DANIEL R. SCHWARTZ: Keneally's prologue to Schindler's List makes us aware of the novelist's power to present. The novel relies on flashbacks from the crystallizing prologue, a drunken dinner party Goeth gave in autumn 1943 at which Schindler promises to save Helen Hirsch. Quote, "He murmured encouragement. He'd see her out again. He'd try to get her out. Out, she asked. Out of the villa, he explained. Into my factory, he said. Surely you have heard of my factory? I have an enamelware factory." Unquote.
Spielberg, in his film, realized that this was one of the novel's most cinematic scenes. We see Oskar Schindler characteristically bribing Nazi officers. In this case, Bosch who was absent from the film. We see Goeth bragging about abusing Lina, Helen Hirsch, without his superior officer, Schemer, intervening. We see Pfefferberg and Lisiek scrubbing the bathtub a few days before Lisiek is shot. And we see the whores of the German officers.
Schindler, who wouldn't take a whore from Amon Goeth, visits Helen in the kitchen for the first time and explains to her, quote, "He won't kill you because he enjoys you too much, my dear Helen. He enjoys you so much he won't even let you wear the star." Unquote.
That personal touch and interest, that human concern, effectively opens Keneally's novel. It is the prologue, one suspects, that gave Spielberg the idea that the book could be dramatized cinematically. From the outset, the novel's narrator does not hide that Schindler will help Jews, but rather anticipates it.
In the novel, Goeth arrives to clear the ghetto. From that point on, the rule of law ceases to exist. The Jews realize that nothing will protect them, and that there are no rules or self regulating structures. In the film, Goeth is still a shadowy double of Schindler. But now he shares that role with Stern, who become Schindler's conscience.
Early on, Stern, rendered in indirect discourse, sees Schindler as a possibility, as, quote, "a sanctuary," unquote. As quote, "just Goy," unquote. After Stern quotes the crucial talmudic verse, quote, "He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world," unquote and Schindler responds, quote, "Of course, of course," unqote, Stern, Keneally writes, quote, "rightly or wrongly, always believed that it was at that moment that he had dropped the right seed in the furrow," unquote.
Spielberg has converted the novel into a moving black and white film that gives the viewer a sense of a newsreel documentary. He has tightened the wordy historical novel into what Daniel Fogle has called, quote, "a historical fable, a fable about choosing goodness and heroism," unquote. If the film is based on the novel, it is also a mythopoeic fable of the Holocaust, using as its source extant images, many of which are in the consciousness of educated people. Thus Schindler's List is not only about the Holocaust, but about an established visual lexicon of extent and preceding Holocaust images.
Spielberg's use of red to illuminate the well-dressed young girl in the scene where the ghetto is destroyed, and again when her remains are exhumed, stresses Schindler's List as an illuminating distortion and emphasizes its fictionality. The little girl in red alludes to a striking visual image in Wiesel's Night, in which Zapora, a well groomed girl of seven, quote, "with a red coat over her arm," unquote, is driven from her home.
The book Schindler's List gives background and context to the film. When we read or read for the first time the book after seeing the film, we realize that Keneally describes some characters in detail who are not specified in the film. In the book, the narrator tries to maintain a double optics including the dramatization of Schindler's awakening and a retrospective perspective.
The film opens with the Jews arriving in Krakow. The early visualization of Schindler as a dandy, a decadent, a refugee from the Vienna cabaret world, wearing a Nazi pin, makes his conversion all the more striking. The opening scene presents him as an exotic, a master of legerdemain, a confidence man who ingratiates himself with the Nazis. Quote, "Why, that's Oskar Schindler," unquote.
As David Thompson writes, quote, "We are accomplices in his nerve and the film's itemization of his magic. The silk suit, the swaggering tie, the cuff links, the gold Nazi pin, the bank notes that appear in his hand beneath the waiter's nose," unquote.
And does not Schindler perform the same kind of magic with his factory, his list, and the relocation? Schindler is an actor, a man who wears the motley of modernism, but who for a brief time does achieve a coherent self. What Keneally the novelist does is give a rich fabric of detailed experience for us to imagine. While Spielberg, the film director, visualizes select details while omitting others.
Spielberg's film depends on heightening a few major scenes at the expense of the chronological novel, which at times reads almost like the narrator's diary. The liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, the selection at the Plaszow camp, the making of the list, the transportation of the men to Brinnlitz, the women sent by [INAUDIBLE] to Auschwitz, their rescue, and finally Schindler's departure from Brinnlitz at war's end.
