Against Schindler's List

Rich Gibson, San Diego State University

April 19, 2001

This, the day before Hitler's birthday, has been rightfully designated as Holocaust Remembrance Day. In an ear of rising inequality, deepening segregation, and intensifying irrationalism, it makes good sense to look back on what is best called the Shoah, to reflect, and to insist, "Never Again."

This day, however, is trivialized by yet another national showing of the official text on the Shoah, Stephen Spielberg's movie, "Schindler's List." The film is now the sanctioned starting point for the study of the Holocaust in most US classrooms and the basis of understanding for millions of people. That is tragic. Spielberg's movie is fiction. It deliberately ignores the historical context of the Shoah. Worse, if people follow the prompting of the film, they will recreate the conditions that made fascism possible. A harsh critique of "Schindler's List" is quite in order. 

Nationwide free showings of "Schindler's List," without big commercial interruptions began in 1997, when the Ford Motor Company sponsored the event. Henry Ford was a fascist, a significant contributor to Nazi coffers and ideology. This deepened the paradox set up on 24 March, 1994 when the fictional "Schindler's List" was used by the most popular television news program in the U.S., "60 Minutes", as proof that the Shoah indeed occurred (in rebuttal to "revisionist historians" who argue that the Shoah is a hoax). The movie is based on a novel, historical fiction drawn on real events. 

"Schindler's List," opens with no historical background. We are simply in the midst of the construction of the war against the Jews. How did the Nazi's come to power? Why were they so popular? Who fought back? How was fascism defeated? All of these questions are silenced. Instead, we meet Schindler: Nazi-about to be a hero. 

Contrary to the fictional movie, Schindler was no angel of mercy. He was an early volunteer to the fascist movement. He was a Nazi profiteer, never needing to be dragged along. Against the film's claim, "The list is the ultimate good," not all of "Schindler's Jews" were survivors. In one SS sweep, Schindler turned over 700 of them. They were sent to a death camp and killed. This created openings on the famous list. Desperate victims had to bribe their way onto it, paying the accountant Stern. The central belief of the survivors in the film, get on the list and get saved, "the list is life,"is not true. While Schindler's munitions factory was mostly dysfunctional, he simply purchased black market munitions and sold them to the Germans, hardly the act of sabotage presented in the film. It is clear that for "his" Jews, Schindler created not only competition when collective resistance was key, but also a false sense of shelter which, in turn, separated them from potential allies and made effective mass resistance less possible. 

Schindler did not become a list-maker, an apparent ally of Jews, until after the battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of World War II, when every thinking German knew defeat was at hand. Schindler did not begin to act in earnest until matters were even more desperate for the Nazis, mid-1944, after Nazi Field-Marshall Rommel had committed suicide. At war's end, Schindler, disguised as a concentration camp victim and accompanied by friends, fled west--as did many war criminals--fearing arrest by the Soviets. He continued his dissolute womanizing alcoholic life, made yearly trips to Israel to collect accolades and demand money, and died in 1974. At least some of "his" Jews felt the loss of another Nazi was no loss at all.

Most teachers and US citizens do not know the film was banned in much of the Middle East and repeatedly attacked in Israel, or that the maker of the profound film, "Shoah," denounced both Spielberg and his movie. "Shoah's," Claude Lanzmann believes Spielberg deliberately misportrays the Shoah, the repetition of which Lanzmann feels is a just question of time. Shoah experts who left Spielberg's fold during filming indicate that Spielberg was obsessed with creating a relatively happy ending, and when they resisted his view, they were removed 

Spielberg's choice of a soundtrack meant little to most audiences in the U.S., but elsewhere he made his standpoint quite clear when, at the close, he plays, "Jerusalem of Gold," a paean to the victory of Zionism in the 1967 Israeli war. The only audience in the world that did not hear this soundtrack was in Israel. Apparently Spielberg knew the audience would be appalled by his crass maneuver. Spielberg later withdrew the soundtrack.

"Schindler's List," avoids any mention of the anti-fascist resistance and the centripetal role communists played in its leadership. Within the vacuum of resistance, the film offers an anti-Semitic vision of Jews. The only developed Jewish characters are swindlers, collaborators, connivers: stereotypes. Working class Jews, as in all of anti-semitism, are fleeting vapors. In fact, the Soviet Red Army, which played the decisive role in both resistance to the Holocaust and in all of WWII, liberated the "Schindler Jews."

"Schindler's List," offers these lessons:

Capitalism is good. "If I only made more money, I could have bought more of them." 

Forfeit your consciousness: Let a Nazi take care of you. "The list is the ultimate good."

Stay away from the communists: A Red Army soldier urges the survivors west.

God will take care of you: the religious service at the close. 

These were key propellants for the rise of fascism in the first place. As a final irony, Schindler is buried in a Catholic churchyard-in Israel. The Catholic Church was a pivotal player in the creation of Nazi ideology, and its social practice. 

Spielberg treats fascism as a collective responsibility, but an other-worldly one, that is largely finished. In fact, the ceaseless thirst of capital for cheap labor, markets, and raw materials created fascism, and offered the Nazis the modern tools and science to implement it. Much of that science, like biological-determinist eugenics, originated in the United States, as did concentration camps-for Indians. Collective responsibility ignores the fact that people fought back. 

Capitalism created fascism. Fascism and genocide persist throughout the world today. In brief, fascism is: the direct rule of elites, organized racism, nationalism, mysticism, antic-communism, violence, a death culture, terror, and war. The answer to that is democracy and equality, overcoming the greedy and fearful demands of capital. These are the ideas that mobilized the collective violence that defeated fascism, ideas "Schindler's List," cannot help comprehend.

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