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Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is both a moral and an aesthetic disaster, an embodiment of much that is wrong with American-Jewish life

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Schindler’s List. (Universal)
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No. 100: Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg’s astoundingly stupid Holocaust melodrama
The Arbiter

Last week, Tablet Magazine published our list of the 100 greatest Jewish films of all time. At the very bottom was Schindler’s List. In a brief blurb, I called it an “astoundingly stupid” movie, which, in turn, inspired some of our readers to call me a “piece of shit” and a “neo-Nazi”—all for casting an aspersion on what, if they are to be believed, is everyone’s favorite Holocaust movie.

Which makes perfect sense: More than just a regrettable film, Schindler’s List neatly reflects the Manichean mindset of many American Jews, for whom mythology trumps memory and nothing lies beyond good and evil. Those who howled at me weren’t expressing a mere aesthetic judgment; they were defending a worldview.

To understand this worldview, we need only look at Schindler’s List. The film’s two main characters are Liam Neeson’s Oskar Schindler and Ralph Fiennes’ Nazi officer, Amon Goeth. The first is a philandering and greedy German who sees a little girl in a red coat and has a nearly instantaneous epiphany, realizing that life is precious and that Jews should be saved. The other is a monster; it’s no coincidence that the American Film Institute ranked Goeth at number 15 in its list of the 100 greatest villains of all time, just one spot below the slimy creature who terrorized Sigourney Weaver in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Goeth, too, is an otherworldly sort. He is not, like the real-life murderer on whom he is based, merely a hateful, opportunistic, and cruel young man who relished the chance to play god. He is impenetrable, predatory, inhuman. We have little reason to fear him more than we fear, say, the Nazis in Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark or the shark from Jaws; all are terrifying, but all are the sort of baddies we’ll only ever see on-screen, not the kind of ordinary and crooked and all-too-human scum living quietly next door and waiting for a stab at power.

Intelligent filmmakers, like Marcel Ophüls or Claude Lanzmann, long ago forged a cinematic language with which to talk about evil. Its two great grammatical principles are the context and the close-up: Cobble together as many sources as is possible to make a mosaic of meaning, then train the camera on one specific detail and demand an explanation. When it works well, we get moments like Lanzmann’s interview in Shoah with Franz Schalling, the Chelmno guard, whose matter-of-factness about the killing process is more terrifying than any imperious expression Fiennes can conjure, particularly as it appears alongside testimonies by victims and bystanders who had lived through radically divergent versions of the same horror. This approach is superior from both ethical and artistic perspectives, giving every player in this brutal human drama a claim to agency and dignity.

Spielberg’s approach, on the other hand, does not. Schindler’s Jews do not matter. They’re abstractions, spiritual currency so that our “hero” can pay his way toward salvation. Like Goeth, Schindler, too, is busy scrubbing away everything that makes him human.

The film’s blunt simplification enraged the Hungarian-Jewish Nobel laureate Imre Kertész, himself a survivor. Schindler’s List, he argued, was kitsch. “I regard as kitsch any representation of the Holocaust that is incapable of understanding or unwilling to understand the organic connection between our own deformed mode of life (whether in the private sphere or on the level of ‘civilization’ as such) and the very possibility of the Holocaust,” he wrote in his 2001 essay, “Who Owns Auschwitz?” “Here I have in mind those representations that seek to establish the Holocaust once and for all as something foreign to human nature; that seek to drive the Holocaust out of the realm of human experience.”

Stanley Kubrick felt the same way. Abandoning his own Holocaust-themed project after Spielberg’s movie became instantly iconic, Kubrick complained that the prince of Hollywood forever simplified one of the most complex occurrences in human history by crafting, in essence, a competing narrative. “Think [Schindler’s List] is about the Holocaust?” he asked the screenwriter Frederic Raphael, a friend. “That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who don’t.”

One can argue, of course, that there are many Holocaust stories to be told, and that Spielberg merely chose to tell his (adapted, as it was, from Thomas Keneally’s book), and that his merely happened to have a hopeful ending. But that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility. Writing of the moral and aesthetic problems art runs into when it attempts to represent pain and suffering, the 18th-century German philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing theorized that visual artists follow a two-step process when creating their work: First they choose one moment out of an endless sequence of possible moments for visual representation, and then they submit that moment to the strictures of the artistic process. If the choices they make fit together nicely—the perfect moment represented the perfect way—the result is pleasing. If not, it terrifies. In choosing Schindler’s story, and in representing it as a collection of kinetic symbols swirling in succession on-screen, Spielberg turned an infinitely complex reality into something even worse than kitsch: a spectacle. It’s of little wonder that one of Seinfeld’s funniest plots involved Jerry making out with a woman in a screening of Schindler’s List; a similar joke involving Shoah would have come off as intolerably insensitive, but necking as Neeson and Fiennes duke it out is hilarious because it concedes, however implicitly, that Schindler’s List is just a flick, overrated and overblown, best viewed while heavily petting.

But the real problem isn’t Spielberg. He is an endlessly talented filmmaker who has directed a few of the works—from E.T. to A.I.—that I consider to be among the finest ever produced. The real problem is the culture that spawned Spielberg, the culture of so many of us in the American Jewish community.

There’s no way to quantify what I’m about to say next and many ways to dismiss it as inaccurate or subjective or untrue. But consider this: From a community that was, until three or four decades ago, not only emotionally equipped but also eager to hold difficult internal debates, we’ve allowed so many of our communal vistas to become splintered terrains of intolerance and mutual suspicion. Try talking about Israel to someone who sees the country in a very different light. Try bringing up conversion next time you run into someone from a different denomination. Chances are the conversation will soon descend into chaos, with each side claiming absolute moral validity for itself and casting calumnies at the other. Put differently, we used to see the world like Lanzmann, as a nuanced and complex place where even the greatest villains deserved a few quiet moments on camera to speak their mind. We now see it like Spielberg saw the Holocaust, in black and white, all feeling and movement.

It’s an attitude we must do everything in our power to resist in every way, from commemorating the past to debating the future. Our tradition is nothing if not a yarn of complications; as appealing as simple images of victimhood (the little boy in the sewer in Spielberg’s film) and redemption (the Israeli paratroopers at the Western Wall in the iconic photograph from the Six Day War) might be, it’s our moral, aesthetic, and historical obligation to choose the difficult, the subtle, and the obscure. This, if anything, is the life for which we’ve been chosen.

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This is the second time recently that Tablet has seen it necessary to issue a defense of an article after being roundly criticized by commenters. Who exactly is it that can’t be part of a conversation? I’ll just add that I think Tablet itself has strayed from what may it originally interesting. I recall a piece maybe 2 years ago on an offbeat art collector in Brooklyn…I much preferred that kind of “new take” to constantly sending us a shrill self-congratulatory line.

ALL of Spelberg’s movies are hollywood Shmaltz. No need to turn this in to a philosophical discussion.

“From a community that was, until three or four decades ago, not only emotionally equipped but also eager to hold difficult internal debates…”

With no way to measure this (or quantify the shift that is pointed to above), in a way isn’t this a similar sort of romanticized view? Is the Jewish community really any more or less tolerant than it was in the mid-twentieth century? Is there any way to measure this? Or perhaps the Jewish community is just simply like all other communities…complex, varied and difficult to generalize about.

