posts 1 - 15 of 18
Boston, US
Posts: 288

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.

Boston, Massachusetts , US
Posts: 17

This scene in the movie is incredibly powerful. It was something that I latched onto while watching the movie. Schindler is trying to say that power does not come from one's ability to cause terror or hurt those that are weaker than you. He is saying that it comes from your ability to help people. Through this scene, I see Schindler's view of power as the ability to help people even when it puts you in danger to do so. Goeth sees power as something that comes from being able to control people.

Thinking through this question I realize that I don't know the answer to it. I would like to think that I would not value my life over someone else. I would like to think that I would never harm anyone else, especially an innocent person, in an effort to save myself. I however feel that in a life or death situation I and everyone else would do whatever it takes to save themselves. It seems to me that it is just human nature to value one's own life higher than the lives of those around you. Rationally I want to say that harming others is never ok but I don't think that I can say that and truly believe that anyone would be able to live by it fully.

This is the biggest question in this amazing story. How can a man that starts only wanting to make as much money as he can eventually save so many people? Did he want to save Jews from the beginning or did he want to give back to them after they helped him so much? Was he sick of the suffering that he had seen these people go through? Did he think of himself as some kind of god, a savior of sorts there to help bring these people out of their suffering, or was he just a good man that decided to risk everything to try and help people because he knew that what he was seeing was wrong and he knew that he had the power to help as many people as possible? I can't answer any of these questions. I don't think that anyone really can. That does not however take away from the things that he did. At a certain level, it does not matter why he took the actions that he did because what really matters is that he did it.

Reading about the Holocaust or watching movies might teach you but they will only be stories. As real as anything in History. They will be intangible. Hearing it from a living and breathing person it suddenly becomes so much more real. It suddenly does not seem like ancient history. Without a person telling the story the only thing that makes it more recent than anything else is a number so large that it is hard to comprehend. I fear that when the last Holocaust survivors die a piece of history will die with it in some ways. Nothing can change the past but the ability to teach it and learn from the past can be dampened when this inevitably happens. It is sad that future generations, perhaps some that have already been born who might have been able to meet a survivor, might never get that chance.

It is sad that we were only able to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau virtually, but it is still important to visit it in any way possible. It is possible that we might never get to see it again. Being able to see it at all is a privilege and its ability to convey every emotion present is amazing. Visiting might not make you know any more facts about the Holocaust but walking on the same paths as those that were imprisoned there is an amazing thing. It will eventually fall so far into disrepair that it will not be able to be recovered. I believe that because of how futile it is to try and save it the energy put towards those efforts might be better spent. Keep the entrance. The foreboding brick checkpoint that was the entrance point to the place where so many died. Keep the fence with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" perhaps the most ironic thing at the camps. Let everything else fall it does not change what happened or people's ability to see the destroyed gas chambers. Let nature take its course and as the Holocaust falls farther and farther into the past let the place that caused the pain of so many crumble so it will never cause pain again.

Boston, MA
Posts: 27
  • This movie was so incredibly powerful, and this entire day will be an experience I remember forever. The scene where Schindler talked to Goeth was also incredibly powerful, and left me with a lot of questions. I’m not sure exactly what he meant by “pardoning” people, but I think it may mean something about being the “bigger person” and choosing peace, but Goeth’s view of what power meant was so twisted it was lost on him. I think Schindler’s view of power was being the person able to choose peace, and not cause extra pain even in a time when it would be all too easy for someone with the power in a situation to ignore what was happening, or join in and cause pain. Goeth’s view of power was fear. He thought fear was power, and he viewed himself as gaining power through hurting others, and causing fear.
  • Honestly, I’m kind of stumped on the second question about where I would draw the line. I would like to say that I would draw the line at hurting, or oppressing, others for my own life, but I’m honestly not sure. I don’t think I’m equipped to answer this question, because I wasn’t alive during this time, or have ever lived in a place of active war. I think times of war, and times of oppression, cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do to protect themselves or others close to them, forcing them to throw away their morals and their own version of these “lines.
  • I think Schindler took the actions he took after he saw the girl in the red jacket’s body. I think she was a metaphor for all the suffering and death he was seeing, and that he was complicit in, and that he finally realized that he was contributing to this death by just standing idly by, and profiting off of it. I think he was being a decent human being, instead of heroic, by no longer standing by, and finally deciding to do all that he could to help.
  • Seeing Rena speak was very moving, and incredibly valuable. I think it’s important for us now to be hearing these testimonies and experiences, because without them it’s easy to think this was long ago history, instead of something which happened less than a lifetime ago for many. The effect of the lack of living Holocaust survivors in a few years is that many people will again sink into the trap of thinking this was distant, and not caused by things that can be seen in almost any society at any time, like hatred. That’s why it’s important to continue to share these stories, and keep recordings and videos of these testimonies, so people cannot forget.
  • The value of visiting a place is putting a concrete place to the things we have heard about. The power of place is a very real thing, and it reminds us that something did happen, right where we are standing, and though it may be distant in years, it is not distant in that moment. Virtually visiting Auschwitz gave me a deeper understanding of this history, since I have read so much about the Holocaust, but I have never really seen any place connected to it in depth. It reminds you it did happen, here, and that it cannot be forgotten. I think what is essential to preserve is the actual land, and even though some buildings may degrade throughout the years, the actual land will always hold the stories, and it should be a place for remembrance and learning.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 22
  • I feel as if I don’t fully understand what both of their views of power are, but Schindler’s view of power seems to be about being able to get what you want with as little damage as possible, while Goeth’s view on power was more of a complete authority over everyone and everything.
  • This is a very hard question to answer, but I think I would draw the line at putting someone else’s life at risk in order to protect mine. Hopefully we never are put into situations where we have to think like this, but I wouldn’t want to live knowing that I had caused the death of another innocent person because the guilt would probably eat at me from the inside, and it just goes against my personal and moral beliefs.
  • Schindler seemed to change when he witnessed the liquidation of the ghetto, especially after seeing the girl in the red jacket run into the house to hide. It seemed to have a moment of realization and it seemed to hit his emotions intensely, especially after seeing her dead. I believe he ended up being heroic, seeing that he did save the lives of hundreds of Jews and he had managed to make sure that they all were at least doing well under his supervision. He did start off as a member of the Nazi party, so I guess it was character development, he went from sitting on the side to involving himself and physically stopping many things to save people. What he ended up doing was still very heroic and I don’t think many others would have done the same.
  • I think that seeing and hearing Holocaust survivors like Rena makes the entire catastrophe more real, especially because we weren’t alive during the time it took place and it might seem distanced. By seeing and listening to the stories of these people we are able to realize that the Holocaust really wasn’t that long ago and there are people today who could tell you about just how things were.
  • I think that visiting places like Auschwitz-Birkenau is very beneficial because it allows us to be able to see exactly where the things we learn about took place. There really ‘the power of the place’ because being able to see the barracks, gas chambers, and other places really made the whole existence of the Holocaust a lot more real for me. It allows you to have a moment where you can look at a building and go ‘Oh, thousands of people were killed in this very spot’ and everything just becomes so much more real. I believe that when preserving places like there, it might be most important to keep the areas where prisoners were kept and terrorized. It might sound like a lot but in a way it serves as remembrance for what these innocent people were forced to go through.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22

