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The Scroll

No. 100: Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg’s astoundingly stupid Holocaust melodrama

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1993, dir. Steven Spielberg. It would take a doctoral dissertation to elaborate on just how much is wrong with Steven Spielberg’s astoundingly stupid Holocaust melodrama, and, certainly, many dissertations have been written on the director’s films. Still, a highlight reel is in order: the baffling scene with the showers that turn out to be nothing more than showers; the soppy final scene in which actors and real-life survivors march together; the excessive use of Christian iconography; and the fact that the movie, really, is about a Christ-like gentile who saves a horde of hapless Jews who have no agency or resolve of their own. This makes Schindler’s List not just one of the most ham-handed Holocaust films ever made but also, peculiarly, one of the least Jewish in sensibility. And yet, for all of its wretched awfulness, we couldn’t help but include the film in our list; its massive visibility helped educate wide swaths of the population previously only dimly aware of the subject. It also drove Spielberg to invest his considerable resources in an infinitely more valuable kind of Holocaust-related filmmaking, namely the collection of videotaped testimonies by survivors, a singularly important historical enterprise. If the cost of these terrific resources is three hours of kitsch, death, and Liam Neeson, so be it.

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Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

Well, something, or someone, here is “astoundingly stupid”, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Spielberg’s film.

So what if it’s about a “Christ-like gentile”? That’s a valid criticism only if we assume that the purpose of the film was to disseminate a specifically Jewish message, which it was not. The film tells the story of a person’s ethical journey.

JCarpenter says:

At the moment, I’m having difficulty being able to view the whole list(the 100 films, not Schindler’s . . . ). Without having read each individual film commentary, which right now seems to be the only way to get through the list, initially I am pleased that you as a staff discussed criteria; yet I think that would be a daunting task until the question “who is a Jew/what is Jewish?” is definitively answered . . .

miha ahronovitz says:

What do you think Liel will say? I like Schindler list? Every politically correct Jew and sympathetic gentiles will say so. Liel will call it ” Steven Spielberg’s astoundingly stupid Holocaust melodrama” and stand out above the crowd. Who cares if it is true or not?

This why we all like Liel

Linda Schiffer says:

Please tell me if not for the Raul Walbergs and Oskar Schindlers, how many Jews would have had ANY outlet at all? The film clearly shows Schindler as a greedy, mercebary person who saves his Jews at first because they he needs them for his factory. It is also clear how the man managed to become aware of what his factory meant to the Jews who worked for him.
STUPID? Can you call the Holocaust itself stupid? Having family wiped out by the Nazis is not exactly what I would consider stupid. Brutal, inhumane, vicious, horrific and horrid perhaps – but certainly NOT stupid. As for the shower scene, those sent to the showers never knew if they were going to get wet or gassed.
You are correct in one sense: This film opened the eyes of many and made Spielberg realize the Jew inside of himself.
This film is neither stupid nor is it useless and if you feel heroic efforts towards people who truly had no place to go and no one to turn to, than I believe those in charge of Tablet need a lesson in humanity themselves.

Marc Grossberg says:

I must have missed what the definition is for a Jewish film. Enlighten me, please.
Are we talking subject matter, film making quality, impact. individual performances, etc?
However you slice it, Schnindler’s list is higher than 100. Shoah nuff.
Is the Godfather a Jewish movie?
Putting Gentlemen’s Agreement, the Garden of the Finzi Contini and My Favorite Year in the bottom 25 – can’t wait to see the ones that are better.

shushan says:

Sinai Commandoes starring robert fuller reminds one when israel was israel and not a country of hebrew speaking gentiles of today

allen maller says:

Your 100 Jewish films got off to a stupid start with Schindler’s List at the bottom. But then. in the tradition of critics who are often stupid, I should have expected it.

Levi Bookin says:

What is the definition of a Jewish film?

And the final scene is not just Kitsch, but anachronistic. The crowd strides off on a march of thousands of miles, singing a song that was not written until several decades later.

MethanP says:

While not my ideal Shoah film, remember it was made for a gentile audience. Non Jewish friends who knew almost nothing of the Holocaust were moved to tears. We don’t teach this in our schools so any effort should be welcomed. And at least this one wasn’t a comedy as two other films were.