Ms. Leibovitz writes well and her point of view is interesting. Carl, above, says Speilberg is Hollywood schmaltz, and he is mostly correct. There are few good things now and then coming from Hollywood.

Ms. Leibovitz may want to give even the schmaltz of Speilberg a place in the nuanced, the subtle and the obscure. But our tradition, meaning, I think, the cultural adaptation of real Jewish law, the Torah, the Talmud, may be full of questioning and subtlety, but the attempt to say that the Jewish tradition has no certainty is as flawed as a can be. As Jews we have Emuna, the complete and non-subtle belief that all is from G_d, not only the good, but also what we consider bad, and that even includes the Shoah. We cannot, of course, ever reconcile this with equanimity, but our belief and our Emuna must never be subtle or nuanced, or we are not living within the Jewish tradition. There is no “yarn of complications” in that and even Ms. Leibovitz, as a Jew, must accept that. There is certainty and that certainly is G_d and our Emuna

Why must we be expected to experience the Shoah as inspirational? What the hell is inspiring about 10 million people slaughtered?

Cheryl Levine says:

I wish I had written this article. I had the same reaction to “Life is Beautiful” and this has only strengthened my disgust and wish that we would stop making these kinds of movies that seek to fit the Holocaust into a neat little box with an uplifting ending. It’s hard for me to articulate my own feelings about this, though I feel it strongly–and I think this author has done a good job.

This is a very pompous article making a rather minor point.

If you’re so smart why do you take a list of 100 movies so seriously? All such lists are dumb. That many Jews love the movie, is probably reason enough to list it and if it was the 100th movie, well its hardly a big deal is it?

Why not take issue with Thomas Keneally’s book on which the movie was based?

Making the Holocaust accessible to people who know little about it, is important, and if you want a great Holocaust movie, go watch something else (Sarah’s Key for example?).

Unlike the list, I liked this article. But, if SL is so bad–and I agree–why even place it on “the list” at all? By placing it last, you reserve a place for it to be specially condemned. There are so many other worthless films on the list–couldn’t you have come up with another one? How about “The Robe”? Jewish boy makes good…

Time to change the name of Avenue of the Rightgeous Gentiles at Yad Vashem into Holocaust Boulevard. After all, big deal if someone risked his/her life to save a Jew, that’s not what it’s all about. Right Liel?
What does the Talmud say? He who saves one life,it is like saving the whole world.
Schindler didn’t need to lift a finger yet he did. How many people protested the Cambodian genocide, the Rwanda genocide,Not many- and then we banalize people who risked all to help Jews and then complain that not enough people helped the Jews of Europe trapped in the Nazi web.

Bennett Muraskin says:

Much ado about nothing (or very little.) Liebovitz sounds a bit obsessive. She should take a a vacation and clear her head.

Shorter Leil: I was butt hurt by the comments on the list, so I’m going to type a lot of words about how Schindler’s List is just like the American Jewish community so that you’ll agree with me.

This faux analytic self loathing deserves to be tendered upon more serious issues. Schindler’s List is a movie about the possibility of redemption in the face of abject evil. The good that the proceeds from this movie generated in creating the Shoah Project did more good than one can ever imagine. Besides, I personally treasure the music that John Williams created for the film.

If you want to put down something serious try the decline of Minhag American Judaism.

MonkFish says:

L.L makes some strong points. It might interest him to know that he is far from alone in considering Spielberg’s “magnum opus” a piece of maudlin schlock. Simon Critchley, the Anglo-American philosopher, is similarly dismissive of this film. I, for one, would like to know what he thinks of Costa Gavras’ “Amen” and the anti-Spielbergian gas chamber spy hole scene.

Having said that it’s time someone called Tablet out what strikes me as a grave error: mistaking sterile controversy for stimulating debate. Liel is clearly a bloody-minded contrarian who relishes a good verbal punch-up. Stop feeding the naughty monkey in him and he might just hatch something as deep and subtle as Adam Kirsch, your finest contributor imho.

Heed this advice or risk sharing the fate of CNN’s now defunct “debating” show “Crossfire”!

Froma Zeitlin says:

This is the kind of pious claptrap that sets my teeth on edge. It is intentionally provocative in a sophomoric way and unable to grasp what this film has meant to millions of viewers.

JCarpenter says:

I was moved by the film; but I also agree with Liel’s last two paragraphs, expanding the thought to include our whole American society: no conversation, no debate, without demonization or anathema.

Beatrix says:

Liel is male.

Liel Leibovitz has had the courage to call the Hollywoodization of history what it is…the dumbing down of the truth. History is difficult – movies are easy. Oversimplification and condensation of history are the selling points. Throw in the old good vs. evil, some glitzy advertising, get a compliant (And historically ignorant) media to go along and bingo – we have a “Blockbuster.” A sad commentary on our society of today. People accept this Spielberg travesty as history. After all, I saw it at the movies. therefore, it must be the truth. Again, a sad commentary on today’s society.

As Goethe stated, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

Devorah Cohen says:

I too wonder why SL was on the list at all if the listmaker’s take on it was to deem it worthless. I also wonder why its counterpart, Defiance, was not included. Like SL it focused on the saving of a group of Jews numbering less than 2000. Unlike SL it featured Jews saving Jews (no we didn’t need only gentiles to save us). On a list that included White Xmas, merely because Israel Balin wrote the song, Liel has a lot more to defend than decision about SL.

MethanP says:

While I disagreed with your analsysis I am disturbed that you should be subjected to hate mail. As I said previously, I believe that you must see Schindlers List as a movie for gentiles to educate them about the Shoah. When I was in school the Holocost got one short paragraph in world history. I have yet to see a good movie on the topic. There have even been a couple of comedies. The best movie on the subject was a TV movie, Escape from Sobibor with Allen Arkin & Rutger Hauer. I can disagree with you and still respect your view point.

Yes, yes, Liel, we all want to believe in “giving every player in this brutal human drama a claim to agency and dignity,” but that’s precisely what did not happen in the Holocaust. Schindler’s List is not about Schindler, it’s about lists. Spielberg chose a title in which “List” is the noun; “Schindler” is merely the modifier. (FYI, the original title of the book was Schindler’s Ark.)

What, if anything, makes the Shoah unique? What distinguishes the Shoah from other instances of genocide or mass suffering? My answer is the same as Spielberg’s–the predominance of lists. This, for me, has always been the true horror of the Shoah. Millions of people were reduced to names on lists; an entire ethnic group was “processed” as the raw material in a man-made machine. For me, if you’d rather cry for the “players” in Sarah’s Key (etc etc) than embrace the statistical reality of Schindler’s List, then you’ve missed the whole point.

The Slate-ification of Tablet continues apace.

Steve Siporin says:

I recall an illuminating moment from a discussion of Schindler’s List held at a synagogue during shortly after the film had been released. An English department professor from the local university had been asked to speak at the start of the discussion. He, too, compared the evil Amon Goeth to the shark in Jaws, saying this movie was Jaws all over again, that Goeth was not a realistic figure. A woman who was a Holocaust survivor stood up and said he was realistic, she had been there, she had seen lots of Nazis like him.

Sometimes there is such a thing as intellectual aridity and blindness to simple realities. The English professor’s arrogance made me ashamed to be an academic and reminded me that we trip ourselves up complicating things that sometimes really aren’t complicated, like first person experience and testimony.

