On Tuesday, assuming all goes well, you will have watched Schindler’s List, heard from survivor Rena Finder, and toured Auschwitz-Birkenau virtually. I want to thank you in advance (as of this writing) for your respectful response to Wojtek Smolen. And thank you also in advance for your questions for Rena; I’m excited to get you her answers later this week.
One note I do want to make: I have tremendous respect for the array of reactions that I anticipate you will have in response to the film, hearing someone who survived what you saw on the screen (and more), and then “visiting” the site where some of the worst atrocities in the Holocaust, let alone the worst atrocities of humanity, occurred. Some of you will be emotional while others among you will want to reflect and digest individually what you saw and heard. There is no "right" response, but I have complete respect for you and your peers as you respond to the film with maturity and sensitivity.
Now, I'd like to hear your overall reaction to the film, Mrs. Finder’s story, and the virtual tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau. You are invited to take your remarks in whatever direction you wish. Know too that we will talk about the experience overall in class. Moreover, there is a boatload of literature on Oskar Schindler and the events described in the film; let me know if you would like to read some of that material.
That said, a few questions/issues I ask you to ponder and discuss in your post:
- When Schindler talks to Amon Goeth, the commandant at Plaszow (played by Ralph Fiennes in the film), about being able to “pardon” people, what does he mean? What is Schindler’s underlying view of power, in your opinion? What is Goeth’s view of power?
- The film depicts innumerable terrible events, placing people in desperate and horrific situations. Some people took on roles that saved their lives; others refused to do so. Still others avoided risk, while various individuals chose to take tremendous risks to save themselves and others. We see compliant workers in this film, black market smugglers, Jews turned “Judenrat”—a police force staffed by Jews but working for the Nazis within the ghetto that could move you from the “bad” line to the “good” line, etc. People crossed plenty of moral and ethical lines in the film. Where would you draw the line? What is the line that cannot be crossed? What action can you NOT take in order to save your own life?
- What made Schindler take the actions he took? Why did he seem to “change”? Was he heroic? In other words, how and why did he shift from being a “bystander” to an “upstander”?
- Listening to a survivor like Rena speaking about experiences she endured more than 77 years ago is remarkable and often unforgettable. (How much will you remember 77 years from now?!) Know that Rena, now age 93 (b. 1929), is currently recovering from a broken leg and won’t be able to speak with you directly thanks to that injury and concerns about COVID exposure. So we are left watching her on film. What do you think is the value of hearing her memories and reflections in any medium? What will be the effect of the lack of living Holocaust survivors in a few years? ☹
- Auschwitz-Birkenau as a place survived the war but we are left to imagine what happened there, whether we visit virtually (as you did today), see images in a book or film, or hear about it from others. What is the value of “visiting”? Is there such a thing as “the power of place”? How does “visiting” a place like Auschwitz-Birkenau affect the depth of your understanding of this history? And given the challenges of “preserving” a place like this, what is essential to preserve (if one has to make choices about it)?
Beyond that, I’d love to hear anything else you have to say about (a) the film, (b) Rena’s testimony, and (c) the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and get your overall reaction to the experience.