Jeffrey Salkin: Why ‘Schindler’s List’ Still Matters

This week marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of Stephen Spielberg’s film, “Schindler’s List.”

Let there be no question: it is one of the most significant films of the past half-century. For Jews, it has assumed almost canonical status. Jews went to see it, as if going to services on the High Holy Days.

We felt so pious about it, that even Jerry Seinfeld needed to make his own snarky comment on it. Recall the famous episode in which the intolerable mailman, Newman, spies Jerry and his observant girlfriend, Rachel, making out during the movie.

While some Jews and others continue to find that scene offensive, what was Jerry actually saying? He was shooting a double-pronged satirical arrow.

First, the idea that men and women would make out in movies on a date — standard operating procedure.

But, second: that they would do it during “Schindler’s List.”

Have they neither decency or shame? This is like, well, making out during the yizkor service on Yom Kippur — and that is precisely how Jerry’s parents, and Rachel’s father, interpret it, as well.

Translation: to behave in a sexual way during “Schindler’s List” is a desecration of, the holy.

“Schindler’s List” has achieved iconic status among American Jews — in a way that few cultural events can ever really do.

But, what was the deeper lesson in it — a lesson that goes far beyond the Shoah, and even of the righteous gentiles who saved Jewish lives, of which Oskar Schindler is an example?

Whenever I go to Jerusalem, I try to make a pilgrimage to the grave of Oskar Schindler.

Schindler is buried in a Catholic cemetery outside the Old City of Jerusalem. For years his grave was simply one among many. Today, it is a sacred tourist destination — as is his factory in Krakow, as well as the site of Plaszow, the work camp.

You cannot miss the grave. It is almost entirely covered with stones that well-wishers have left.

Whenever I stand at that grave, I remind myself: the most powerful thing about Oskar Schindler was not his heroism.

The most powerful thing about Oskar Schindler was, paradoxically, how unheroic he was.

Oskar Schindler was an unpleasant person. He was a filanderer and a drinker.He was chronically unsuccessful in business.

The greatest thing that happened to him was that he saved his Jews. After that, his life turned to dust. His Jews ultimately brought him to Israel. They saved his life as he had saved theirs. He gave them their lives — and they gave him meaning.

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Source: Religion News Service