Somehow I think that if Schindler’s List had been a commercial failure, that professor would have liked it more. There’s nothing like success to turn the academy against you. If ordinary people like it, it must not be good.

It seems that most Holocaust survivors appreciate most Holocaust films. They are simply glad it’s being remembered and the public is being reminded. Subtleties of characterization don’t really concern them. They’re just glad there’s talk instead of silence. There is room for many Holocaust films, not just one “correct” one. Listen to the people who were there.

Steve Siporin says:

I recall an illuminating moment from a discussion of Schindler’s List held at a synagogue shortly after the film had been released. An English department professor from the local university had been asked to speak at the start of the discussion. He, too, compared the evil Amon Goeth to the shark in Jaws, saying this movie was Jaws all over again, that Goeth was not a realistic figure. A woman who was a Holocaust survivor stood up and said he was realistic, she had been there, she had seen lots of Nazis like him: “They were like that.”

Sometimes there is such a thing as intellectual aridity and blindness to simple realities. The English professor’s arrogance made me ashamed to be an academic and reminded me that we trip ourselves up complicating things that sometimes really are black and white.

If Schindler’s List had been a commercial failure, I think that professor would have liked it. There’s nothing like success to turn the academy against you: if ordinary people like it, it must not be good.

In fact, it seems that most Holocaust survivors appreciate most Holocaust films. They are simply glad it’s being remembered and the public is being reminded. Subtleties of characterization don’t really concern them. They’re just glad there’s talk instead of silence.

Marilyn Hassid says:

I can finally come out of the closet on this one–my opinion on Schindler’s List which I kept secret til now. I’m with you on this one, Liel, for exactly what you lay out in your last two paragraphs. Thank you.

As if to prove my point, this just appeared (referencing the terrific Nathan Englander story just published in the New Yorker):

“…a Jew… cannot deny that he would have been on Himmler’s figurative list or on one of his many actual ones.”

Khaverim, the monster in Schindler’s List isn’t Amon Goeth (who is, after all, a mere mortal), it’s the list: “Himmler’s figurative list and his many actual ones.”

Evelinsche says:

It takes a village idiot to be Jewish and NOT see the problems inherent in focussing on one Holocaust story and then linking it with Israel. (Or, say, a nation marching its new soldiers up Masada for the same message) The ending of Schindler made me uncomfortable even as it made me cry. Are we to think that Israelis really like being told the land they made and remake daily is the result of our overwhelming losses? Schindler’s List isn’t Holocaust porn like Sarah’s Key, and people SAW it. It wasn’t intended to be a documentary and never seen even by the PBS audience who change channels when a Holocaust documentary comes on. But how many people live near the few theaters that ran Shoah and The Sorrow and the Pity? How many people would go to see a movie in Polish, Yiddish, German, French and on the Holocaust, no less? I drove the miles, uphill in the snow; did Liel? Not everyone is interested in the nuanced hypocrisy of non-Jewish Europeans. Most people don’t read the newspaper for stories of a brother and a sister reunited after 70 years or the daughter who saw a newspaper photo of her mother about to be shot by the boots they both bought 60 years ago. Need we be reminded that nothing can grasp it in its entirety? That all the retelling, fact or fiction, will never cover it? Give Spielberg some credit for bringing us the story of 600 Jews and one tormented individual who did something.

The whole list thing interested me at first but by now I’m so sick of it, I can’t recall but won’t even look to see if the brilliant film Sunshine ((Sonnenschein) made the top 100.

Please straighten out your editorial act, already tarnished by inviting Judith Miller (!) to use your site. Glad to see she’s not coming at me as often as I feared. I’ve stopped recommending Tablet to friends, but I’m still reading, for the moment.

Ephraim says:

I am usually not a fan of Mr. Leibovitz’s writing, but I agree with his opinion of SL. I resisted seeing it for almost a decade, put off by the hoopla surrounding it and by Mr. Spielberg’s nauseating and blasphemous comments at the Oscars, where he came dangerously close, it seemed to me, to thanking the martyrs for making it possible for him to make the film.

It played on TV a number of years later and I recorded it, planing to do my duty and watch it the next day, only to once again be enraged by the insufferable smugness of one of his spokespeople who had the indecency to state that those who were murdered were thankful that so many people had watched the film.

The hubris displayed by this remark was sickening beyond belief. Our martyrs thanked Mr. Spielberg, forsooth! Who, I thought, had died and made him Moses?

I finally watched the film, and found it profoundly unsettling: it was a flim about the Shoah in which the Jews were an afterthought, nothing more or less than props in the drama of a Nazi’s spiritual redemption. It was then that I realized, in a flash, how brilliant Spielberg was, in his way. He had made a Holocaust film that let the Germans off the hook! He was saying, in effect, “See? You gentiles don’t have to be guilty any more”. And Schindler was redeemed at the end, a nice Christian message. Of COURSE the film was wildly popular. I’m a Jew and I’m sick of the endless Shoah obsession on the part of the secularized Jewish-American establishment. Can you imagine how happy the gentiles must have been to not have their chainiks hocked so incessantly about their supposed cosmic guilt?

In his middle-brow and commercial way, Spielberg is a true genius in that he sensed the kind of Holocaust drama people wanted to see: one with a happy ending.

For whatever reason, Shcindler did a tremendous mitzvah, for which we must be grateful. But schlock is not the way to commemorate it.

Now, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is another story. THAT was a great film.

I agree. Spielberg is an awful film maker his formula never steers nor veers away from mindless maudlin people pleasing. His films are absent of sharp edges of which life is full of. They are absent too of deeper insight. He and George Lucas combined lowered the standard of American cinema to that of a slobbering simple child in the 1980s and this state of the art of bland banality in shallow mentality still lingers to this day. Both men were more principally concerned with making mega millions than making movies that really matter..

Hershl says:

Who cares what you think?

I certainly don’t and, thankfully, most of the readers of The Tablet don’t.

You already have been given this feedback by us but, no, you refused to accept this.

Now you are trying to justify your ignorance with an even more pathetic piece.

Journalism is not your forte.

Find a real job.

Melissa says:

Please watch various documentaries about Amon Goethe (including the one in which his daughter meets the woman who had been a slave in Goethe’s household by the camp depicted in “Schindler’s List”). He was as horrifying and evil–if not more–than Fienne’s portrayal in “Schindler’s List”.

It’s pretentious notion and shows a lack of understanding of mainstream cinema to think that masses of American people would attend a movie that wasn’t framed with a “Schindler” as a protagonist. You can bitch about this and how stupid people are, but that’s just an oversimplification of the issue. At the end of the day, “Schindler’s List” is a story about someone taking a stand against evil and affecting change, and Schindler is a relatable protagonist to whom most viewers can empathize. Academics may not like this, but it’s the reality of mainstream cinema. And, if this movie exposes and engages people to the Holocaust who hadn’t considered it in a thoughtful, meaningful way, then bravo. And, it did lead to the Shoah project.

mark epstein says:

To evelinsche, I can tell you sadly, Sunshine did not make it to the list. Foreign films be them Canadian, Israeli, European, etc. and directly on topic in that they are great and Jewish have no place on the list. Hollywood shlock did. Of course that is a generalization since Shoah is there somewhere. What did make it was ET, Munich, and White Christmas,—making the list incredible. I was surprised not to see Meet the Fokkers or American History X as there were Jews in those productions—(I say sarcastically). Tablet petition your readers to make the case for all time Jewish Great Films. It might prompt people to see films they have not had the opportunity to see, such as Train of Life, Europa Europa, or many terrific Israeli films and I guarantee the list would be far more authentic then the tripe that has been listed to date. Come on Tablet & Liel lets do it. You might find your readership grows as a result of this interactive forum.

