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In last summer's mega-blockbuster Jurassic Park Steven Spielberg filmed prehistoric monsters cloned from fossilized DNA. The wartime monsters in Schindler's List, however, are more evil and emerge from within the human heart. These monsters lived not only in Nazi Germany, moreover, for they are older than King Herod's slaughter of the Innocents, as local as the massacre of Native Americans, as contemporary as the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

The monsters in Schindler's List are battled by an unlikely hero. Liam Neeson portrays Oskar Schindler, a wily, womanizing, profiteering member of the Nazi party, who undergoes a gradual but radical transformation. In the beginning he exploits cheap Jewish labor to make his fortune. However, when he witnesses the beginnings of genocide, particularly the brutal elimination of Cracow's Jewish ghetto, his own dormant decency finally prompts him to take action.

Schindler swindles the Nazis into believing the Jews he recruits into his factories are necessary for the German war effort. He uses his wealth and Nazi connections to save the lives of 1,200 Jews.

Spielberg, re-embracing his own Jewish heritage, spent the last decade thinking about this story. Fans of his other films will find Schindler's List unique. The warm fuzzies of E.T., scintillating special effects of Close Encounters, and comic-book action of Raiders of the Lost Ark are nonexistent here. The one crucial element List has in common with his earlier films is Spielberg's storytelling genius, and here for the first time his story is based on fact rather than fiction.

In its totality List, though wrenching, is less depressing than other films based on the Holocaust. In this film, the viewer sees, in the very depths of depravity, redemption occurring. One person's heroism brings salvation to many. In 1994, 6,000 survivors and descendants live because of the efforts of one highly flawed hero. At the film's end Schindler's grateful accountant (Ben Kingsley) summarizes Schindler's impact when he quotes from the Talmud: "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."

 

Copyright 1994 Mark D. Stucky.
Originally published in Integra, Feb. 1994.

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