Schindler’s view of power (at least, the one he presents to Goeth) is that of being “over” the traditional power structures of the state. The example he provides, of an emperor having the power to forgive a thief, means that the emperor’s word is ultimate: having the power to forgive means that one’s own word is above that of a court or the law. Goeth, contrastingly, exerts power through mindless, meaningless violence. He’s not truly above the law, since the law does not prohibit and indeed encourages his brutality. Rather than an agent of individual will, Goeth is nothing more than a well-paid hired killer who takes far too much sadistic enjoyment in his work. This reminds me of a book I read recently, in which the author suggested that, in contrast to the usual concerns considering the death penalty as being an example of hubris (man taking what should be God’s power, etc.), it is forgiveness that is the true expression of hubris. Who could give us the power to forgive a Nazi war criminal, whose victims are unable to forgive themselves? Forgiveness may at times be a far more potent tool than violence.

The moral boundaries of someone working for self-preservation are difficult to establish. A group of sailors in 1884, starving and lost at sea, cannibalized a cabin boy to keep themselves alive. While what they did was horrific, in the circumstances they were put in it might also be understandable to many people. In my opinion, it’s counterproductive to focus too much on these people, as the choices they are given are not real ones, and more attention should be given to those that put them in such a situation, and on whom the blame for their actions should really lie. I don’t know if I could say that there is any one action that is “too far”. I suppose I would think that it’s not up to me, and I have no place to judge one who is put in such an unimaginable situation.

Schindler, however, was not in such a desperate situation, and so his actions and motivations can be analyzed more critically. Throughout the first half of the film, he is depicted essentially as a careless parasite who profits from the labor of others whom he pays nothing and frequently takes advantage of. For a long time, I was hard-pressed to be convinced that Schindler protected the Jewish workers for anything else but his own profits. However, by the end of the film, once he commits to spending his fortune to rescue the Jews from death camps, including children and the elderly whom he would certainly not need for labor, and once he establishes a factory dedicated to producing nothing useful, I changed my opinion of him. Even so, watching as he dined with the SS while the Jews were suffering, and seeing him look down on the liquidation of the ghetto on his leisurely horseback ride made me angry. I think that ultimately his guilt for standing by while this was happening convinced him to take action,

which can be most poignantly seen as he sobbed for the people he was unable to save due to his own materialism.

However, as Schindler said, “Don’t thank me, thank yourselves.” Putting all of the focus on someone who, though he did undoubtedly heroic things, ultimately had little risk to himself compared to the Jews he helped, and it’s on their incredible struggles I believe the spotlight should be on. This is why hearing from survivors like Rena is so important, and why it’s tragic that there are so few of them left. I believe the emotional impact of hearing these stories told by those who experienced them firsthand is very valuable. While these people are still able to tell their histories, I believe that we should do as much as we can to capture them on film and audio, although forcing them to recall such traumatic events again and again could also be unfair to them.

I believe that physically being in a place is fundamentally different from hearing about it, seeing pictures, and even videos. Walking through the same gate that so many people did would be, at least personally, extremely impactful. I believe that it’s most important to preserve the evidence of the horrors that happened at Auschwitz: a physical testament to the lives of those who died there. This is also why signs, plaques, and markers are essential: the everyday person walking by may not realize the significance of what they see. Visiting a place makes our experience with it from a theoretical one to a more personal one, and allows us to better empathize with the untold suffering that took place there.

caramel washington
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 15

Overall, this past day was completely inspiring and completely devastating. The sequence of the day just made everything seem so real: a movie that depicted graphic scenes of horror that seem to be completely unbelievable, then a survivor verifying many aspects of the movie’s plot, then witnessing the actual buildings where these tragedies took place.

