Schindler's List

Spielberg's masterpiece focuses on an enigmatic non-Jewish businessman and the Jews whom he saved during the Holocaust.

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Excerpted with permission from Reel Jewish (Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.).

Perhaps the most famous Holocaust film to date is Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg's 1993 masterpiece, which won Academy Awards for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay (Steven Zaillian), best cinematography (Janusz Kaminski), best original score (John Williams), best editing  (Michael Kahn),and best art direction (Ewa Tarnowska and Allan Starski).

Unlike some of its predecessors, which begin with clouds, birds, and other symbols of freedom, Schindler's List begins with the somber lighting of candles and the Hebrew blessing over wine. Spielberg and screenwriter Zaillian, basing their work on Thomas Keneally's book, did not really wish to con­cern themselves with lives before, but only lives during the Nazi horror. To have "opened it up" might have lessened its impact. Even a cloud would have been too glamorous.

"Who is that man?"

"Who is that man?" People in the story ask this question about Oskar Schindler more than once, making him as enigmatic a char­acter as Rick Blaine in Casablanca--although in quite a different milieu--and one of the most intriguing characters in all of Spielberg's filmography. A womanizer, gambler, oppor­tunist, and member of the Nazi party, Schindler--skillfully played by Liam Neeson--hardly seems the type of man who would break down and cry, ever. But at the end, when he realizes that he could have saved even more lives than he did, that's just what he does, shamelessly and uncontrollably.

Schindler saved hundreds of Jews by hir­ing them to work in an enamel factory, an industry that was relatively safe from the Nazi authorities because its products were needed for the war effort. But he needs help to run the factory, which the German au­thorities initially finance, and so he turns to a skilled Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern, played with understated brilliance by Ben Kingsley.

"They put up the money and I do all the work," Stern says to his new boss. "What, if you don't mind my asking, would you do?"

"The panache," Schindler responds con­fidently. "The presentation."

As Schindler begins to turn what was a bankrupt factory into a successful one, he reclines one evening on a comfortable bed and says to his mistress, "It could not be better." In the very next scene, a Jewish woman in a ghetto home says to her husband, "It could not be worse." At the same time as Schindler is enjoying his good for­tune, he also acknowledges that it is not luck that's responsible for it, but war.

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Joel Samberg, a humor and opinion columnist, also is the author of The Jewish Book of Lists.