Conflicts in a Film: Schindler’s List, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction to the Movie

Schindler’s List is based on a true story that took place in Nazi Germany during the fourth decade of the 20th century. Following World War I Germany’s economy was in turmoil. Jobs were scare and inflation reduced the country’s purchasing power. During this same time a man, Adolf Hitler, started giving his opinions about ways that Germany could return to its earlier glory. He blamed the Jews for the turmoil that existed in the country (Berenbaum, 2005). Perhaps it was due to jealousy: The Jewish people kept to themselves and did not mix with other Germans. They were also extremely successful in business and in the development of technology. Whatever the reason, Hitler thought that Germany would be better-off without its Jewish population. His speech-making was convincing and many other German people joined him in his quest to rid Germany of Jews (Berenbaum).

The Holocaust was the most devastating part of the 20th Century. Although Jews suffered the brunt of the atrocities, other individuals were also identified by the Nazis as not having a righteous place in the history of mankind (Lemkin, 2005). Schindler’s List, as least in the way it was recorded by Spielberg, identified characters that were multifaceted in their beliefs. For instance, Oskar Schindler helped Jews who would otherwise have faced extermination. But Schindler was also unfaithful to his wife as well as being able to willingly bribe Nazi officials.

Schindler was a businessman in Germany at the time Hitler was exterminating Jews. Schindler did not believe in Hitler’s cause, plus he needed laborers to work in his industrial plant which supplied war materials to the Nazi government. The regular laborers were usually not available because they had been conscripted into the German army. In order to get his laborers, Schindler staffed his manufacturing plant with Jews. Later, when Schindler realized the war would be lost he used his Jewish laborers to produce generally unusable parts. The result was that Schindler made a lot of money at the expense of the government. However, he also protected his Jewish workers, providing them with food, shelter, and when possible, personal protection (U. S. Holocaust Museum, 2008).

The plot behind the entire story of Schindler’s List is itself a conflict. Schindler did not consider himself a Nazi, yet he had little trouble finding it in his heart to produce Nazi wartime goods. Schindler was driven by the single most quality that drives every man: greed. He had a chance to make a buck and he took it. Although the Jewish people built Schindler a memorial and called him “a righteous fellow” for protecting Jewish workers, he did so because he made a huge sum of money. He was driven by greed.

In Schindler’s List violence is difficult to characterize.  Most people will agree the Holocaust was filled with violence. Atrocities of every kind known to civilized man were committed by the Nazi Party. Of six million men, women, and children almost all were gassed; some were shot. Those who were either gassed or shot died from hunger, malnutrition, and disease. Entire families were destroyed; assets accumulated over the years from hard work were confiscated. Adults gave up even their gold teeth while women had their heads shaved. Nazi soldiers made sport out of shooting unarmed civilians. Male prisoners were assigned to load and unload crematories of usually, but not always dead prisoners. When those charged with this horrendous task found themselves too weak they were summarily killed like most of the other prisoners. Ishtak Stern, a skilled Jew and accountant employed by Oskar Schindler almost met the same fate. At the last moment because Schindler bribed a Nazi officer Schindler was released from the boxcar that was carrying him to his death. The Nazis were the most violent people to walk the face of the Earth. If one studies the war he or she finds other examples of violence.

Other Conflicts with Similarities to Schindler’s List

Although not about World War II there are other stories about violence and power that can easily be compared to Schindler’s List. One of those films which coincidently is among the films that could have been chosen for this assignment is To Kill a Mockingbird .  Schindler’s List is based on a true story that originated in Nazi Germany during World War II. To Kill a Mockingbirdwas created as a fictional piece of work from almost the same time period, the 1930s. Schindler’s List examined Jewish relations in Europe during Hitler’s rise to power. To Kill a Mockingbird examined the racial differences expressed by white people of the American southern states against black people of the same locale (Genzlinger, 2011).

To Kill a Mockingbird centered on the white to black conflict. It is portrayed by a Black American who needed adjudication and was represented by a White attorney from the same era. Being as simple as black (the defendant) and white (the attorney), a more intimate and personal connection with the jury was established. Schindler’s List demonstrated that a single German, Oskar Schindler could make a difference on the lives of 1,100 Jews. The comparison of the two themes, one set in Germany and the other set in the United States, calls attention to the conflict many of us face. In the lives of most people circumstances have created a situation where their behavior could have an outcome on specific issues currently being faced. Instead of taking a stand such as did the Caucasian attorney or Schindler, they merely respond with, “I’m only one person. Anything I do probably won’t help the situation at hand.”