My responses to the questions posed are as follows:

  1. I thought that Schindler’s comment about power being about having the ability to kill someone, but choosing not to, mainly served as an attempt to stop the senseless violence. He was trying to play into Amon Goeth’s need for control, and by convincing him that taking someone’s life was not the greatest show of power, he hoped to save some innocent people’s lives. The comparison to kings of medieval times adds a sense of legitimacy and prestige to his point. I think that overall Goeth views power very similar to Schindler: the ability to choose if someone lives or dies is undeniably one way to control a group. However, because he does not view his prisoners as human beings, he feels no moral qualms against taking their lives.

  1. If I were in a situation similar to one in the film, I think I would be willing to cross any line that would only put myself at a fundamental risk, but not one where I would be actively harming others. I would, for example, likely try to hide, but I would never want to escape if I knew that it would lead to my fellow inmates being shot. I would be willing to engage in black market trades, which would potentially benefit those around me, but I don’t think I could ever work to enforce the Nazi’s policies. Of course, I have never been in a situation at all like this, and ideally I never will be, so I don’t truly understand how witnessing and experiencing the horrors of humanity can change what a person is willing to do.

  1. It seemed to me that at the beginning of the film, Schindler truly was only interested in his business for the money. He chose a company that could aid the war effort so that he could get the most profit, and originally only hired Jewish slaves as workers because they were a little bit cheaper than Poles. However, I think his motives completely shift when he befriends Itzhak Stern, and starts to understand that jews are valuable contributors, as well as human beings. The film left me slightly unsure of his overall character, but from how Rena described him, I think he genuinely was heroic. He went from being a person whose only goal was to make as much personal profit as possible, to a person going broke simply to save the lives of others. Rena describes him as a person who cared about his workers, who looked after them, and gave them hope. I think this definitely qualifies someone as an upstander.

  1. I think hearing her memories is valuable in classroom environments for sure, because nothing compares in terms of bringing us face to face with the realities of the horrors that occurred. Her story in particular, and the way she was able to tell it, was just so vivid and was enough to make anyone believe her wholeheartedly. The amount that she was able to recall 77 years after the fact is absolutely astounding, and she was able to describe it to us like it was yesterday. As Wojtek said, survivor testimony was and continues to be one of the most important ways that people are able to learn about this history, or uncover new details. However, all current records are slowly fading, as survivors grow older and as buildings start to crumble. I think that if the Holocaust slowly fades from the collective minds of humanity, it has the potential to be extremely dangerous. Despite an abundance of heart wrenching survivor testimony, physical ruins, and remaining records, there is a small but growing movement of people who flat out deny that the holocaust ever occurred. This sector will undoubtedly grow without living people to carry on their stories. Additionally, the old adage “never again” in reference to preventing future genocide might become increasingly important. After all, the fears of an “again” will definitely fade if the consequences of the first instance are completely forgotten.

  1. I think there is absolutely a value of actually being in a physical space. You can spend all of your time reading about the Holocaust, or watching videos of the space, or even doing a virtual tour, but actually walking on the same ground, breathing the same air, and existing in the same spot makes people feel so much more connected to the past. Even though Auschwitz–Birkenau doesn’t look much like it did back then, there is clearly a feeling in the place of the seriousness of it, of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and I imagine being there in person we would feel it even more. I think the most essential parts to preserve of this history, if possible, are any records. Keeping information alive prevents people from ignoring the past, and ideally, it stops them from forgetting it. Additionally, consulting the survivors and their descendants about which aspects of the camp carry the most emotional significance would certainly be a worthwhile pursuit.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 21

I found the field trip very powerful overall. Dedicating an entire day to the topic of the Holocaust and having the combined experience of watching the incredible film Schindler’s List, listening to a survivor, and taking a virtual tour of Auschwitz was meaningful and I definitely took a lot away.

The conservation between Schindler and Goeth about “pardoning” people was very impactful. Goeth believes that having power means having ultimate control and thus not be able to face consequences of any kind. In this case, he thinks it is the ability to kill people without justification and have no repercussions. I think that Schindler’s view of power is how it can be used to help. Although you could harm people with that kind of power, he talks about how it is more gratifying to just arbitrarily pardon people. I think that he believes power should not be used in a despicable way like Goeth uses it.

I want to say that I would draw the line as far as protecting on my own life at a point where I am jeopardizing someone else’s life instead. Selflessness is an important moral to have. That being said, I will never be able to understand the situation that Jews were in and what may have led them to cross moral and ethical lines. I don’t think that any of the people who became black market smugglers or members of the Judenrat had intentions before the war to defy morals like that. In a position of extreme danger, it’s hard to know how easy it would be for me to stay true to the morals I say I live by right now.

It is not entirely clear to me what led Schindler to decide to act to save so many people after originally desiring nothing but profit. In the film, there is a clear change in his motives surrounding the girl in the red jacket, some of the only color in the mostly black and white film. He appears to have seen the young girl experiencing such tragedy as the ghetto was being liquified and suddenly had a desire to help. I think that the use of the girl in the red jacket is to make it clear that Schindler’s motives changed, but I am not sure if that is exactly why, it’s all speculation. He shifted from being a bystander, which was actually enabling the Nazis, to an upstander that saved 1,200 Jews. The story is pretty incredible and although it should be acknowledged that he had the ability to make such a heroic move because he was not in immediate danger, he ultimately did an amazing thing.

Hearing Rena and Holocaust survivors in general speak is immeasurably important. While watching a movie like the one we watched today and reading books, etc. is helpful and moving, I do not think they can compare to hearing from someone who directly experienced the Holocaust. Listening to Rena talk about her experience, even if not in person, is so impactful because it brings life and humanity to something that otherwise feels like a piece of history. In the coming years when there are no Holocaust survivors left, I think the importance of continuing to share the stories that were shared by survivors before they died is of the utmost importance. We will definitely feel the impact without having anyone left who can speak directly from personal experience, but their descendants and stories will live on.