Gail Abramson says:

There was an incredible Holocaust film called The Juggler with an extraordinary performance by Kirk Douglas. Do not remember seeing it on the list. If it was it absolutely belonged near the top. If it wasn’t, a shanda.

Michael says:

Let’s see who is brighter and more talented Steven Spielberg or Liel Leibovitz? You’re still a pompous idiot.

Gail: There were lots of good movies made about the Holocaust that were left off the list so that movies about Christians and wannabee Christians could be included. “Europa, Europa”, “The Roundup” (La Rafle), “Aimmee and Jaguar”, “Rosenstrasse” are just a few of the movies that might have been included. So why did “Miracle on 34th Street” make it onto a Jewish movie list? RH Macy was in fact a Quaker, although the chain was sold to Isador and Nathan Strauss in 1895. In the early 1940’s, chances are a member of the Strauss family (not a Macy) was running Macy’s, but I guess Strauss sounded too Jewish to the Jewish executives at Twentieth Century Fox. I happen to like the movie, but it does not belong on a Jewish movie list. Neither does “Casablanca”, which although set during WWII, makes zero references to Jewish refugees. In those days, only Charlie Chaplin dared to confront head on the discrimination against Jews in Nazi Germany.

Kubrick is correct, Spielberg is largely an oversimplifying prince of Hollywood. He’s the Walt Disney of the baby boom generation. His films have fantastic flash but little in the way of actual substance.

VHJM van Neerven says:

Dear Mr. Leibovitz,

My heartfelt thanks for denouncing this movie for what it is: kitsch and spectacle. Going by the reactions you write of, it needed to be said and it will need to be said again, and quite likely again and again.

I can offer a sour sort of solace to go with your last two paragraphs. “(..C)onversation will soon descend into chaos, with each side claiming absolute moral validity for itself and casting calumnies at the other.”

This phenomenon is not exclusively Jewish or of any other community, it is a world wide. In Temple or in the café, at the workplace or at an internet discussion, I observe time and again that same self-righteousness, that manicheistic approach to the world, that pop-psychology “I’m OK, you;re not.”

Maybe it is the seduction of Manicheism itself? It’s the easy way out of our religious and ethical hardships, of that there can be no doubt.

So, very rightly you conclude “it’s our moral, aesthetic, and historical obligation to choose the difficult, the subtle, and the obscure. This, if anything, is the life for which we’ve been chosen.”

Ve’imru, omen.

The Lord bless you and keep you, Mr. Leibovitz.

Beatrix says:

Charlie Chaplin wasn’t Jewish.

Beatrix says:

I don’t know how profound we were 40 years ago, but 60 years ago, the pop culture book and movie about the Holocaust was “Exodus.” like “Schindler’s List” it engaged people in conversation and thought about the Holocaust that more intellectual material had failed to do.

And while reading it, I had my most profound and unforgettable understanding of the Holocaust that I have ever experienced.

When you’re ready, you’re ready. The profundity is in you and when it’s time, it will be unleashed.

Steve Temerlin says:

Thank you very much for your essay. I hated that movie most for the revisionist lies it told about everyone. Rather than tell the true story of how Oscar Schindler sold everything he owned to buy guns for the camp Jews to defend themselves against their guards, Spielberg wrote an asinine fantasy about Schindler giving a speech that managed to make Nazi murderers ashamed of themselves. That accurately reflects most American Jews worldview but not reality. Speaking as a military Jew with six deployments since the war started, it is that common attitude that makes it hard for me to relate to most members of our congregation.

Arik Nevid says:

I would have to agree with Mr. Leibovitz that there are many ways to dismiss what he wrote as “inaccurate, subjective or untrue.” A simple examination of articles written by Martin Buber, Theodor Herzl, Franz Rosenzweig or Ahad Ha’am would show that we, as a people, were no better at seeing the “nuances and complexities” of the world 80 years ago.

Based upon his dismissal of “Schindler’s List” as being “astoundingly stupid”, I would have to guess that he was probably about 14 when the movie was released. He probably doesn’t remember how packed the theaters were and how hard it was to get a ticket. Spielberg succeeded in making the first blockbuster about the holocaust and in ensuring that the holocaust will not quickly be forgotten. Even if Mr. Leibovitz felt that the film of thematically simplistic, it is rather foolish to dismiss such a milestone as “stupid”. About 12 years ago, I found my self in clothing shop, 100 miles northeast of Montreal. Neo-classical music was playing throughout the shop. A young Quebecois turned to the clerk and asked “Est-ce que ça vient de la filme, ‘Schindler’s List’?” I doubt anything by Claude Lanzmann ever made such impression upon young students in Catholic Quebec.

Beatrix: I am aware that Charlie Chaplin was not Jewish. But he certainly had more courage than the fat cat Jewish executives at the major film studios. In the movie “Casablanca”, some of the actors were actually Jewish refugees from central Europe but the movie had no references to Jewish refugees of which there would have been many in Casablanca during the war.

Carrie says:

“Try talking about Israel to someone who sees the country in a very different light”

The only thing that surprises me is that Liel waited until the second to last paragraph to tie this random movie critique to his (rightly condemned in the comments section) convoluted views of Israel. But Liel’s anti-Israel diatribes on this site only prove that internal debates among Jews DO ACTUALLY exist. Just because the majority of us don’t believe the Palestinians want ot hold our hands and sing kumbaya does not mean we don’t argue about realistic things.

Will James says:

What bothered me most about Spielberg’s film was the way it failed to represent the horror of the Holocaust. It depicted the Jews as the hapless inhabitants of a realm ruled by a sadistic madman. The reality of the Holocaust was far worse. There have been countless situations in human history where people have been forced to endure capricious, psychopathic violence. None of them are comparable to the Holocaust.

The project to round up and exterminate the Jews was carefully organized and meticulously executed by eminently rational men. Above and beyond the simple goal of mass murder, there was an added dimension: the Nazis’ sadistic joy in tormenting their victims in the course of destroying them.

Ever aspect of the concentration camp experience was carefully crafted to humiliate, to maximize physical suffering and to create utter despair: the massive overcrowding in cattle cars without food or water or toilets; the shaved heads and ludicrous prison clothing; the hours of standing at attention, naked or barely dressed in freezing weather; the medical experiments on laboratory Jews; the relentless, systematic starvation; the forced marches in wooden shoes that rubbed flesh from bone. And, perhaps, worst of all were the deliberately engineered situations in which Jews were regularly tempted to discard what remained of their decency and humanity and to turn against one another for the sake of surviving another week, or another day. Soul murder.

I think that both Spielberg and Benigni deserve our respect for their efforts to bring some increased awareness of the Holocaust to the general public. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that when we say “Never Again!”, we remember and teach what actually transpired. We have to be careful not to let the reality be overwritten by sweetened versions that are more entertaining and more suitable for mass consumption.

Beatrix says:

Rocky: A lot of people think Charlie Chaplin was Jewish. Your remarks were a chance to set the record straight.

