The Holocaust is undoubtedly one of the most significant and horrifying events of the twentieth century. Between 1938 and 1945, the Jewish population was segregated and persecuted, culminating in the merciless slaughter of approximately six million Jews (this figure is quoted in the film, though most historical estimates vary between five and seven million). Amidst all this butchery, one man decided to make a difference, famously saving the lives of more than 1100 Jews- men, women and children who would otherwise have been killed.
Oskar Schindler (played brilliantly by Liam Neeson, "Batman Begins") was a Sudeten German industrialist, a wealthy womanizer who wasn't afraid to throw his money around. Always bearing his Nazi Party badge proudly, Schindler would often frequent nightclubs, extravagantly showering high-ranked Nazi officers and their girlfriends with champagne and caviar. With impeccable connections in the black-market, there was little that he couldn't get his hands on, and he was a good person to know. Buying friends was something that Schindler could do well, and he would often use these newfound alliances to aid his own business ventures. When thousands of the Polish Jew population was relegated to the Kraków Ghetto in 1941, Schindler saw an opportunity for further success, enlisting desperate Jewish investors and employing Jewish workers (who were substantially cheaper to employ) to open an enamelware factory. His connections in high places ensured lucrative army contracts, and Schindler need only have watched as his personal fortune grew, despite doing little to run the company beyond offering it "a certain panache."
It is clear from the beginning that Oskar Schindler does not harbour any racial prejudices. When Schindler requests the services of Itzhak Stern (a superb Ben Kingsley, "Gandhi"), a clever, humanitarian Jewish accountant, Stern declares that, "By law I have to tell you, sir, I'm a Jew." "Well, I'm a German, so there we are," replies Schindler indifferently, before getting straight to business. It is not race that he is concerned with, it is himself
and, of course, his money. Stern does not enjoy running Schindler's business, and he initially acquires little satisfaction from it. When Schindler attempts to convey his genuine gratitude for his profitable services with a glass of whiskey, Stern absentmindedly refuses to drink it, and an embittered Schindler drinks it himself before ordering Stern to leave.
With the arrival of Amon Goeth (played as the epitome of evil by Ralph Fiennes, "Red Dragon"), a Hauptsturmführer of the SS, the hopeless plight of the Jews grows darker. In a harrowing extended sequence, largely based on the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, the Jews are mercilessly "liquidated" from the Krakow Ghetto, many simply shot on the spot. "Today is history," proclaims Goeth. "Today will be remembered. Years from now the young will ask with wonder about this day. Today is history and you are part of it
. For six centuries there has been a Jewish Krakow. By this evening those six centuries will be a rumor. They never happened. Today is history."
This sequence also marks the celebrated appearance of the little girl in the red coat. An ingenious plot device, the character was based upon a real girl named Roma Ligocka who, unlike her film counterpart, survived the war, and wrote a memoir entitled "The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir". The embodiment of innocence, Schindler spots the small girl wandering amongst the black-and-white chaos of the Krakow Ghetto, and we follow her as she retreats into a building and takes shelter under a bed. When Schindler later notices her disheveled corpse carted past him to be incinerated, he is understandably horrified, unable to understand how the soldiers could possibly destroy something so innocent. This event memorably signifies the turning-point of Schindler's attitudes towards the carnage, fuelling his desire to save as many Jews as possible.
Long known as a "blockbuster" filmmaker with such adventure classics as "Jaws," "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to his name - "Schindler's List" was - and remains - Steven Spielberg's most mature directorial effort. Working with a screenplay that Steven Zaillian adapted from Thomas Keneally's Booker Prize-winning 'Schindler's Ark,' Spielberg treats the subject matter with the respect it deserves. Wisely choosing to depict the events as realistically as possible, Spielberg allows the images to speak for themselves. Flawless acting, stunning cinematography and a haunting John Williams score excel this film above all others of the 1990s. This is the powerful story of the difference that just one man can make, and it is a story that deserves to be seen by all. We can only feel grateful that it was Steven Spielberg who chose to be at the helm.