Julius Caesar

Director Spielberg and Shakespeare created both similarities and conflicts between the two stories. Spielberg demonstrated that the Jewish people displayed a weakness in their character, a feel of helplessness, and if not for a strong character like Schindler, the 1,100 people he saved would have gone quietly to their deaths. Sometime later, a former anonymous German officer (date unknown) said during an interview, “You Jews acted so helpless that we could send a thousand of you to the gas chamber while you were guarded by only one or two German soldiers.” Helplessness is a psychosocial feeling brought on by overwhelming odds (Probe, 1997). Here were six million unarmed, untrained civilians guarded by well-trained soldiers carrying assault weapons. Like lambs to the slaughter the Jews went quietly to their demise. Schindler appeared as a strong citizen who was bent on helping these downtrodden people. Perhaps his actions were based on greed—as long as the Reich survived he made a lot of money. Perhaps it was just as a Good Samaritan helping those people who needed help. Maybe it was a combination of both these needs.

In the 17th century, William Shakespeare wrote about Julius Caesar, a strong-willed character residing in an empire where the people (like the Jews of the middle 20th century) lived without desiring to take responsibility for actions that affected them. Although the Romans were not led to slaughter, they led lives directed by the stronger members of their society—they did what they were told to do. Caesar was the stronger character in the play and like Schindler, he recognized his weaknesses and knew that he must depend on others lest he fail. In Shakespeare’s play, Caesar says, “Help me Cassius, or I will sink.” Although Schindler was helping the Jews he was merely an intermediary and knew that like Caesar, he would sink without the help of the German government.

Chronology of Events of Which Schindler’s List is a Part: Mapping

  1. Germany loses World War I.
  2. Germany is in economic shambles: high inflation, job loss.
  3. Germany is “ripe” for a new leader, someone who can restore Germany’s economy.
  4. Adolf Hitler comes on the scene; at first he has only a few followers but he is an ardent speaker and as times goes on more and more people begin listening.
  5. Hitler blames German’s Jews for Germany’s plight. He says the Jews are the cause of all problems and they must be destroyed in order to allow Germany to eventually create a master race.
  6. Hitler is Machiavellian in his thinking. He gets rid of all government and military officials who disagree with him and is easily voted in as Germany’s chancellor.
  7. As with any nation at-war, Germany needs certain materials manufactured for its now-growing military.
  8. As Germany invades surrounding countries (Poland, Czech Republic) they find Schindler, a man who will help them in the manufacture of much needed supplies.
  9. Schindler witnesses the destruction of the Polish ghetto; Jews are being herded by the thousands into waiting boxcars that will be headed toward extermination camps.
  10. In one of those boxcars is Schindler’s manufacturing accountant, Ishtak Stern. Schindler bribes German officials to obtain the release of Stern.
  11. Many of Schindler’s labor force have been decimated. Non-Jewish workers are in the army while Jewish workers are being sent to extermination camps.
  12. With Stern’s influence, Schindler bribes German officials for release of 1,100 Jewish prisoners so that they can staff is manufacturing plant.
  13. Schindler is a greedy person who bribes German officials in return for huge profits; during this same period of time he gets to know his Jewish employees and allows them what few benefits he can permit without being accused of being a traitor by the Germans.

Three Elements of Conflict are Present in the Film

The first element of conflict can be described as racial conflict. In the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, race is very distinct: black race v. white race. In Schindler’s List racial differences are much more subtle (Andieh & Hahn, 2010). They observe that race is not just the color of one’s skin but the features of people of different origins. In the case of Middle Eastern Jews there are facial features which distinguish them from other people from the same region. Group customs and habits that make up the social fiber of a community are described by the term, ethnicity. The ethnicity of German and Middle Eastern Jews is very distinct when compared to other people of the same geographic locale.