He played a Jew once in the movies, and during the McCarthy HUAC era, he was a target. People felt he proved the perfidy of Jews,. The feeling was that people had welcomed and even loved him and he responded not only by supporting the Communists but by not becoming an American citizen. But what did you expect from Jews. Jews had to take it, and only later did we learn that Chaplin wasn’t even Jewish.

Ethel Merman also isn’t Jewish, something I just learned. What’s the world coming to?

Jewish big shots at the studios were famous for trying to prove their assimilation by ignoring the plight of their fellow Jews in Europe.

BTW, the movie “Exodus” came out in 1960, which of course was 50 (one) years ago.

brahmsian says:

Goeth in the film is not different from Goeth in the Kennealy book on which the film is based. If what you want to learn about the Shoah is that non sadistic banal people more like you and me were among the perpetrators, well there are a number of treatments of Eichman and the like out there. Why do all pieces on the Shoah have to be the same?

And yes, its a redemptive story – there ARE redemptive stories within the shoah – Im not sure the only narrative has to be a Nietschean embrace of the horrors of the world. as someone else said – is Yad V’shem kitschy for highlighting righteus gentiles? Is the US Holocaust Museum kitschy for highlighting camp liberators?

As for Israel – it is a FACT, not noted in the movie, that many of the schindlerjuden ended up in Israel, Schindler himself ended up spending a fair amount of time there, and the schindlerjuden ended up taking care of HIM. And, as the film notes, he was buried in Jerusalem. Israel IS redemptive – Im sorry if thats politically inconvenient now.

Is Spielberg Lanzmann? No. That does not make SL a bad film. Within the domain of popular film, it was intensely powerful.

and yes, off the internet its possible to have serious discussions about Israel. There have always been people incapable of serious discussion – but at one time it was harder for them to be heard.

brahmsian says:

“Think [Schindler’s List] is about the Holocaust?” he asked the screenwriter Frederic Raphael, a friend. “That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who don’t.”

so my mother in law’s story is not abnout the holocaust because she survived the camps?

There are no holocaust survivors, because their experience was not of the holocaust? The above quote is troubling.

brahmsian says:

“I regard as kitsch any representation of the Holocaust that is incapable of understanding or unwilling to understand the organic connection between our own deformed mode of life (whether in the private sphere or on the level of ‘civilization’ as such) and the very possibility of the Holocaust,” ”

This is the only morally acceptable view of human life? It seems that if it is not, then your entire view of SL falls apart.

Paul from Hamburg says:

Personally, and this is just my opinion, I find Schindler’s list to be a fine film. For Gentiles born well after the war, it is easy to categorize the Holocaust as just one more random horror of war: Evil, but an evil rising out of the chaos of a larger evil. Schindler’s List shows that, in fact, the Holocaust was the product of careful planning and precise control. Nothing could illustrate this better than the simple fact that Schindler was able to save lives simply by filling out the right forms and paying the proper fees.

Leibovitz’s List, by contrast, reminds me of driving behind a school bus of full of 13 year-old boys as they make faces and give middle-fingers to the cars around them.

H ROSEN says:

Lighten up Leibovitz! It is just another movieand a good one. Schindler survivors prased the film and that is good enough for me.The film is gloriously acted and directedand deserved the oscar.
Certainly the Jews play a minor role since the film is about Schindler a complete heel
who is redeemed. Although adapted from a work of fiction it has much that is factual
If one wants to criticzise Spielberg it is his Munich film which he made ultra politically correct and was based on a complete fabrication of the facts.
But who can complain about Jews always complaining ….If I don’t have at least 3 complaints a day I am despondent.

The Jewish world long ago decided that it is valuable to honor the very few Righteous Gentiles for the decision to risk their lives. A close relative of mine was a hidden child who has spent a good part of his life honoring those remarkable and selfless Jews and non-Jews who saved him, many of whom lost their own lives in the process. Schindler, with all his flaws,
surely belongs in this honored cohort.
Whenever I walk through that garden at Yad Vashem, I can’t help but think, “20,000 righteous out of 100 million Europeans – not a good commentary on the human condition.”

Liel, these “enfant terrible” screeds are simply beyond tiring at this point. You don’t even bother to research or to do even the smallest shred of original thinking, though I’m sure on your own personal list of today’s foremost Jewish thinkers, you’re number one (maybe you would deign to put BHL number 2? Probably not, his dashing good looks would only tarnish yours. Maybe hit the gym and rethink this in 6 months).

Liel, your “Lonely Man of Complex Thought” persona is boring already. A good critic knows how to balance his critique with fresh thinking and back it up with actual logic and facts. You have yet to grasp these simple, basic parameters. I think if you submitted these articles to The New Yorker or The New Republic, they wouldn’t even send you a form rejection letter.

Abbi, speaking of bores you sound off like a simple ass because you simply are one.

Moshe Blei says:

This is my first time to agree with Mr. Muraskin.
Liebovitz stop the elitist trip for just a moment. Life and death are separated by a bullet that costs pennies. The greatness of Schindler’s List that this was presented in a way that millions understood something that an “intellectually high” article couldn’t do in a million words.

Jules, you manage to leave sick comments on every single Tablet article. And I’m the bore?

I probably don’t have to go into detail about the sad little basement you live in that’s cleaned by Mommy, who leaves your sad little meals by the kitchen table to eat by yourself. That would be too depressing, right?

This ridiculous dust-up concerning comments and opinion from those who were not there reminds me of situation that still angers me.
A few years ago the speaker at Friday night services was a Hungarian survivor who as a youth in Budapest had the guts to work for the Germans as a messenger even wearing some sort of non military uniform, during which he warned the Jews and helped them in addition to his official duties. It was not a short talk and at one point, the rabbi gave him a hand motion to wind it up, which he did not much to my delight. A few minutes later he was interrupted and told he was finished. I was outraged but held my tongue
at this stupid discourteous action.
What do you think that the invited guests consisting of , in addition to the congregation, of Catholic priests, ministers and other non Jews thought?
I wonder what the speaker felt?

Lou Adams says:

A new level of depth in mental masturbation.

Margaret Reines says:

I thought your Review of ‘Schindler’s List’ was one of the best pieces of writing I have ever read. It is a piece of gritty realism and reveals some of the of Spielberg’s’ tricks of the trade’ which he applies to his formularised epics – designed to win over the populace.

I don’t often agree with Liel but for the most part he gets it right. However, Schindler’s list after all is just a movie. One that makes you feel that there is hope in spite of the tragedy that is taking place in its midst. To deconstruct it until it falls apart leaves little room for the presentation it makes.
no more or less.

It appears that with quick access to information, there is little tolerance for any dissenting voices. Both sides and many in the middle of any position feel so threatened and empowered by their on-line support that brazen and cowardly responses is usually the answer. No room for serious discussion just shouting matches. See “occupy” demonstrations in the States. No room for any differing opinions. Verbal lynching is the order of the day.

At least in Tel Aviv during the summer occupation of Rothchild street the drama unfolded as if family members sat down with some food, drink and entertainment and discussed the issues without killing each other. It was a site to be hold and participate in. Clearly it is not over. It was civil and inclusive until the professional politicos got involved and it it then quickly deteriorated into typical shouting matches by the idiots of the moment.

So Liel if you feel that Schlinder’s is best seen during a “make out” session at least do it quietly so others can enjoy the movie.

