Schindlers List

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There is now a fairly large body of cinematic depictions of the Holocaust. These films supplement what has become an enormous body of scholarly literature that has grown up around this dismal subject. The best of these films, in my opinion, fill an important need and, because of the nature of the medium, accomplish something that words printed on a page cannot. They give the modern viewer a sense of the sheer horror of what the Holocaust was and they do so in a direct way that has a visceral impact, a type of impact that more scholarly and purely verbal treatments of the subject cannot have. Two of the best Holocaust films, in the opinion of this reviewer, are Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and Heinz Schirk’s The Wannsee Conference.

This essay’s purpose is to review Schindler’s List but I would like to use The Wannsee Protocol, a vastly different kind of film, as a kind of foil to set off the cinematic techniques used in Schindler’s List. Spielberg’s film is something that might be called a panoramic view of the Holocaust. In it we see how the lives of thousands of people were affected by this particular piece of the Nazi party. We see not only how it affected the Jews of Crackow (and, by extension, the Jews of Europe taken as a whole), but also how it affected the lives of their Nazi tormentors as well--the character of Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow labor camp, is unforgettable. Schindler’s List is history writ large and history written with a moral purpose. Pursuant to that moral purpose Spielberg uses cinematic technique both to dramatize the story and to rivet the audience’s attention on scenes and details that the director considers important.

The Wannsee Conference is something completely different. The movie is a reenactment of a what was essentially a business meeting. On January 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, the number two man in the SS behind Himmler, chaired a meeting attended by top functionaries of numerous agencies of the Nazi...
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