What are you people drinking or smoking over there? “Schindler’s List” rate behind “Private Parts” and “The Bellboy” on a greatest Jewish films list? Despite whatever its minor imperfections, this is a film that had and continues to have a great impact on Holocaust education and awareness. You only end up looking like idiots when you make a list like this. I can’t wait to see how ridiculous the rest of this compendium will be.

My browser must be broken, it says this is tablet, but this pointless contrarianism means this has to be Slate, right?

J.A. Suffman says:

It troubles me that this person looks at “Shindler’s List” in such a manner. He appears to be, in my estimation, a neo-nazi. G-D help you.

Howard Dee says:

This guy is a true “AH”. How could you be stupid enough to publish his crap?

Ben Kaufman says:

Okay,someone has to be the first to complain, and I volunteer!
Have you not seen My Favorite Year at least 50 times and not thought it’s absolutely everything a Jewish movie would want to say? How, in anyone’s mind, can this film be this far down on the list?? And to think: the comments didn’t even mention Lou Jacobi (his great lines: “Did you schtup her?”) or the should-have-been Academy Award winning role of Laine Kazan as Benji’s mother.(“Welcome to our lovely chapeau.”) With money and a studio behind it – and with this cast, this should have been a hit movie – but it’s one that got lost.
People, get this movie – find it, and watch it – over and over. It’s Jewish, it’s New York, it’s the 1950′s – it’s the best!

tantelaeh says:

Kitsch is what you think Schindler’s List is. lHow young are you and how removed from the real Holocaust. The refugees filled our house and told stories that were just like these. Whether they spoke French, or Yiddish, German, we understood their suffering and their aloneness. Couples, families, individuals heard and felt what they could not assimilate what had befallen them. As the war raged in Europe we maintained an open house and a place they could feel safe.
They stayed for a few weeks and then the next people arrived.
You think the movie was kitsch. It is not. But them your author is too young and too inexperienced to know how it really was.

Barbara says:

Thanks to those of you who expressed what I couldn’t regarding “Schindler’s List”. I couldn’t find the words. If these young people writing for the Tablet can’t see the importance of the film, that is very sad. People in my family perished in the Holocaust. I want the world to know who was a righteous Gentile and who were vicious criminals.

While there may be much wrong with “Schindler’s List”, calling it “astoundingly stupid” is … well, astoundingly stupid. It is so far from “one of the most ham-handed Holocaust films ever made” (seriously, have you seen ALL of the Holocaust films made? This is one of the best; let’s get serious about some truly bad ones.) that it puts your whole list comments into doubt. People were profoundly moved by this film – sure, ultimately it was about a non-Jew, a righteous Gentile, with the Jews playing secondary roles, but – seriously, so what? Great filming, a great story, a powerful ending (were you not moved?), excellent use of black and white with touches of colour, deeply emotional – and it literally changed lives. A Swiss bank guard reportedly decided to “blow the whistle” on Swiss Nazi bank accounts after seeing this film. Very few films have had that impact.

Mr. Leibovitz,
Having Hunter S. Thompson as a journalism role model is just fine, but I do not recommend using drugs like he did. You must be on drugs to write your review of “Schindler’s List.” If you aren’t high, something else has to be going on with you. It’s astounding how full of hate you are in your opinion of this masterpiece. Did Spielberg refuse an interview with you? It certainly seems so.

I’m a fair-minded Holocaust survivor’s daughter. So, in that scene where Liam Neeson starts blubbering, “A watch, I could have bought another person with this watch,” while the Jews look on with benevolent compassion–well, in my house, we roll our eyes. But watching the little boy dive into a full latrine to hide…my father did that too, and seeing it in this movie made me cry. “Schindler’s List” may have some schmaltzy flaws, but it is still an extraordinary movie, capturing one particular facet of the Holocaust experience.

Daniel Golden says:

I was rather put off by Liel Leibovitz comment about Shindler’s List. I thought that Tikun Olam meant forgoing such rash criticism because it brought the Name into disrepute.