I 100% believe in the power of a place. Similar to hearing peoples’ stories directly from them, there is an element of understanding history that is difficult to do without physically seeing it. There is something mental about being able to piece everything together and grasp the context of something that happened if you can be at a place and imagine the event taking place where you are standing. Although I am not sure exactly what is possible to preserve, at Auschwitz and historical sites around the world, I think we should do our best to preserve whatever is possible. As I said, I think that the power of a place is very real, so preserving these places to make it possible to understand history better is very important as future generations grow up learning.

Overall, although hearing Rena speak and visiting Auschwitz in person would have been ideal, the field trip was still very powerful and I am grateful to have such great resources that make things like this possible.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 22

Schindler’s conversation with Amon Goeth was, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating scenes in the entire movie. Schindler’s suggestion of “pardon” seemed like his attempt to influence Goeth’s impulsive and savage tendencies towards the prisoners within the camp. From my perspective, Schindler’s speech put an emphasis on the importance of restraint in relation to power- that one can’t exist in the absence of the other. Goeth’s heinous lack of restraint, therefore, wasn’t an equivalent to power and justice, but was rather a cowering exemplification of unruly leadership. True power lies in mercy, having the ability to alter someone’s life, and still choosing not to. Goeth’s perception, however, couldn’t have been farther away from this interpretation. Power, in his eyes, is exerting as much force as you can muster, and inciting fear among subjects as to maintain order. Regardless of what advice Schindler had offered to him, Goeth continued to carry this rationale throughout the course of the camps.

It’s impossible to truly know what I would do if I were put in the same situation as the victims of the Holocaust. It is a scenario that simply can't be envisioned from a realistic standpoint, given the terror, the horror, the fear. But it’s also a scenario where there can’t be any judgment to anyone for the choice that they made. I think even attempting to categorize the victims’ decisions as either “moral” or “immoral” is completely unfair, as they hadn’t done anything to provoke or cause the situation at hand. Each and every individual was merely trying to stay alive in any way possible. Trying to think of what I would do, I don’t know if I would be able to decide the fates of those around me, but I also can’t fathom the sheer desperation and the fear that I would be experiencing. I partially believe that my decisions would be relative to who and how many people I’d be protecting. I

To me, I think Schindler’s compliance with the Nazi Party never involved an agreement over the prospect of Jewish people, but rather it was completely transactional. As a very greedy businessman, he initially saw the war situation as an opportunity to make himself a large sum of money in a relatively short period of time. With all of the stress revolving around the world's climate, Schindler knew that he was sitting on a goldmine if he recruited Jews to work and labor in his factories free of cost. And while there undoubtedly isn’t much justice in that decision, Schindler hadn’t actually adapted the philosophy of the Nazi Party, where Jews were seen as inhumane, nor had he really estimated the extent of the Nazis' ruthlessness. Reality only sunk in for him when the violence of the Nazis became undeniable, and he began to witness unspeakable acts committed by his so-called “friends,” starting with the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto, where people were being outright murdered in the streets. Slowly, the more he witnessed within the camps, the wider his eyes became, and the more he had shifted into a mindset of wanting to help.

Throughout the movie, I was contemplating whether Schindler was a hero or not. Even he himself was struggling with that question, as the film concluded with his haunting sobs of how he could’ve saved more people. In the eyes of those he helped, Schindler was undoubtedly a savior. He helped them escape their seemingly inevitable fates within the horrid concentration camps, and he offered them a chance to have futures. But it’s worth wondering if these acts were heroic, or if they were just the basic principles of humanity. Can you be a hero because you didn’t actively ship people to their deaths? In the end, though, I think that regardless of how you want to label it, Schindler’s acts were extraordinary. It’s easy to just say that he was rich and powerful, and that he could afford to save some people and should’ve saved more people sooner, but the reality of doing that is much more complex. Schindler wasn’t just dealing with a group of oppressors, he was dealing with an entire system of oppression. Had he been anything less than complimentary to the SS, he would’ve been suspected, sniffed out, and likely jailed or killed. The situation he was in was incredibly delicate, to the point where one wrong move would have resulted in everyone’s demise. And yet despite the wide margin of error, he still managed to rescue people. It shouldn't be important that Schindler be labeled a hero or not. All that is important is the outcome, that there were people who lived, that there were survivors who lived on to tell their stories and spring new generations of Jewish families.

Anybody with interest has the ability to walk over to a local library, browse through the history section, and find tens, if not hundreds of books describing the events of World War II and the Holocaust. You can find dates, facts, names, laws that were passed- all of which are essential to understanding the big picture of the war and how the genocide was carried out. But I think to really grasp the war’s elements of humanity, or its lack thereof, it's best found through the recollections of those who had experienced it firsthand. To hear such raw and vulnerable testimony from Rena, who witnessed the atrocities of the Nazis through her very own eyes, it’s not only incredibly moving, it also keeps the memory of the war and those who suffered alive. I also think it allows us to draw parallels to the injustices taking place in the modern day

Without the presence of the remaining Holocaust survivors, I think that there is always a fear of erasure, especially in the era of modern technology, where bigotry and hatred can reach large amounts of people within seconds. But nevertheless, I have faith that the world will continue remembering the events of the war and honoring those who had fallen.