A second element in the film dealt with political conflict. Hitler and his dominant Nazi Party believed in a pure Aryan race. They believed a single Germany united under a single cause was the way the country needed to be. Those individuals, especially Jews, were eliminated from German society. They were also eliminated from any other country which German ultimately invaded. Not all German’s believed in the Nazi cause, but they were easily identified as Germans and could say whatever was needed depending upon the occasion. For the most part, German citizens who were not identified as Jews, whether they were Nazis or not, lived safely throughout the war.

Equally subtle was personal conflict. Oskar Schindler had to play on two sides of the same coin. On one side, he was a member of the Nazi Party and was expected to act as such. Bribing other Nazi officials for contracts to manufacture war materials can probably be looked on as a way of doing business, even though to a person with more scruples he would consider it to be wrong. On the other side of the coin, Schindler took a real, personal interest in those people he hired (Jews) and tried to give them haven, save their lives, and even allow them to pursue their customs.

Part of the human makeup is our will to survive. Regardless of how horrendous life has become human beings continue to do everything they can to survive. This was especially true in Schindler’s List. By the tens of thousands, Jews were being herded into railroad cars bound for their ultimate demise. Jews removed from their own homes and herded into ghettos believed the madness would pass and everything would return to normal. Jews, sitting on wooden shelves in death camp barracks told each other that life would be better; everything will be alright.

Jews were indiscriminately shot by Nazi soldiers. A workman who was doing nothing more than shoveling snow got shot in the head, his blood staining the pure, white snow. An engineer finding a construction flaw was also shot in the head, her blood staining the ground where she had stood. The scenes suggest the lifeblood of the human race being destroyed. These scenes are tempered with the only color in the entire film, a little girl wearing a bright red coat. People being shot suggest racial destruction while the girl in the red coat suggests life anew, like a flower blooming following a winter freeze.

Negative Peace

If we agree that negative peace means the absence of violence, one must also agree that this was the concept that Schindler was trying to achieve. He allowed Jews to work for him; he trained them to do tasks they were not otherwise qualified to do; he provided his factory as a haven in an environment otherwise filled with conflict. On occasion Nazi officers did visit Schindler’s factory to kill and main Jews (conflict), but overall the haven provided by Schindler would be what Galtung (1996) described as negative peace.

Positive Peace

While negative peace refers to the absence of violence or conflict, positive peace includes efforts to return social structure to the countries or to the people that were afflicted by conflict. Because Schindler provided safe haven for the 1,100 Jews in his employ, following the war it was probably easier for these people to return to the communities and society which they had before the war. Thus, instead of being subjected to the extermination the Nazis had planned for them they would be cared for by the Allied Forces and by committees from the United Nations.

Although not part of Schindler’s List, the constructs of positive peace can be witnessed in all those countries invaded by the Nazi forces. Government services had to be provided to these people and the millions of individuals affected by the war had to be given medical attention. At the same time hygienic accommodations were provided along with millions of pounds of nutritional products.

Intervention Clarified

There are actually two interventions that could be suggested, but only one applies to the movie, Schindler’s List. The film was written about a real-time hero who saved Jews; the event occurring during World War II. On the June 6, 1944 the Allied Forces (USA, United Kingdom, France, and Russia plus a few other smaller countries) started the invasion at Normandy. This was the primary invasion that brought an end to World War II and ended the atrocities against so many innocent people.

The intervention which affected the film was Schindler’s bribing Nazi officials to allow him to staff his factory with Jewish workers. By staffing his factory with these souls he was able to bring safe haven to 1,100 souls who otherwise would have been exterminated with the rest of the six million at Auschwitz. Although Schindler’s intervention was considerably smaller, the results were the same: Lives were saved.

Major Characters in Schindler’s List

Oskar Schindler – This character (non-fiction) cares little for the Jewish people at the beginning of the film. He is an entrepreneur who has turned his factory into the production of German war materials. To some degree he is a con artist and willingly gives bribes to government officials so that he can guarantee himself the largest portion of profits. The war has taken a toll on his labor force and like any manufacturer he needs people to produce his goods. By placing bribes with influential German officials he is able to secure slave labor from among the Jewish people. Schindler’s relationship with his workforce helps him to gain a better understanding of the Jews, their needs, and their customs. He sees himself as an extended family patriarch and helps his Jewish labor force through the days of the Holocaust. When the end of the war has been announced he tells his Jewish labor force they are free to go and also tells them that from that day forth he knows he will be hunted as a war criminal.

