It is rare for a movie to reduce me to tears. Not just tears, but quiet sobbing too. Schindler’s List does it.
Schindler’s List tells a powerful, horrifying, and moving story, one which ought to be heard by everyone. It is more than a story of persecution and salvation, it’s a story of inspiration and hope.
I think that it is tremendously valuable to us as human beings to hear stories about people who work to make the world a better place, especially when they work with others and for others, even despite great danger. This movie does an exceptionally good job of showing several people doing exactly that. And it does so with an only mildly altered version of the truth (it conflates Mietek Pemper and Itzhak Stern), which is all the more impressive. I suppose it’s possible that some people won’t be ready to engage with the tale told by this movie, but they’re the poorer for it.
Oskar Schindler was not, as best as I understand it, a model of a successful and upstanding human being. According to Wikipedia, he was unfaithful to his spouse and nearly every business he put his hand to failed. But he will not be best remembered for those failings; such dross falls away when you look at the story of his life. Instead he has gone down in history as one of the people who made a difference, someone who saved the lives of many others at great expense and danger to himself.
I fully admit that the story told by Schindler’s List is not a happy one. But it is the story of the victory of a few people’s caring and humanistic approach in the face of terrifying and overwhelming odds. The end of the movie helps to drive this point home when it shows the survivors in 1993, accompanied by the actors that portrayed them, laying stones on Oskar Schindler’s grave. Watching the pile grow, and learning that there are more than 6,000 living descendants of the roughly 1,200 Schindlerjuden (Jews saved by Schindler), helps to bring the scale of Schindler, Stern, and Pemper’s accomplishments home. It also helps to make sense of the Talmudic saying quoted near the end of the movie: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” There were many whom Schindler could not save, but for those he was able to protect his help meant everything.
Surely there are others who are just as, if not more, deserving of our attention. I would love to see their stories collected and saved, a record of heroes from our past who were driven by basic human decency and care for others. But I am glad to have Schindler’s List, because it is a type of inspirational and heroic story that I think is extremely valuable; in the end, it is Schindler’s care for humanity that comes through, and it is that quality that drives him to save as many people as he can. These stories are incredibly powerful. I don’t think that we should lose sight of the presence of bad things because we hear about these good ones, but having these models of heroic and caring behavior encourages us to emulate them ourselves. These stories will not immunize us to pathological hatred or the devaluation of human life, but perhaps they can help us to resist those messages when we hear them, and help us to act instead of losing ourselves in despair. Honestly, I don’t think we can have too many stories that inspire us to be better towards each other.
I want to write more about inspirational stories and why I think they’re so important, but I’ll leave that for another time.