Anything in history must maintain a constant memory in order to be kept alive and withstand the test of time. The most potent event could have taken place at any point in history, but without a vessel of remembrance, it can easily be forgotten as years create distance from the present. It is undeniable that tragic and irreversible events occurred within the walls of Auschwitz, but it is important that people continue to visit the site in whatever ways that they can and remember the atrocities that were committed all those decades ago. Remembrance only grows more important by the minute in the midst of our current political climate, where erasure is becoming more and more prevalent. Anyone, with one click of a button, can spread outrageous misinformation and blatant lies, to the point where growing amounts of people are collectively being convinced that the Holocaust was nothing more than a conspiracy. The majority of Holocaust victims had their voices silenced long ago, and even those that managed to survive can not live on forever. Therefore, the continual awareness of their stories and their memories rest on the shoulders of what remains on this earth today. Auschwitz, as haunting of a place that it is, has the ability to preserve millions of people’s legacies. It serves people as a reminder of what humans can be capable of, and it allows us to reflect on the past so as not to repeat history in the future.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 25

Schindler’s List induced a more emotional reaction in me than expected. Not only was the film drawing me in every minute of its long duration, but it was also illicting a physical response from me and, I’m sure, many of us in the room.

This doesn't necessarily fall into the category of one of the questions, but I still really wanted to touch on what I found most powerful about the film: Jewish strength and resilience. Every second, as increasingly horrific things went on around increasingly smaller groups of Jews, words of “We’ll be okay” were always uttered. The story line that really stood out, besides the one of Schindler himself, was the two mothers and their children. Every place they went, one would turn to the other, telling her that their children were safe, and that they’d be okay. The Rabbi throughout the movie, especially when Schindler allows him to lead a prayer for Shabbat, also stood to represent the countless Jews that maintained their faith even when it was the most illegal thing possible. The closing scene of the Rabbi saying the mourner’s Kaddish in memory of the lives lost by the end of the war was probably the most emotional one, and definitely lead me to reflect on my own faith, and the possibility that I would not practice Judaism (over even be around) today if it weren't for the fortitude of the Jewish people.

I’m pretty sure when he talks to Amon Goeth about pardoning people, Schindler is referencing the fact that he has money and power, which ultimately gets Schindler out of prison. He most likely defines power as something to recognize in society around you, and to take advantage of it. Goeth may also have a similar outlook, but also one that puts people less than him on a level that is below human, like viewers see in his chilling scene with his maid.

The ethical and moral line, when it comes to saving one's life, is impossible to define. I don't like the idea of “placing ourselves in the shoes” of Jews in Nazi Germany, as it is insensitive, failing to address that we will never know the full extent of emotions that victims felt, and none of us will see the amount of death in our lifetimes that they saw. That being said, hypothetically, the line of what is okay in order to save your own life, I’d say, is drawn when it puts others in danger. The boy who hid in the toilet, for example, saved himself ethically. The Jews who signed up for Judenrat, often boasting their position and hat in the faces of people who had just yesterday been their friends, saved themselves unethically.

I’m not actually sure that Schindler, in fact, shifted his opinions at all. Sure, in the beginning of the movie, his only goal is money, and seems to have little regard for those around him. Later on, however, you see that he is a smart man, who’s goal of saving the Jews is idly revealed in small steps. He took on his Jewish workforce, in the eyes of the Nazis, because they were cheap, but, all along, he knew that these people were in grave danger. He was, in a way, heroic. He took advantage of his privilege, money, and connections in the Nazi party to save as many innocent people as he could. I didn't really like the end of the movie when he sobs, wishing he could have saved more, since he was never the one actually ever in danger. The crowd of Jews stand around him, grateful for his hard work, but also, they are probably confused why a man who has infinitely more than them, seems so ungrateful.

Lena’s testimony definitely helped solidify everything we learned in the movie, down to the large swastika that she described on Mr. Schindler’s collar. Even though we couldn't speak to her in person, I think her speech still really helped bring the inhumane things we had just seen on a screen into reality.