While the novel's narrator continues the Schindler story beyond the end of the war, the film reduces his post-war story to a few sentences of text. In the novel, Schindler is arrested three times, not as in the film, only once. The book gives the impetus of Spielberg's emphasis on Schindler as a magician. Take the response to Schindler of Lucia, a character absent from the film, quote, "Since she knew friends vanish, she feared his friendship. She wanted him to continue to be a presence, a magical parent. Many of the Emalia"-- that's the name of the enamelware factory-- "prisoners felt the same," unquote.
Spielberg's brilliant film depends on wonderfully rendered visual moments. We might think of the concluding scenes-- Stern shaking Schindler's hand as the latter leaves the Brinnlitz factory that has provided refuge for the Jews, and reversing the past narrative, the Jews now helping Schindler, and the survivors, accompanied by actors who played the parts of the actual people, visiting Schindler's grave.
Thus, it is inevitable that the film becomes an illuminating distortion of the novel. In a sense, when we read, we all become directors and imagine visualization. But in another sense, at least some readers resist and even resent visualization, and have cognitive experiences that are more intellectual, more introverted, and more meditative than visual.
Stern represents Schindler's upright double in the film, the moral counterweight to Goeth. Schindler is frequently alone with one or the other in dark scenes to stress how they are both shadowy doubles or doppelgangers. It is Stern who, by means of disapproving facial expression, becomes his conscience. He is the Jew who is linked to rabbinical tradition of righteous people, the pure [INAUDIBLE]. He is the ethical figure who is juxtaposed to the collaborators, Goldberg and his fellow opportunists whom we first see as black marketers in the Catholic church.
At times, Spielberg's Holocaust images are generic, crystallizing images borrowed from prior texts and films that become a reservoir of inter-textual resources. In a way, Spielberg's film depends on evoking memories from our past knowledge of Holocaust texts, including many in our sites such as Wiesel's Night, Hersey's The Wall, Levi's Survival in Auschwitz even while providing in his graphic images vital vignettes for those whose prior reading does not include either Keneally's novel or major Holocaust narratives.
For example, the story of Helen Hirsch recalls Sophie's Choice, where Sophie is a house servant of the camp commandant in Styron's novel. Reflecting his own desire to recuperate the past, Spielberg nostalgically makes us aware of European Jewish culture. More than the novel, the film accentuates Jewish customs and family tradition.
At the Krakow factory, we see a beautifully improvised Jewish wedding. The novel opens with the traditional lighting of Shabbat candles. At Brinnlitz after Schindler approaches the rabbi and tells him it is a Friday, a small group celebrates the Sabbath and we see the candles that echoes the film's opening scene.
After Schindler's Jews learn of the war's end, the Brinnlitz survivors take part in a [INAUDIBLE] service for those who have died. Finally, the film ends with the moving scene of the actors accompanying survivors as they place stones on Schindler's grave. The motif of the list piped in black and white recurs through the film. Finally, the power of the word rescues a few fortunate souls.
The film opens after the Germans defeat the Poles in 1939. We see lines of desks at which functionaries, probably Jews, are making up lists of Jews forced to relocate from the country to the city. Spielberg shows the names being typed, just as they will be later on his list.
In a way, the photographing of German officers at the nightclub, with Schindler present, is an ironic documentation of a list of new German arrivals to Krakow. While the photograph documents how offices stuffed themselves with food and drink, one says, quote, "Jews always weather the storm," unquote. And another says ominously, quote, "Not this time," unquote.
Soon lists of names give way to simply numbers of victims. We see names being called on March 20, 1941, the date when all Jews must enter the ghetto. This, too, anticipates Schindler's list of those who will accompany him to Brinnlitz.
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In this room we shall examine the relationship among memory, imagination, and telling of the Holocaust in specific examples of memoirs, diaries, novels, fables, and cartoons. Not only will we discuss the powerful narratives of witnesses such as Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank, but also important novels, fables and cartoons about the Holocaust. Our goal is to understand the diverse ways the Holocaust has been rendered and how those ways of telling have shaped our understanding of the events of the 1933-45 period in Europe.
This video is part 9 of 11 in the Imagining the Holocaust series.