Mary Rubert says:

It was a great film.

kiefman says:

The remarks made in the article are correct, in my opinion. Thanks!

brahmsian says:

Schindler is not shown as christlike in the film – he is shown as a nazi party member, a war profiteer, a giver of bribes, a lover of luxury – all of which he was in real life, and as he is shown in the book on which the film is based. HE eventually DID risk his life – but that was a transformation. The Jews actually managed the factory – ISTR that being shown in the film. There are kitschy bits – its spielberg, not an art film. I found them pretty effective though.

ALOHA:….. what an IDIOTIC review!… as a jew with NO living relatives left in europe, i found this film AMAZING!… your anti-christian rant, though i sometimes do the same, is totally out of order!…. the viciousness of the nazis, in point-blank shooting of that girl, to numerous other scenes, was heart-wrenching. Plus many non-jews helped them during the holocaust. I found your review pathetic! Now i must read 99 more!

The so-called review of Shindler’s List is
written by an obnoxious, frustrated writer
(Lebofitz–the misspelling is intentional.)
Spielberg’s contribution to Jewish history as well as Jewish causes is well known. What has Lebofitz contributed, but an evil
analysis of a great work of art by an
equally great director. We have all heard
of Spielberg (and for good reason). Before
this “simple” analysis by Lebofitz, I never
heard of her (sounds more like a frustrated
woman). I won’t bother reading anymore of Lebofitz’s garbage.

Michaelira says:

This stupid, mean-spirited review of a great movie instantly makes the entire project worthless drek. Congratulations, you worthless P.O.S.

balint says:

the counterfeiters?

vernue says:

L.L. always strains my limits in the area of ahavat yisrael. a doctoral dissertation could be written on a number of his articles that are inane, inaccurate, shallow, ill-considered or simply irritating. One small example from his smug assault on the movie Schindler’s List: either L.L has never visited Birkenau or did not understand what he was looking at. Those who were selected for life were conducted to a building called “The Sauna” where they were herded into a large room with showerheads set into the ceiling that were – guess what – showerheads. I have heard a survivor recounting an experience so similar to that scene in Schindler’s List that I have no doubt S.S. heard something similar and incorporated it into his film. Also at Majdanek, there were working showers in a room adjacent to the gas chambers, which were used both on those selected for life and for death. One can argue about whether Schindler was an opportunist or a saint or both, but it’s hard to see him as a Christ-like figure in the movie: JC neither fornicated like a rabbit, nor hobnobbed with Romans, nor was overly concerned about turning a buck. Nor was he concerned with saving Jewish lives – unless one uses “saved” in a different context. And in any case, that was Paul, not JC. S.L. is a powerful and even shattering movie, flawed but not as much as L.L.(oops, there goes my ahavat yisrael), an indispensable teaching aid when taking groups to Krakow, and a must see for Jew and non-Jew alike.

Juli Bobman says:

wow, between the list of “100 greatest Jewish Movies” and then the “best Christmas songs written by Jews” I am trying to figure out what kind of Ivy league, New York, self hating Jews are in charge of this magazine. most of the movies that are in this list lack Jewish content, and for the list of christmas/ winter music, it begs to ask the question; why don’t Jewish artists/ musicians compose beautiful Chanukah music that is more commercial. c’mon, not all your readers really want to read your snarky attitudes towards meaningful Jewish culture. also, a few movies you omitted, “The Debt” and “Sarah’s” key. Both are way more Jewish than most of the offerings on your list.

So every Tablet post will now require use of the phrase “ham-handed”?

Liel is as bad a film critic as he is a novel critic.

Truth is he didn’t like Schindler’s list because it told the truth about Jewish powerlessness. The truth hurt Liel’s narcissistic ego.

Also missed the film Shoah and The Pawnbroker.

The Battle of Algiers is in no way a Jewish film.

Evelinsche says:

Shoah was on The List, as was The Sorrow and the Pity, which I had to look for very closely. I was waiting for the end of the list to see how Schindler’s List could be at the dead end of anything topped by E.T. What a waste of our time.

Michael says:

Putting the movie at 100 (instead of 87 or 98)the author is making a point of how bright he is to recognize the poor quality of the film. The trouble is is really shows what a pompous idiot he is. And how unqualified he is as a movie critic.

judy Weinberger says:

what kind of stupid comment did you make about Schlinder’s List, one of the best films I have ever seen. I can’t believe you can say such a thing. It was honest and was told in a very real and uncensored way. What is your problem?