Rosenberg says:

THANK YOU LIEL, for finally saying this. Those who criticize you must realize that Thomas Keneally’s book did not indulge in the same simplistic, romanticized yechhh factor. Keneally’s Oskar Schindler was real, with his own money-making agenda, and he did break down and cry at the end, agonizing that he could only have saved a few more. That is not the something the real Schindler would have done –it was a corny, anachronistic invention of Speilberg’s, along with a lot more perversions of this wonderful book.

I thought the ending grotesque – with actual victims at his grave, and melted dental fillings as thanks – so while I agree SL is overblown, I still think most miss the simple and elegant point to the story and movie.

It is sometimes more constructive to NOT be a prancing Hero For Good, and rather just not make the worst choice of several options before you to accomplish some good and, as important, survive to do more. That also takes ego in spades, but for the point.

Schindler did what he could up to the end point of plausible deniability and saved thousands. He was no Avenger, but a survivor of a higher status than those in his service. Hence the puzzling need for Inglorious Basterds that filled the emotional void his actual minimal heroism left.

Joshua Rose says:

Read a good number of these comments, and then read the last two paragraphs of the article. Whether you agree with his take on SL or not, he seems to have named a phenomenon in Jewish life that is evidenced in these comments.

Wayne Macedo says:

Fascinating take, but don’t you then have to reject all films about “infinitely complex reality’ that use a narrative form? All narratives, all stories, are interesting the more they successfully fulfill the “strictures of the artistic process.” Their success as aesthetic objects is to amuse and distract, thus creating the very spectacle that you dislike (because it dulls our experience of the brute, unaesthetic fact). Like you, I am skeptical that there can there be a non-documentary representation of the Holocaust that is worth anything unless (this is key) it goes against our expectations of drama and spectacle(Good by Lessing). Goddard, if I remember right, once suggested making a Holocaust film by focusing on the humdrum, day to day life of a lower prison guard. We would watch him play cards, misplace is hat, make a cup of coffee and only here and there, as a kind of skull beneath the grin, catch a horrifying glimpses of the hell around him. Such a film would, he thought, get at the real horror as well as our complacency as viewers. Others might argue that it would take the focus away from the victims. I wouldn’t.

Can not disagree more. This movie brought the holocaust to the attention of millions.RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

I could not agree more–about the movie and the Jewish community. We cannot blame Spielberg without also blaming the Jewish studio executives who really control Hollywood. They have always been conflicted about Jewish themes — especially those dealing with anti-Semitism. In movies like SL and “Gentleman’s Agreement,” they are more comfortable when the protagonist and hero are gentiles or, if the actors are gentile in stories about Jews (e.g. “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Life Is Beautiful”). Whether intentional or not, this has always betrayed a deep self-loathing and embarrassment about Jewishness. We shouldn’t need Schindler to or Gregory Peck to validate the suffering of Jews.

I don’t like Schindler’s List, or any movies that develop an archetypal entertainment structure around a historical tragedy of mass murder (see Singleton’s Rosewood). But your discussion of Schindler’s List was flippant and more facile than the movie itself.

Your list of “Jewish films” was a narcissistic project. Your inclusion of The Long Goodbye as a Jewish movie because of Elliot Gould’s face was silly. Particularly, as you projected Gould’s Chandler as an image of masculinity, when the writer and director took pains to undermine the character’s masculinity at EVERY point (except the ending with its ironic commentary). You also say that Marlowe gets the girl in this one, which is laughably incorrect and Tablet should have edited.

Unless you mean that Marlowe is charming in his dinner with the girl, while she’s fishing for information about Terry Lennox and working out her ambivalent feelings about her husband. Getting dinner together does not mean getting the girl!

One point of that scene is that as charming as Marlowe is, though being an anachronism, she’s the most charming person in the movie and is able to fit in. He falls for her act, thinking they’re somehow alike in their personal standards. She’s simply able to smooth things over into elegance with everybody, including the post-60s beach party crowd, even in front of her husband’s antics.

Liel, did you watch the same movie I did? Spielberg presents a rather conflicted (and quite human)Goethe in the scene with his Jewish forced-mistress. Did you not see the scene where the Nazis were playing a beautiful piano piece while searching for Jews? I thought it was the banal humanity amidsts evil in such scenes that actually make the movie powerful – I think your article is totally off-base.

bennybenben says:

The real problem isn’t Speilberg, it’s the culture that spawned him. Which is to say that there’s nothing wrong with Schindler’s list, only the culture that produced it.

It’s funny to me that we should all follow Lessing and “choose one moment out of an endless sequence of possible moments for visual representation.” But I think the Holocaust is the sort of thing we have a responsibility to think about, and Speilberg tries in SL. LL doesn’t really have anything to actually say about this attempt, there’s just some Seinfeld and some complaints about the our culture.

I, for one, find comparisons between those who object to intermarriage and those who perpetrated the Holocaust disgusting. I don’t see how these are comparable. It’s good to black and white about some things.

Not Jewish.

The movie itself is emblematic of something that made Spielberg’s work almost totally unwatchable to me after Saving Private Ryan, and that’s what you describe as being full of feeling and movement.

I think ALL Spielberg’s movies are like that. They have no concern at all for thought. That doesn’t and shouldn’t reflect badly on either Spielberg or people who enjoy his movies. But it means that they are not my style.

Eugene Kravis says:

Liel Leibovitz were you incarcerated at Auschwitz or other Nazi death camps? I have a good friend, Bernard Offen, who was. He also was an adviser to Spielberg, and was there at the filming. When the movie came out, I asked him, “Was that how it happened.” His answer, “Yep, that’s exactly as it happened.”

What is going to happen, when all Jewish people, young and old have grandparents?
Your article is revisionest trash!

    sam little says:

    One of the people who was cited in the article criticizing the film was a survivor. Are you going to call him a revisionist? I think the story could’ve been very compelling if more emphasis had been placed on how the Nazi movement represented a step away from civilization. Jews and Gentiles working together would have been nice. Or if we’d gotten to know more people who suffered personally. Or heard them cherishing music and literature together. The beauties of civilization are something you need to cling to in those situations. Instead we get a cheap attempt at irony as if western music is somehow complicit in the act. The suffering Jewish people themselves in the film are also for the most part nameless and faceless. And as the man who was a survivor said, this is all indicative of a man like Spielberg who wasn’t there. What’s also so unfortunate is there are many stories of this great tragedy which are so much more personal and beautiful and not nearly as opprotunistic

Your idea that Schindler’s list is insipid may be right on one hand — but it was a good film to introduce The Holocaust to a 12 year old. The next year her class went to Washington and The Holocaust Museum was a place they visited. The majority of the kids (98%) had never heard of the Holocaust. Our daughter was prepared as we had talked to her after the film and explained some of the evils that were done. Non-Jewish kids were crying and coming up to her and asking if she had known this had happened, and how awful it was. They were nice the rest of the trip, but time makes for forgetting and she was again snubbed at school for being a Jew. She is now 32 and last spring went to Germany, Austria, Poland, and visited old Jewish Graveyards, and Temples and Holocaust Camps. She went alone so she could absorb everything around her without distraction. What makes a Good Jew? Understanding our heritage and keeping the traditions. Thanks to Steven Spielberg for making this movie. So a 12 year old could be introduced to such a terrible time in the life of Jews and carry it inside her for the rest of her life.

