Problems of schindler’s list


Omer Bartov, in his article on Schindler's List in the Course Kit (pp.142-152) raises a number of important issues regarding the representation of the Holocaust in popular film. He concludes that:

“Schindler's List shares many of the failings of numerous other representations of the genocide of the Jews, be they works of fiction, scholarship or film. The conventional difficulties of representing any historical event, the inevitable process of selection and elimination, generalization and simplification, become all the more pressing when dealing with such a traumatic and unprecedented event as the Holocaust.”

Discuss the various problems Schindler's List poses in its representation of the Holocaust and whether and why you think it ultimately fails or succeeds in overcoming these problems. Your answer should draw comparisons with any of the films viewed so far and should include some general arguments and conclusions about whether a medium of popular culture such as film can ever legitimately represent the Holocaust.

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The Holocaust is central to modern history. Retelling those stories and accounts surrounding the Holocaust have become a long-standing issue since many debate whether the Holocaust can even be retold using any medium at all, be it through a book or film. However, the problem of representing the Holocaust in film of book can also be seen as the core problem of history.  Given that one cannot truly represent the past, factually or fictionally as it once was, it is therefore always presented in a version of the way it possibly once was or may have once been.

History on film is largely based on emotional response, in an attempt to make one feel as if we are learning about the past by vicariously living through its moments and stories. These experiences come in stories, which both engage the dialogues of history and add something to that dialogue. In any representation we inevitably alter the past, lose some of its meaning, that is, to the actors and acting, and at the same time impose other meanings upon events that even those who may have lived through would have difficulty recognizing. We therefore always violate the past regardless of the neutral intentions or goals trying to be reached. In this paper, Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List holds no exception.

The most popular and certainly the best-known film ever to be made on the subject of the Holocaust, Steven Spielberg's 3 hour work, shot almost entirely in black and white - possibly in an attempted effort to deglamorize the subject of the Holocaust - holds a special place in films on the Holocaust. The story traces the intrinsic transformation of a sketchy war profiteer, Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson), into a rescuer of the Jewish people during WWII and the Nazi onslaught. Schindler dominates the story, appearing in almost every scene. The camera delights in looking up at Schindler, who is seen as tall, attractive, and distinctively Aryan looking. He portrays a commanding presence, who essentially ‘looks' down on the Jews who work for him. The Jews in this film are presented as short, dark, passive and helpless individuals. The exception of course is one individual, Itzhak Stern (played by Ben Kingsly) - a quiet yet stubborn individual - who becomes the accountant and business manager of Oskar Schindler's war time factory.

Schindler, dressed very sophisticatedly, meets and befriends high Nazi officials in night clubs and parties. He bribes and charms his way into a profitable business position, and ownership of a metal factory which produces metal kits for the German Army. For the entire movie, he views his factory workers as simply a source of wealth, referring to them as “My Jews.” He protected them from additional deportation to death camps such as Auschwitz, but did so largely as a matter of good business practices (suggesting that the time and cost of retraining a new worker would outweigh the benefits to keeping an existing one). His source of wealth therefore is based on the continuous efforts of the factory workers.

It is only after some time, that the transformation of Schindler from a profiteer to saviour occurs. He uses all his wealth to create a new manufacturing factory in Czechoslovakia, and to buy from corrupt Nazi officials all the 1100 workers to bring with him. This had inherently saved all of the workers from Auschwitz. The intrinsic transformation occurs clearly as a result of his exposure to an environment in which gross atrocities had increasingly continued and

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