Loretta in Indiana says:

I went to Poland a few years ago and visited both Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Schindler factory on Lipowa street in Krakow. Guess which site moved me to uncontrolled sobbing? Guess which site left me unmoved, after seeing artifacts from the victims and walking thru the barracks & the crematoria?

Oskar Schindler was a Lamed-Vavnik, one of those 36 Righteous Men, without whom G-d will destroy the universe. I read the book and have seen the movie dozens of times. What galls me is that the Kenneally book is labeled “Fiction”, something which the deniers will use to their advantage when the Holocaust is just a speck of historical memory.

The most intense scenes in the movie: when the one-armed factory worker comes to ‘bless’ Schindler during his lunch… Schindler was embarrassed by it all, yet the next day, this one-armed man was murdered while shoveling snow…the beginning of Schindler’s awakening/redemption.

I am actually shocked and offended by the writer’s comments about Schindler’s List. Aside from being a true story (sorry that real life isn’t as exciting at E.T.), this film has impacted Jews around the world. Whether you enjoyed the film or not, its impact has been immeasurable…and doesn’t the fact that it was nominated for an Oscar for best picture mean that some people who might actually know a thing or two about film thought it was a pretty good movie?

adina kfir says:

La Vita e Bella, Life Is Beautiful how could it not be on top of the list!!

The Syrian Bride. an Israeli film. very good.

bernard yablin(MD) says:

I would rate “Schindler’s List” as more Jewish than “Casablanca”

Fred Diamond says:

Calling Schindler’s List, recogized as one of the most important and impactful mainstream films ever made, astoundingly stupid, is disappointing and…astoundingly stupid. Congratulations to Mr. Leibovitz for taking a big stand.

I am searching for a Jewish film that was made in South America some years ago about young Geman Jewish women who emigrated to SA (Argentina I think) on the understanding it was to a family but infact they were ‘groomed’ and put to work in brothels by their fellow Jews! I saw the film one night about 20 years ago late on BBC. But BBC cant help me now. The title had 2 words which were both the same. Thank you

“…the baffling scene with the showers that turn out to be nothing more than showers; the soppy final scene in which actors and real-life survivors march together; the excessive use of Christian iconography; and the fact that the movie, really, is about a Christ-like gentile who saves a horde of hapless Jews who have no agency or resolve of their own.” Exactly.

the baffling scene with the showers that turn out to be nothing more than showers; the soppy final scene in which actors and real-life survivors march together; the excessive use of Christian iconography; and the fact that the movie, really, is about a Christ-like gentile who saves a horde of hapless Jews who have no agency or resolve of their own.

A terrible, terrible film. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you. Except maybe to specifically point out he idiotic and insulting trope played by Ben Kingsley. One day maybe some great filmmaker will create Mila 18 and we’ll have some
thing to say..

ian crerar says:

The film critic David Walsh characterized Spielberg as too “comfortable” to make truly great movies. I would characterize Spielberg’s movies as yearning for acceptance. I believe this yearning inhibits his his film-making: always the craftsman, never the great artist. Schindler’s List is a case in point. If Spielberg were to film “Heart of Darkness”, it would not end in “ the horror” but in a stand-in Indiana Jones thwarting all those rotten colonial exploiters.The holocaust was mainly about industrial-scale murder. The focus on a Christian savior hijacks this focus.

I did not like this movie because it’s somehow feels staged, artificial. As much as I care about this topic, I could not accept it.

One of my favorite movies ( documentariy) about Jews and war is ” Into the arms of strangers” or another movie” The boat is full”

ernieschu says:

“one of the least Jewish in sensibility…” I don’t know if you’re serious…with your # 100 ranking next to the drek of # 99??
Assuming seriousness, you are being particularly unbending about the film and Schindler himself. In retrospect, at least, the List’s survivors whose comments I’ve heard spoke so positively of him, while recognizing that he was imperfect in an insane time. I find fault with most of your comments. I did enjoy the podcast of you with A.O. Scott, et al.

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No. 100: Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg’s astoundingly stupid Holocaust melodrama

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