by Hunter Johnson
This week, I saw Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” for the very first time. The film is back in theaters for its 25th anniversary. Some readers may be immediately tuning me out—how could someone call himself a film lover and not have seen “Schindler’s List” before? But there’s something you have to understand about me and this film.
I’ve spent my entire life loving films, but the first “Holocaust” film I saw was “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” I was around eleven years old, the time that I would start to comprehend the fact that I am Jewish.
I don’t remember the day my parents explained to me the nature of race and the fact that I was ethnically a Jew, but I do remember watching that film and being utterly traumatized. I remember finally grasping what the Holocaust really was and I remember thinking that I had no interest in watching any more films about that time period—not because I was uninterested, but because I began to care so deeply about it that I couldn’t handle watching dramatized portrayals of such horrific events.
So I avoided Holocaust films. I avoided “The Pianist” and “Schindler’s List,” films that I knew I couldn’t bear to watch. Eventually though, my interest and passion to learn more about my own culture’s background grew. I knew that I couldn’t simply ignore such a vital period of history, so I decided to stop avoiding these films.
I watched “The Diary of Anne Frank,” a film that reminded me of the hopelessness of the Jews trying to hide from the Nazis. I watched “Swing Kids,” a film that only enhanced my hatred for Nazi propaganda and Nazi beliefs toward Jews. I watched films that, while very good films and important in reminding society to never forget these events, never changed my view of the Holocaust. It was a hopeless time, a time where people were beaten, gassed, stripped, burned and killed. That’s all these films ever told me about the Holocaust, true things, but not the whole picture.
I’ve spent years believing “Schindler’s List” to be the epitome of the “Holocaust” genre, which to me, meant that no film would crush me and break me down more than this one. To be the definitive film in the genre must mean that it would leave me angrier and more hateful toward the Nazis and everything that happened during that time than any other film.
But I left the theater feeling something very different.
“Schindler’s List” is the most hopeful Holocaust film I’ve ever seen. I’ve always thought about the fact that because of my Jewish ethnicity, had I been there during that time period, I would’ve been right there with the rest of the Jews getting beaten and killed just like everyone else. But this film has shown me that I would’ve been proud to stand as a Jew and face the oncoming wrath, because despite the constant fear of death and despite the millions of Jews dying over the course of just a few years, these people never stopped hoping and praying for a brighter day. They stood together and they held firm. Some survived. Many didn’t.
But, unlike many films about this period of time, this one focuses on the miracle of the survivors rather than the tragedy of the slaughtered. It doesn’t ignore the death. Rather, it shows the hope in the fact that even if one persecuted Jew was to survive, nothing was in vain. Every life saved is an absolute miracle worth rejoicing over, and that’s a perspective on the Holocaust that I’ve never had before.
Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” is in theaters Dec. 7–13 for its 25th anniversary.
Hunter Johnson is a sophomore theatre major and an arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. He spends his time acting on stage, reading and watching Star Wars, and occasionally doing homework.