It was one of those movies I had always heard about when growing up; “Ah, that movie’s so good,” someone would ineffable praise, or “Ugh, that movie’s so long” someone else would particularly complain. Even Seinfeld had an episode in which Jerry and his flavor-of-the-week girlfriend were caught “making out” by the villainous Newman during a screening – an action with which Newman reached out to Jerry’s parents who later chastised their son for such shameful behavior.
Then over the past year, as I’ve frequently met with a group of great friends for a weekly Bible study / encouragement session, I’ve been prompted by two others in the group – one a filmmaking aficionado and the other, well, just a lover of Christian stories in general (even if the stories don’t necessarily mention “Christ”) – to watch the movie. Upon hearing of its three-hour-and-fifteen-minute screen time, I initially shied away. But as I’m discovering more and more recently, shyness is a crutch, and sometimes, ya just gotta go for it.
That being said, I’ve finally watched Schindler’s List, and the first thing that comes to my mind is Steven Spielberg’s penchant for bringing real-life heroes like Nazi businessman Oskar Schindler to the public eye on such a grand scale that he did. Had not it been for this film, I wouldn’t have even known about Mr. Schindler’s crafty ways of saving almost 1,200 Jews from being slaughtered in the Holocaust. Like he does with Tom Hanks’s character James Donovan in the more recently released Bridge of Spies, Spielberg has a knack for properly displaying the diamonds of this rough world. He gives us, in visceral detail, examples to follow – an extraordinary gift that any storyteller wants.
Was Oskar Schindler, as depicted in the film, a perfect man? No. He drank, he womanized, and he initially only wanted the Jews to work in his factory because they were cheap labor. Was Oskar Schindler, as depicted in the film, a Christ-figure? No. He didn’t let himself be captured and kill so that the Jews under his care go free and never to be caught or punished again. Oskar Schindler, in the end, was just a man; however, he was a man who did what great things he could with what few resources he had (or had swindled from other wealthy entities).
That is the take-away not just for Christians but for anyone: to take what you have and use it to save the lives of your fellow human beings even if they are of a different ilk (religion, race, etc.). Life is life, and to stand idly by when anyone is arbitrarily taking life from other people is just as bad as committing the initial atrocity. Oskar must have resonated with that sentiment, or else he wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to save those lives.
Furthermore, we can glean from Schindler’s List an example of how what we do in the present affects what happens in the future. Our actions in the here and now can and will change for either better or worse the then and thereafter. Because of Schindler’s saving of those 1,200 Jews of his present, thousands more still live and thrive today from the original Schindlerjuden. Spielberg shows this beautifully as, at the end of the film, he shows the real Holocaust survivors walk to Schindler’s own grave and place a commemorative stone on the marker.
The scene that got me the hardest, though, happens after it has been announced that the Allied Powers have just liberated the Jewish people and that the Nazi Party will (in a sense) stand in a tribunal before those Powers. Schindler and his Jewish confidante Itzhak Stern are escorting the Jewish factory workers to the front gates of his plant’s campus, and Schindler breaks down in tears with the guilt that he couldn’t save more lives than what he did. He points a car that he could have sold for scrap and bought ten more Jews, then he snatches his swastika lapel pin and – as if realizing that it was made of gold for the first time – grieves the idea that he could have sold that pin and bought two more Jews. He keeps looking around him – at all the faces of the people he’s just delivered from death – and he still feels inadequate. Stern rushes to his friend’s side as Schindler’s legs buckle from beneath him, and soon after that, others surround Stern and his broken friend in a love and support that will stir anyone looking on it.
It’s easy to feel like we haven’t done enough for God. To be frank, He killed His own Son on our behalf just so we could once again be called “righteous” in His sight – a mandate not even Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, could obey. What’s worse, though, is when we let that feeling of “not being equal” with God stop us from even trying to obey Him in the first place. Again, to know of others’ afflictions and not do anything about them – even if it’s just because we don’t know how to start – is just as horrendous as causing their affliction. (I only keep typing it out so that maybe I can begin to let it affect me like it should.)
There’s a lot to learn from just this one viewing, and I’m sure I’ll pick up on the deeper-deeper things as I proceed to rewatch it a few more times. Meanwhile, if you’re one of the few people still living under the proverbial rock and still haven’t seen Schindler’s List, now’s a good time to remedy that. Heck, given how certain faith groups and nationalities are being persecuted even in our own time, one can’t help but wonder if Schindler’s example can be somehow revived as a means of present grace in a presently ungraceful political landscape. The List, after all, is life – and life is life, no matter what.
Whatever the case, now I just wanna relish in the fact that Oskar Schindler trained Batman.