Something for Thursday: In remembrance of the Shoah

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Daughter has, this past week, watched Schindler’s List in school. I don’t know if this is because of Holocaust Remembrance Day, or if it’s a coincidence that their study of the WWII and the Holocaust period happened to line up with today. Schindler’s List is a favorite film of mine, a deeply human testament to the evil that can arise out of simple human nature and the good that can also arise out of the same thing. What begins for Schindler as an easy way to make money over time becomes a mission to save as many lives as he can, and he’s never even aware of the shift; there’s no moment when he sits down and says, “I am going to save them.” He just…does. By the time his mission has become humanitarian, all the Nazis around him are so utterly convinced of his skill as a businessman that it never even occurs to them that he’s not making money and that he is literally buying their lives.

Likewise, the film’s flip side is the staggering banality of its evil. Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), kills sometimes because he is enraged and sometimes because he clearly loathes the Jews, but other times, he is shown killing because he has nothing else to do. He’s up one morning and shooting Jews with his rifle and then he leans back to pop his spine a few times and then he shoots a few more and then he goes to the bathroom and so on. Much has been written over the years of how the Nazis managed to elevate their evil to industrial levels, and no scene establishes that in this movie quite so well as the scene when Goeth is ordered by Berlin to have his men dig up the mass graves and cremate the bodies instead. The shots here are jaw-dropping in their horrific nature: giant piles of bodies being set aflame, and a conveyor belt thing being used to drag them from the carts and dump them on the pyre. A horrified Oskar Schindler arrives on the scene, and Goeth turns to him and says in the tone of an annoyed and overworked office worker, “Can you believe this? As if I don’t have enough to do, they come up with this?” That’s when it hits me, in this movie: the Nazis didn’t just make one of the most egregious evils of all time into an industry. They made it people’s jobs. People showed up to work, punching a clock and bitching about their workloads at lunchtime, to kill six million Jews.

Here is the scene where the war has ended and Schindler, technically a fugitive, must go on the run. It’s my understanding that this did not happen in history. I don’t care.

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