives: My Problem With ‘Schindler’s List’

ISetter Drawing for Blog 082613 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.

6 thoughts on “Setter’s ‘Spectives: My Problem With ‘Schindler’s List’

  1. I think you’ve missed the point about movies based on real people and historical events, and you are certainly not alone in this:

    A movie’s first, last and only job is to tell a good story well. By comparison, they have next to no responsibility for accuracy or completeness. There’s just not enough time. Essential details are chosen (or made up), ones that further the filmmaker’s point-of-view. No one will accept a ten hour film, or whatever it would take to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s been tried. I would argue there’s no such thing as a “historically accurate” movie. There’s only more and less accurate ones.

    • Thanks for your comment. Although I do recognize that films can’t use every historical fact in an effort to convey historical details effectively, I believe Schindler’s List used specific details that may not have showed the horrors people faced as powerfully as they could’ve. That, in part, is my point. Schindler’s List focused on shootings and other acts of violence, but the humiliation victims of the Nazis experienced wasn’t as prevalent in the film, and that could’ve given it another dimension. Schindler’s List did try to portray elements of history in its attempt to convey the overall story, and by and large it succeeded. But I’ve always felt that the psychological tortures Jews and other victims experienced weren’t featured as much in the film as physical ones, and although the movie depicts the Holocaust very powerfully and disturbingly, I feel more could’ve been done to carry the point home.

  2. Hmm, it’s been a long time since I’ve watched Schindler’s List. Honestly, I’m probably fine with never watching it again – it is just that disturbing. If I do, though, I’ll keep in mind what you said about the humiliation not being emphasized enough.

  3. I recently read the book (3/4/14), but haven’t seen the film since it was shown in theaters. I wish I could make a comparison between book and film, but my memory of the film is a bit vague. I do recall, though, that Thomas Keneally’s very specific reference to the young girl in the red coat was used by Spielberg to great visual effect.

    • Agreed. The cinematography was brilliant, and it really is a powerful movie. Perhaps I should revisit it; often, time has a way of changing perceptions of things … maybe this movie would be one of them.

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