I loathe this movie for the reasons Liel and a lot of commenters expressed. Hated it on a Jewish level, an emotional level and on a filmmaking level (Spielberg — PICK ONE ENDING AND STOP THERE. The old people with stones in the graveyard was one ending too many. Or maybe two. I forget.) Hated the manipulative film techniques and music. Hated Spielberg’s emotionalism. But I also hated A.I., another Spielbergian mess that Liel loved, and for most of the same reasons. I’d love to know how someone who thinks Schindler’s List is a bad movie could think A.I. is a good one. Fewer Jews, more Bad Mothers, just as emotionally manipulative.

You know what’s a good movie? DIRTY DANCING.

I think the writer is missing the point of the movie.

When the movie came out, my mother, a Bergen Belsen graduate, went to see it. Her comment was that it was an excellent depiction of the camps (although she said none of the real inmates were that fat–to tell us how really thin/emaciated the real inmates were).

That the story revolved about Schindler, she felt was just to give a focus to the movie.

We all realize there was “artistic license” which gives rise to the writer’s comments.

Was it a good movie? Leave that to the critics. From a lay person’s perspective and to give audiences a “feel” of what happened in the camps–to me, that is the important message.

Mike Spindell says:

Well you can be a cerebral film watcher like Liel and disdain the film’s emotionalism, or you can watch film’s like me losing myself in the story and for a period of time being lost in my emotional state. There’s no right or wrong way to approach film. My admittedly egotistical guess is that I get the better of the deal. Of course Spielberg is into manipulating emotions. Isn’t that true of every artist good or bad?
All I know is that 15 minutes into the movie I had a strong urge to pee and yet I sat there entranced for the rest of it, unable to take my eyes from the screen. To my way of thinking it was a great movie and I certainly do’t need to over think it. As for your list of the top 100 Jewish Films, as pointed out in the comment on the “Long Goodbye” making it Jewish because of Elliot Gould’s face is just a very silly stretch. The list was a
vain attempt at being intellectual and hip. It was a failure of logic and a failure of understanding being Jewish.

Mike Spindell says:

“Sometimes there is such a thing as intellectual aridity and blindness to simple realities.”

Steve Siporin aptly put in in the above comment. Liel I think you have some inner searching to do if you want to grow as a writer and critic. Being “outre” without logical content makes one guilty of the same sins they see in others. Psychologically that is known as projection.

Ignorant, self loathing…sickeningly self congratulatory nonsense…find someone else to write about culture…

With all due respect, Sir, fuck your yarn of complications. There’s nothing “complicated” about Holocaust. Goyim killed Jews because they could. This happened before, but this time and for the first time, the wholesale extermination was made possible by scientific advances, technology and communications. This happened because Jews were scattered, stateless and disarmed. Stripped of its numbers, Holocaust is simple, mundane and boring – yet another massacre of Jews by Gentiles. That’s why the only interesting way to show it to the moviegoers is through the eyes of one unusual Gentile, who saw the opportunity to do what has been done always – and chose to do the opposite.

hayyim rothman says:

I hear you on the ethical superiority of Spielberg’s film over Lanzmann’s. I hear you on the degraded plane of intellectual exchange that cannot deal with complexity, with loose threads, and, consequently, can only be the site for oversimplified melodrama. However, consider the following (and I believe that this was actually Spielberg’s argument): the difference btwn Lanzmann’s work and Spielberg’s is that Lanzmann’s is not a unified narrative. It is capable of destroying us, tearing us up within, but not of stitching us back together. It is an infinite catharsis with no resolution, no way back to life. While on the one hand the nature of the subject matter is such that we are not really entitled to resolution… how can one become resolved to such a thing? On the other hand, we, the jewish community alive today, must be capable of creating a viable jewish life and this means coming to terms with the holocaust. In addition to the larger communal deficiency you point to, I would add that it has also been several decades since anyone has written a truly significant book of Jewish thought that could at least grab the attention of the whole community if not (and this, of course, is never possible) its agreement. I think that part of this is due to the scar of the holocaust: it is an infinite gap that commands all our attention and, yet disallows productive thought looking forward in a way that affirms the value and validity of a living and intellectually thriving Jewish community. I think that on a certain level, the sort of narrative unity/resolution that a Schindler’s list creates allows for the healing which is necessary for the sort of movement forward that is necessary. Perhaps the particular movie failed insofar as it was overly melodramatic, kitchy, etc. but I don’t know that the alternative is Lanzmann’s Shoah either. Perhaps simply a more nuanced story… but a story nonetheless.

Ben Bochner says:

It’s been a while since I saw the film, but what I remember being particularly offensive was how sexy the naked bodies of the women who were being gassed in the “shower” were. These were not normal women, starved down to skin and bone and dread. These were Hollywood starlets, showing off their yoga-toned skinny bods and shaved heads for the camera. Talk about perversity in the cinema – ogling sexy women in a gas chamber has got to take the cake.

I agree with Mr. Leibovitz, this movie was astoundingly stupid, made all the more disgusting by the glaze of political correctness brushed over the whole thing, protecting it from criticism. Spielberg’s Hallmark Card for the Holocaust.


Stephan Pickering/Chofetz Chay says:

Shalom & Boker tov…Claude Lanzmann, Leon Wieseltier, Jason Epstein — and, of course, Liel Liebovitz — astutely note Steve Spielberg made Close Encounters of the Nazi Kind to maximize his bank accounts, and to make a film beyond criticism. He remains a fargoyischt fraud. Schindler was hardly an angelos/mal’ak, but a exploiter of Jews for profit…much like Spielberg himself, who is lost in thought because it remains unfamiliar territory to him. STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham

Nathan says:

I’m coming late to this discussion, but

1) The Long Goodbye is Jewish not because of Elliot Goould’s punim, but because it portrays a wonderfully comic Jewish gangster (paraphrasing, he menances Gould by telling an underling: ‘you’re father was a mohel,Harry, go ahead and cut him (Gould.)

2) Speilberg dedicated Schindler’s List to Steven Ross. A person who achieved much, but had a dicey reputation.

The question is, does it matter if somebody does good deeds for the wrong reasons?
Schindler’s inflated self-regard led to his good deed.
Speilberg was a huge commercial success, but not respected. He used the Holocaust in order to be taken seriously as a film-maker.

If he educated some non-Jews, and established the Holocaust testimony projects, those may be considered good deeds. That doesn’t make the movie good.

Elimelech Shalev says:

Liel Leibovitz’s panning of Schindler’s List is both a logical and absurdist disaster, an embodiment of much that is wrong with this self-obsessed, strident, haughty American-Jewish pseudo intellectual. His point: there is only one valid way to portray the Shoah – his; it is his view which is Manichean.

Carl Perkins says:

Well said.

Margaret Reines says:

Pertaining to many comments on this article – readers may be interested in perusing the book ‘The Holocaust Industry’ – Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. by Norman G Finkelstein. (Pub. Verso 2000).

Margaret Reines says:

With regard to ‘all of Spielberg’s movies being Hollywood schmaltz’ – Carl Dec 13 – his first movie was ‘Duel’ with Dennis Weaver – pertaining more to a ‘cult’ offering than his later slick , mass-produced crowd-pleasers. As someone in the arts scene has said:’If everyone likes it it can’t be good.’