Emille Schindler – is the wife of Oskar Schindler. Although she is greatly in love with him she is upset because she knows that he is cheating on her. She eventually leaves him, returning to a second home owned by Oskar Schindler. As the war comes to an end Oskar Schindler tells his Jewish workers that he and his wife will have to escape from Germany lest they be hunted as war criminals. This comment suggests that although he and his wife parted earlier in the film they merely separated because of his infidelity.

Itzhak Stern – Mr. Stern works as Schindler’s accountant. Although the war has been dehumanizing to the Jewish people, Stern never loses face, recognizing that he was a special person (accountant) before the war and that if allowed to live, he will be in the same position during and after the war. Stern is almost sent to the concentration camps for extermination but he is recognized and rescued by Schindler. With a patriarchal attitude Stern recognizes that other Jews can benefit Schindler and it is Stern who convinces Schindler to employ the Jewish labor force. When Schindler’s factory could easily been decommissioned for lack of a labor force it was Stern’s idea to create a labor force from the ghetto, thus saving the Schindlerjuden (Schindler’s factory).

Amon Goeth – is the Nazi soldier in-charge of the Plazsow work camp. He and Schindler both share the trait of greed, and as such, have an acquaintance with each other. He hates most Jews and enjoys the sport of sitting on his balcony overlooking the camp and randomly shooting those who are imprisoned in Plazsow. Goeth employs a Jewish maid and is torn between his attraction for her and his disdain for her because she is Jewish. Goeth represents the hatred toward non-Aryan groups displayed by all members of the Nazi regime.

Helen Hirsch – is employed as Amon Goeth’s Jewish maid. She lives a difficult life and is randomly beaten by him. Hirsch despises Goeth but has no choice except working as his maid. She represents all of the victims who lost hope and developed psychological illness as a result of living under the Nazi regime.

Summary

Schindler’s List is a film based on the history of World War Two. Oskar Schindler is a conniving Nazi businessman who needs to keep his factory operating despite a lack of workers. He is also in-need of his accountant, Ishtak Stern, who has recently been removed from his ghetto home and like so many other Jews has been loaded in a boxcar bound for Auschwitz. Stern, with a patriarchal feeling toward other Jews, convinces Schindler to hire them to operate the Schindlerjuden. Schindler, at first aloof to his Jewish employees, eventually begins to understand their needs. He fights and bribes other Nazi officials for Jewish survival, providing a safe haven inside the factory for his Jewish workers.

Negative peace, the absence of conflict, can be demonstrated by Schindler’s creation of a safe haven for Jews. Working and living on the grounds of Schindler’s factory his Jewish employees were unaffected—as best as any human being could be unaffected—by the wartime conditions going on around them. Positive peace was really not shown in Schindler’s List but the return of Middle Eastern Europe to normalcy following the Nazi surrender have examples of positive peace including putting governments back together and creating living conditions for those people displaced by the war.

Schindler, developing an attachment to his Jewish employees might best be expressed in another film, Dances with Wolves.  In this film a lone cavalryman is assigned to a distant outpost bordering the tribes of the Lakota Sioux. What starts out as an Indian Tribe and a soldier distrusting each other, ends with a mutual understanding between each. The mutual understanding is reached, not solely because of friendship but because of a dependence upon the needs of each other.

References

Andieh, L, & Hahn, R. (2010, April 29). Use of the terms “race,” “ethnicity,” and “national origin: A review of articles in the American Journal of Public Health, 1980-1999: 95-98.

Berenbaum, M. (2005). The world must know: The history of the holocaust as told in the United States Holocaust Museum. New York: John Hopkins University Press.

Galtung, J. (1966). Diagnosis, prognosis, therapy.  In: Transnational foundation of peace and research. United Nations, 2004.

Genzlinger, N. (2011, May 12). Inside an influential novel. New York: New York Times, sec. 2c.

Lemkin, R. (2005). Axis rule in occupied Europe: laws of occupation, analysis of government, proposals for redress. New York: Lawbook Exchange.

Probe, A. (1997). The psychosocial, chemical, biological, and electromagnetic manipulations of the human consciousness. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

S. Holocaust Museum. (2008, May 29). Oskar Schindler: An unlikely hero. Washington, DC: Author.

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