Our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, even though it was virtual, helped solidify the “power of place” because a place is something that, regardless if buildings are torn down, can never be taken away. Auschwitz cannot be moved. The area of land covered mostly by mud or grass, especially if the buildings decompose, will always be Auschwitz. This day and the media we consumed will stay in my mind just like how the memory of the Jews and others will always remain at Auschwitz.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 16
  • I think Schindler personally thinks that power is easily abused. He clearly shows his appreciation for people who have power and choose to use it for good. The way he presents his thinking to Geoth makes it seem to Amon that power is just about getting people to do whatever you want, which is how Geoth takes it. I think in reality, Schindler was focused on using strength for good which is what he did during the Holocaust.
  • I think the line is drawn when you actively inflict violence on someone else. By working for the Nazis like the little boy in the ghetto did, he was able to save a few people while also saving his own life. Because he worked for the Nazis, he was able to help some people that would have been killed without him. I think this is not really 100% acceptable because he's still working for the monsters, but he did it out of fear in hopes that he would live. I do not think I would be able to seriously injure someone else in order to save my own life.
  • I think in the beginning, Schindler didn't really care about the people in the camps at all. He really just wanted to get money and be rich and he was greedy. However, I do not think he was a bad man ever. Once he personally saw the people effected and how grateful they were to him, he realized that he had to do something to help them. I believe he was a hero, he helped save hundreds of people from being slaughtered because he was brave enough to do something about it.
  • I think her speaking to the students at Holy Cross is incredibly brave, first and foremost. Her own story is more detailed, I believe, and more powerful in addition to the movie. I think because her recollection of what happened to her is pretty accurately portrayed in the movie, it just reinforced the whole thing and made it even more personal. I think her speeches, along with the remaining survivors, need to be recorded, written down, and filmed. Their personal life stories can not be erased once they end up passing away. They are vital to keep the history alive and teach future generations aware of what happened during the Holocaust.
  • I think visiting a place in person is definitely important. If you are just watching a movie, or hearing a story about somewhere, it can still be impactful of course, but I think you have to go and see it for yourself. I believe that this is the same principle of personal storytelling having a stronger impact on others compared to numbers and statistics. By visiting a place like Auschwitz-Birkenau, it allows you to stand where the victims stood and see what they saw. I think it is essential to preserve places like this as much as possible. I also think reinforcing the original buildings would be helpful only when absolutely necessary. The original structures should be kept authentic as long as possible, but it would be helpful to reconstruct them before they completely fall apart.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 21
  1. I think that Schindler and Goeth’s conversation about power is arguably one of the most important discussions in the whole film. In the film, Schindler uses the metaphor of an emperor to convey to Goeth his view of power. An emperor has the power to pardon his subjects when they make a mistake. Schindler makes the point that the subject who has made a mistake fears because they know that they may be killed for their accident, and the power lies in the emperor who has the ability to either punish or pardon. This concept of pardoning, forgiving or excusing the subject without punishment, is extremely foreign to Goeth. It was interesting to see how Schindler attempted to sway Goeth’s methods and opinions, but it didn't last for very long. Goeth believes in the idea of absolute power: the power to do whatever one pleases. Rule by fear. Goeth’s attempts at Schindler’s power of forgiveness are very quickly dropped and Goeth immediately returns to killing whenever there is a mistake.
  2. If there is one thing I could not do, I could never betray my friends and family. I would rather die along with my loved ones than live with the guilt of being partly responsible for the deaths of those close to me. Living with that guilt is not living at all. I think the line that should never be crossed is killing those of your own. I could never expect anyone to be as righteous as the next, but if there was to be a line drawn, it would be killing those of similar situations/backgrounds as yourself.
  3. Schindler didn’t see the Jews as people, but as other human beings like himself. As Schindler spent more time with his workers, they became his friends rather than his employees. As humans spend more time with each other, it’s only natural that they form bonds and begin to understand each other. As Schindler spent more time with the Jews, he began to change because he began to understand that they were not animals like the Nazi regiment had made it seem. To be honest, I wasn’t confident with labeling Schindler as a hero until the very last scene when Schindler breaks down saying he could have gotten more. I believe that it takes a certain amount of humility and insecurity to be a hero. To be a hero, there needs to be that attempt to save more, and that is seen in Schindler.
  4. We will never be able to fully understand the experiences of each other, but we can listen and try. Understanding each other as humans has become more complicated with time which makes it all the more important to listen and understand the voices of the marginalized. Whether it be Black Americans, people of color, or members of persecuted religions, we will never even come close to understanding if we don’t listen. The value of accounts from our survivors hold a weight much greater than one might expect. It’s through the stories that are told through which we can get a glimpse into what things were like. Rena’s stories and accounts are our window into the Holocaust. Facts and textbooks don’t hold the same message as stories and witnesses do. Through stories like Rena’s, we can hear pieces of the puzzles and slowly piece them together. There are people who live these experiences and it is our duty to listen to and understand them. With the years passing and the lack of living Holocaust survivors, it will be harder for the younger generation to see the true cruelty of the Holocaust and its conditions. They won’t have that same level of understanding as we do now, but with recordings, these stories of survivors will not be lost.
  5. Similarly to the importance of survivor stories, seeing places like Auschwitz puts things into perspective. It’s all about piecing the puzzle together. Some pieces are the stories that are told, some are the visuals of what happened. Much of what is left of Auschwitz forces us to only imagine what could have happened, but through the stories of others, we can continue to fill these gaps. Auschwitz has a power of evidence. Auschwitz is very much real, and the plight of the Jews was very much real. Being able to see such physical evidence puts things into perspective. It helps one understand the events not just as history, but as an experience. For many like myself, events in history seem so far away and distant that we don’t think about it on a personal level, but seeing Auschwitz forces one to fully immerse in the tragedy that had occurred.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22

Thoughts on the actions of Oskar Schindler and on our field trip more broadly

“Schindler’s List” was an absolutely beautiful and devastating movie. The film was able to capture the brutality that the Nazis inflicted on the poor innocents and the attempts by ordinary citizens, whether Jewish or Nazi, to save as many people from the camps and Ghettos as possible. One interaction that I found to be incredibly interesting was Schindler’s conversation about power and pardoning people with Amon. This conversation and Amon’s subsequent actions helped me understand how brutal the nazi high command truly was. Schindler tried to make Amon understand that power isn’t killing everyone and anyone simply, but rather the decision to have the power over someone and not abuse it, like torturing them or killing them. In this conversation, Schindler is trying to make Amon change and trick him into becoming a less psychotic person. This failed, however, because while Schindler’s underlaying belief of power is a person has the ability to flaunt it but not use it, as he uses his powerful connections to get what he wants but he never uses them to outright harm a person, Amon’s underlying belief of power is simply using it to make others around him fear and despise him. Amon believes that if a person has power, they should use it in any way that they which in order to harm them, while Schindler believes a person with power shouldn’t be torturing them While I believe that I would draw the line in making decisions that will cause the deaths of others, I if I would stand by that choice. I simply do not know how the events that were portrayed in the movie should shape me. While I hope that I would be able to keep a strong moral conscience and make the right choice between good and bad decisions, I simply do not know how I would react and change the horrific conditions and treatment in the camps. I believe the only line that I would never cross is deciding who will be saved or killed. While I think that I would be able to take a life, if need be, I would never decide on the faiths of others, especially those who matter more. I believe that Schindler began to shift from a bystander to a savior after the Kractoe Ghetto liquidation. Before the liquidation, he didn’t care about the horrific crimes that the nazis were committing. All he saw was the opportunity to use Jewish labor to build up his own wealth and prestige. After the liquidation of the ghetto, however, his view of the nazi atrocities changed. He saw the crimes that the nazis committed and the horrific and brutal tactics they used to remove the Jews and understood the real weight of the Nazi policies. Once he understood the weight, he began to work to save his workers and others in the camp. From demanding his workers live at the factory, to accepting more workers to his production line, he slowly began to work to save as many Jews as possible rather than building up his factory empire. I believe that Holocaust survivors are incredibly important in helping preserve the memories of the victims and the horrific actions during the Holocaust. Holocaust survivors give us an opportunity to learn about history from a first-person perspective. We are able to understand how brutal the nazis are the way in which they abused individuals they believed they were less than. These survivors give us incredible stories and experiences, that we would have otherwise never have remembered. Sadly, we will lose these experiences in the near future as they begin to die out completely. This will create a lack of first-hand stories for future generations to listen to and learn from. In addition, it may make the holocaust seem like just another historical event that occurred in history. Without the first-hand stories and experiences that these survivors hold, our direct connection to the holocaust will be lost and we will lose the human connection that makes the holocaust feel so much more real than other genocides that occurred in history. While we will forever remember the holocaust, we will lose some of the more emotional sides and human side of the genocide, that helps us connect the survivors.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 20

