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The Price of a Person (1 Viewer)


Author's Note: Just a history essay written about the movie Schlinder's List for my U.S. History online class.

The Price of a Person

“The list is life.” – Izhtak Stern, Schlinder’s Jewish Accountant

In an atmosphere as cruel as that of World War II, compassion is a rare gift. At a time when everyone was killing arbitrarily, when people were being tortured, when there were mind games being played – at a time when Jewish people were thought of as animals, not even close to our equals, there was one ray of hope, one man with compassion. That man was Oskar Schlinder. Schlinder’s List is a story about a rich business owner who’s only concern in the beginning is making money, and using persecuted Jews as a workforce made this simple because he didn’t have to pay his workers wages. However, as time passes Schlinder begins to really care for the Jews he has enlisted. He sees them as people rather than numbers, and he knows they deserve more than to be killed without cause. When he learns that the Nazis are planning on moving all his Jewish residents to Auschwitz, a death camp in Germany, he will do anything to stop it. Schlinder and his Jewish accountant Stern put together a list of all the Jewish people that will stay with Schlinder, free from the concentration camp. Schlinder spends his entire fortune on these people who at the time weren’t considered people, he was the most compassionate benefactor of the time. He created the list, and the list was life.

Schlinder’s List is an extremely accurate portrayal of World War II both historically and emotionally. Unlike other Holocaust movies of it’s time, Schlinder’s List delves into the true horror of the war. The implied violence in the movie was more shocking than the actual deaths that occurred, It showed, brutally, the way Nazis treated their Jewish inferiors, the twisted mindsets, the violence, the selections. The movie depicted the feeling of helplessness that both victims and their persecutors felt, knowing that they could do nothing under their dictators without facing death. The movie portrays, in a more shocking way than ever before seen, the fact that there were no set rules in the war. No matter what you did, you were at risk of being killed because everyone had become desensitized to the thought of murder. People weren’t quite people anymore.

In a historical context, Schlinder’s List was very accurate. Even though it was more of an emotion-based movie, director Steven Spielberg was aware of the fact that he was recreating a true story so he made it as real as possible. The film shows honestly the way Jewish and Germans treated each other in the concentration camps. It depicted the brutality of the Plaszow and Krakow Ghetto massacres, the suppression of Jewish religion, and the hard, even dirty work within the concentration camps. Even Germany’s surrender from the war and the liberation of the Jews was historically correct, recreating the fact that the Jewish were not welcome nearly anywhere after receiving their freedom, they were still inferior in many senses.

The point of view in this film is a rather interesting one. It’s not one of the simple, overused point of views that are always looked at in Holocaust pictures. For example, it was not the suffering Jew or the overbearing, brain-washed Nazi. In fact, Spielberg put a whole different spin on the true story coming from a different angle. He used a third person, omniscient point of view focused on protagonist Oskar Schlinder. He used external conflicts to develop the point of view of a German Nazi who wasn’t comfortable with the actions of his commandants. Instead of being a typical Nazi solider, he became a benefactor for the Jewish and used his money to help the Jews in an indirect way. To the world, he was another German helping the war making ammunition to aid in the killing. But behind closed doors, he was a philanthropist trying to save the Jews in any way possible. He even made sure that not one bullet that could actually be used left his factory, he made all his exports faulty. Schlinder kept over one thousand prisoners alive in his factory. They were warm, well-fed, and safe from harm because of his compassion. This makes Schlinder’s point of view, the compassionate Nazi, a very different one than had ever been seen before.

The plot, in relation to World War II was very powerful. It taught viewers that a little bit of compassion, and just caring so much can save a life, and thus forth save generations. The theme of the movie was that compassion, a little bit of money, and some clever thinking goes along way. Even though the movie was somber, dark, even sad at times, it had an uplifting message. The character development of Oskar Schlinder was very powerful in relation to World War II. It showed that humanism is still possible even in the worst of conditions. Schlinder learned to love those who society don’t believe deserve it. He learned to help those who need it most, and he became a truly amazing man because of it. The most humbling scene of the movie was at the end, when the war end and he had to flee and he said goodbye to all those lives he had saved, instead of being arrogant about it, he was grievous. Instead of expecting thanks, he gave it. Instead of expecting recognition for saving so many lives, he simply felt terrible for not sacrificing his few commodities he had left to save just a few more. The character development of Schlinder is the most important aspect of the film, in my opinion, because not only does it teach viewers about World War II, it also teaches them a lesson or two about being a good person.

In the end, the price of a person is still unspecified. Schlinder, through his newfound compassion, gave up a few hundred dollars for each Jew he saved. But is that all? Schlinder also gave up his good name, he became a criminal accused of slavery and Nazism when he helped those Jews, but deep down he knew it was the right thing to do. It’s a small price to save a life, but the revenue is beyond what human beings can even start to comprehend. Schlinder found compassion, and through that, he saved, he liberated, thousands.