Margaret Reines says:

It seems an omission that excellent films like ‘The Man In The Glass Booth’ – 1975 with Maximillian Schell – a study in guilt- and ‘The Believer’ 2001 with a riveting Ryan Gosling – based on the true story of Daniel Balint – a Jew who became a KKK member – were omitted from the list of 100 films. Should it be re titled as ‘100 greatest Mainstream Jewish Movies?’

It’s an interesting debate, and I see your point. My fear has always been that too many people will see only Schindler’s List and think they now understand the complexity of the Holocaust. Then, they might watch the Holocaust-Lite films like Life Is Beautiful and Jakob The Liar, and conclude that maybe things weren’t so bad after all. Would they ever see The Grey Zone, or Europa, Europa, much less Shoah or The Sorrow and the Pity?

You are welcome to like or dislike “Schindler’s List.” But many who saw it, probably a majority of its audience, found it a stirring and important experience. I know one young non-Jewish black woman who discounted or ignored Jews and the Holocaust until she saw this film. It made a big change in her life. Myself being a WW2 veteran with survivor relatives and friends, “Schindler’s List” was no surprise to me but it was thrilling. Films like this are not aimed at high toned intellectual critics. They are for “amcha” — the people. This one worked. In fact, as a motion picture it far outdid “Lincoln.”

    Stoshy says:

    Agreed. Despite being “simplified” as the author of this article might claim, it served its purpose in exposing the horrors of the Holocaust to a majority, including myself, who only desire the simplified view. I don’t blame them. Hearing stories from survivors, it’s a tragedy that encompasses more than one single voice, its complexity and terror may not be so easily told in one single story nor easily comprehended. I believe the only ones that will truly ever understand it are those that were there. This movie brings me new and added appreciation for them and their struggles faced in a time, a black stain in history that I myself cannot visualize, nor want to. Something I will never fully understand, but at least be able to recognize.

I have had it on DVD for years but am unwilling to watch it.

Graham Coffey says:

I am not Jewish. I don’t even know anyone Jewish. What I do know is that a lot of humans have lived on the planet since it’s inception….be they of all the creeds, caste’s or colour we need to apply to ourselves.

Schindler’s List is as equally important, and as worthy for the simple message it carries…..the inheritant beast like capacity of homo sapiens….as any review of any calibre level would determine. The problem is not in the film or book’s creation, but the very small minded, if not very one sided analysis that it has been put through by academics and the intelligenca……..the very life giving crucibles responsible for human kinds inhumanity to each other.

Schindler’s List helped get the message out to a wider human audience…that a genocide of race and humanity took place not less than seventy (70) years ago… to sponsor the very real though that humans can do this to each once again…as they have, to a lesser extent during the past seventy (70) years.

There was nothing academic about what Nazi Germany did to the those many people of Eastern, and parts of Western Europe. It was no more than beast like. and animal driven, perpetrated by those who were considered at the pinnacle of refined civilisation…it can be told in no other way than how Spielberg saw, and portrayed it.

Personally, I know of many thousands of the younger generation of this day and age…mainly living in First World Countries, who would not have the slightest idea that the Holocaust even happened.

If Spielberg’s portrayal enlightens just a handful of those younger people…then it will have been an everlasting classic….against the efforts of the cynics and critics, who have to sate their own mediocre ego’s with an indulgence into the academic why’s and what for’s of the epic.

Umish katani says:

I agree with the writer. Schindlers list in bad movie shot to feed on American Jewish sensibilities and false ideas of what the war really was like. Bottom line, if you drive a German car, you have contributed to the success of the nazis because they survived the war and 6.5 million of our family members did not. Germany may have paid restitution partially, but the Germans and Austrians wiped out our European culture, language and history. That cannot be bought. Spielberg may be a kid of survivors, but if he really warned to do something…. Movies about Krupp, BMW, ig farben huls, and everyone else involved and expose them.

Evan Mahon says:

This movie wasn’t made strictly for Jews, and it really wasn’t made about Jews. It was about human nature (expressed through the characters of Schindler and Goeth) and the thin line between good and evil, with the horrors of the Holocaust serving as the backdrop. This is not to say that Spielberg took his portrayal of the Holocaust lightly, but Schindler’s List simply isn’t a documentary; it’s an epic historical drama, and I’m sorry if that angers some members of the American Jewish community. If you want a documentary on the Shoah, watch the film ‘Shoah.’

Anyway… back to the good and evil… Fiennes wonderfully portrays unadulterated evil (as Goeth undoubtedly was). I think this article is trying to say that Goeth was portrayed in the film as being far more evil or inhuman than he was in real life, and if that’s the case, what a shame. Survivors from Plazsow were on set during the filming of Schindler’s List and were said to have trembled in fear during Fiennes’s scenes because his performance reminded them so much of Goeth.

Schindler is ultimately the good, but he IN NO WAY WHATSOEVER experiences a “nearly instantaneous epiphany” during the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto. He and his mistress are horrified, but Schindler is still on the edges of respectability. For example, in a later scene, Schindler lashes out at Stern and offers a mild defense of Goeth in reaction to the Perlman girl calling his factory a “haven.” If a man sat through this film and thought that Oskar Schindler ever had an epiphany, then they weren’t paying attention. His change was gradual, with Stern serving as his conscience.

And again, I reiterate, the film was not principally about the Holocaust. Roger Ebert said of the film, “The Holocaust supplies the field for the story, rather than the subject.” Ultimately, I think Liebovitz wished Spielberg had just done some kind of ‘Shoah’-style documentary, which in my opinion, would have robbed us of a great cinematic achievement.

Alex says:

The visual portrayals of the misery and death in SL I find show the viewer the true feeling of the Holocaust. The writer states the movie as “all feeling and movement”, and when that becomes an offensive term for a movie, I’ll eat my shoes. The whole point of the movie was the feeling! To feel how hopeless things must have looked, to feel the devastation. That is what makes the movie so fantastic, is how much you feel.
I was unaware that every single movie about WW11 had to have a terribly depressing ending. Spielberg decided to create a movie about the events that took place in and around Schindler’s factory. so that is the story he told. The end of that story does involve people living! Yes, millions died, but the story told in SL was about those who lived. It is about the light in the gloom. But don’t ever delude yourself into thinking that it does not portray the horror. The visual aspect of the film especially portrayed the devastation.
Basically the author took a very long, wordy article to say that they thought the characters were one dimensional, and the movie used too much feeling to portray the holocaust. That makes me laugh, but it also makes me very sad for all of those who share that point of view. They lack an appreciation of an amazing display of the holocaust. The horror which is shown through spectacular visuals and emotional string-pulling, and the story that demonstrates that there was still good in a bloody history.

Athithya Narayan says:

What a ridiculously stupid article this is.They don’t even see the point of this great film.

These were not normal women, starved down to skin and bone and dread. These were Hollywood starlets, showing off their yoga-toned skinny bods and shaved heads for the camera.

I don’t understand this criticism. The alternative would be for Spielberg to ask for the actresses to starve themselves in real life, and I think that would be hugely unethical. I think that particular departure from realism is acceptable.

I can’t believe the inbred, fascist points of “view” that these worthless republicans have. Hypocrites… no, wait… hypo-Christians. You scum-suckers are going to burn.. not in hell, in your bed while you sleep. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure your children suffer even more. #killallrepublicans


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Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is both a moral and an aesthetic disaster, an embodiment of much that is wrong with American-Jewish life

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