I believe that Schindler’s view of power is a type of power akin to respect, and I believe what he says is power is true power. On the other hand, what Goeth believes is power is definitely fear, and not true power, which I believe does not, and cannot stem from such fear and hatred. I think Schindler was definitely trying to direct Goeth down the path of committing less senseless violence within the camp, and Goeth certainly attempts to do what Schindler believes is power. I think this is due to the fact that Goeth believes that Schindler has more power than him, which is certainly true, however, he does not appreciate that power to save a life in the same way, as shown by his reversal when he murders Liesek. I think that in the end, both of them want control and the ability to have others do what they want, and Schindler is ultimately much more successful at this.

I would like to say that I would try to save others, but ultimately, I do not know what I would do. The sheer enormity of the murder in the movie, especially at the liquidation of the ghetto and the Plasow concentration camp, is not something I believe I could ignore, but as Ms. Rena said, all of her neighbors and people on the street simply ignored what was going on. I don’t think I could live with the aftermath of killing a person, but what direction I would swing I do not know. I believe the dehumanization of the Jewish people allowed SS officers and other people feel much less guilt for their actions, and as such, live with the fact that they had murdered. In such an environment, where everyone is traumatized and suffering in different ways, I cannot say what I would do. Morally, I of course hope that I would at the very least not do such reprehensible things, but as we’ve seen, both from the articles describing Hitler, and from the numerous bystanders and murderers during the Holocaust, humanity, and us as part of it, will go to extreme lengths to save those who mean something to us. And wasn’t that what many people were likely doing in the end? It doesn’t excuse their actions, but if they acted, they and their families would certainly be put at risk, and we instinctively want to protect ourselves and those we care about over strangers.

Schindler at the beginning of the movie seems rather intentionally oblivious, almost as if he is attempting to ignore what is happening all around him. He uses Jewish workers because it is cheaper, and seeks out Nazi officials to make friends and obtain favours. Schindler says that he only cares about making money all throughout the film, and I do believe that was his original goal– however, after seeing the liquidation of the ghetto, he begins to actively seek ways to help. Before, he certainly would help those that he could, but he ultimately does go above and beyond that by creating Schindler’s list. Itzhak Stern, and I assume the men who were combined to create his story, were instrumental in this change. By having personal interactions with Jewish people, and getting to know them, he was able to avoid being sucked into the propaganda that was rampant across Nazi Germany. It’s perhaps possible that the forced movement of all Jewish people into the ghetto enabled more people to ignore their suffering— when we don’t encounter people in our daily lives, it’s certainly much more possible to convince oneself that they were originally much more malicious than in reality. Schindler’s actions were certainly very heroic, but I do not believe that means that he was purely “good,” in the traditional sense of the word. The things we see in the movie are likely seen through the lens of Hollywood, and as such, are likely much simpler than we saw in the movie. I think his shift in mindset is rather gradual, but one thing which impacted me was the murder of the one-armed machinist, and also the engineer who told them that they poured the foundation incorrectly. Him telling the survivors to thank themselves for their own survival was one of the most important parts of the film I think, as so many of them had helped each other, and survived all the suffering portrayed in the film. Placing one character at the center of the narrative is much easier to understand, but I believe that focusing on the many who did try to help, as well as those who survived, is more important. For example, the boy who stands up when Goeth was shooting random people in an attempt to figure out who stole the chicken and says that it was the dead man saves himself and the other people in the line. I would like to see more scenes with similar behavior, especially by people other than Schindler, because although he was certainly heroic, there are many other examples of courage in the film.

Hearing her testimony, especially right after we watched the film and all of the horrific violence that she survived, helped to make the events seem more real and close to home. Spielberg’s decision to make the movie in black and white was a conscious decision that he made for many reasons, but I do believe it also distanced us from the horror of the film. It’s incredibly important to hear her story, even on video, because it forces us to reckon with the understanding that it did not happen so long ago. In a few years, the lack of living Holocaust survivors will allow people to distance themselves from this, as there will no longer be such active reminders of what happened— I fear that this may then allow people to diminish the magnitude of what happened, and by extension, create the possibility that it will happen again.

Visiting a place of such suffering is important, because it allows us to further confront the reality of what occurred there. Of course, seeing a place virtually is not quite the same, but visiting such places is still one of the most important things to do, in order to honor the memory of all the people who died there. There is such a thing as the “power of place,” and seeing the inside of the buildings that are still standing made it so much more real. Preserving this history is important, because although the argument can be made that it creates a model for future dictators to follow, the understanding that walking through such a place creates is so important in preventing similar atrocities and in remembering what happened there. If I had to make a choice about what to preserve, I would say the cell blocks and what is left of the crematoriums, especially because the Nazis wanted it to be forgotten. They wanted all of their wrongdoing to be erased, and we should not let that happen. It’s another thing to preserve the guard barracks, or memorials that the Nazis created, and it’s another to preserve the site of such suffering, especially in light of the fact that there are so few survuiviors left.

This was an incredibly powerful experience, and was truly worth spending time on.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22

In the beginning of the movie, Schindler’s view of power sharply contrasts with his perspective towards the end. He begins believing that power is money and status. He takes advantage of the Jewish people that work at his factory and brags about being able to make a lot of money off of them. However, as the film progresses, he becomes witness to the horrible acts being committed by the Nazis. He begins to gain empathy for these oppressed people and realizes how unjust and inhumane they are being treated. As a result of this, he views his power as a means to help get people out of this terrible situation. In contrast, Goeth exploits his power to control and exploit people of lower status, much like most of the other Nazis in the film.

Clearly there are no boundaries or moral lines that are being respected by the Nazis, as if that had been true, most of this would have never happened. In my opinion, the line is crossed when people are benefiting from the suffering of others. The line is crossed far before the shutting down of Jewish business, liquidation of the ghettos, and transportation of Jews to concentration camps. In fact, the line is crossed in the part of the German constitution that says that all rights can be revoked and the laws can be ignored if it comes to that. The line that cannot be crossed is when irreversible damage is caused; when someone becomes so physically or mentally traumatized that there is no going back. If there was one thing that I could get myself to do, it would be intentionally hurting people around me in order to get ahead.

Schindler took the actions that he did because he got to see up close the absurdity of it all. He saw how people truly suffered and lost their lives for something that had absolutely no point. This was a heroic move because he knew that once Germany lost, he would get arrested and he put his own priorities after those of the oppressed population. It was an incredibly selfless act because he also lost most of his money and was never able to earn it back. However, the movie gives him a lot more credit than it should because it makes it look like he was the sole person to save these people, when he was not the only one helping out.

Hearing stories from people that actually experience certain events, rather than just reading about it in textbooks is far more informative and enriching. Rena was able to guide us through that whole time and shared her feelings, thoughts, and everything that happened to her. This is far more than what we would learn if we just learned through written documents. Hearing the story from an actual human being causes you to make a connection and gain empathy for the storyteller. The lack of living Holocaust survivors will have a significant impact on how we learn about it because we will have to rely solely on secondary sources, which often do not convey the emotions and true horror of it all.

“Visiting” Auschwitz allowed me to create an image of what truly happened. Before that, I had only known descriptions from other people, but being able to “experience” it myself gave me far greater understanding.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 18

I think the scene in question wasn’t necessarily a reflection of Schindler’s true feelings on power, because that to me seemed more like Schindler manipulating Goeth into being more merciful (which sounds like an oxymoron) but regardless, I think that, for lack of a better term, Schindler’s view on power is ‘being the bigger person’. Killing in the sadistic way that Goeth did was an unimaginable cruelty, but to Schindler that wasn’t power- it was following exactly what was expected of him. To go against that expectation, to spare the lives of the Jews in the camps when he is fully capable of doing the opposite, is demonstrating the power that he has.

The thing about survival, is you don’t consider it until you really need to. So sitting here in my own house completely safe, I would say that I wouldn’t be ‘Judenrat’ and I wouldn’t put my own life before anyone else’s- but I am not in any sort of ‘desperate times’. I can say with confidence that I would draw the line at actively hurting or killing other people. I know that solidarity in my community is very important, so right now I could confidently say that I wouldn’t do something like what Marcel Goldberg did, but then again this is right now when my life is entirely safe. Throughout the Holocaust and the events leading up to it, every choice given to Jews and other targeted groups were bad ones, so to blame people for choices that were made in self-preservation seems unfair.

I think that Schindler’s motivations changed throughout the film. At first he was motivated by greed, but later his actions were spurred by guilt. The most evident change we saw in him was the liquidation of the ghetto, and later on the mass burning of corpses, after which he likely realized his complacency in the cruelties being committed. He spent his entire fortune, which was pretty sizeable, on keeping Jews away from death camps- a far cry from the greedy and unfaithful Schindler that we saw at the beginning of the film. Though he still at some points in his life did subscribe to Nazi ideology and was friends (sort of) with people as horrible as Goeth, so I don’t know if I can say that I truly view his character as purely heroic, but at the end of the day what he did saved many lives, which matters more to me then why he did it.

Learning about what Schindler did was important, but I think hearing from survivors and centering their stories is moreso. History books can only get us so far, and especially today when there are people who are actively denying that the Holocaust took place, hearing testimonies from Rena and others is so valuable. The Holocaust happened several decades ago, but its affects are still widely present in our world, so its essential that we hold on to that piece of history, and make sure stories like Rena’s are not forgotten.

The power of a place is absolutely a real thing. Hearing about Auschwitz, and seeing pictures and videos can only give you a fraction of the sense that the real thing would. I can only imagine what walking through the gates and seeing the physical space where people were herded into gas chambers and barracks would feel like. I think also that more then just the feeling of it, seeing places like Auschwitz-Birkenau serves as a testament to what happened. Its why museums and memorials are so important- keeping the history alive, and not erasing what was done is so crucial to survivors like Rena, and we as a society owe it to them to remember.

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