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October 21, 2013

My review of a review of Schindler’s List in the New Republic

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:49 am
Scene from the movie Schindler's List

Scene from the movie Schindler’s List

The photo above shows a scene from the movie Schindler’s List in which Oskar Schindler is dictating, from memory, the names of his factory workers whom he wants to take with him to his new factory in Brünnlitz, near his home town in Moravia, which is now in the Czech Republic. His factory manager, Itzhak Stern, a prisoner who works for Schindler, is typing the names.

Amon Goeth shooting prisoners from the balcony of his house

Scene form Schindler’s List in which Amon Goeth is shooting prisoners from the balcony of his house

My previous posts about the movie Schindler’s List have been getting lots of hits lately, and I set out to find out why.  I learned from a google search of the news that Schindler’s List is getting lots of ink in the press because this is the 20th anniversary of the release of the Oscar-winning film.

So what have we learned about the story of Oskar Shindler in the last 20 years?  Nothing at all, it seems to me.

In particular, I believe that the last scene in the movie has been totally misunderstood.  For example, this quote from a review by Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic:

Near the end, when Schindler assembles his 1,100 Jewish workers on his plant floor to tell them that the war is over and they are free, the German army guards, fully armed, assemble on a sort of balcony above. Schindler addresses the guards: says he knows that they have orders to liquidate his workers; and asks them whether they want to go home as men or as murderers. After a moment’s pause, one of the soldiers leaves—and is soon followed by the others.

How does Schindler know that the soldiers have orders to kill all the prisoners and that, as soon as he leaves, the guards will kill the prisoners, whom he has somehow been protecting in his factory?

And why does Schindler need to hurry off, leaving behind prisoners who are sure to be killed by the German guards, as soon as he is gone?

It is implied in the movie that Schindler must leave his prisoners to their fate because he will be killed by the Nazis, who are coming to kill everyone in the all the camps, before the Allies arrive to liberate them.

Spielberg doesn’t tell us this in his movie, but as every student of the Holocaust now knows: Ernst Kaltenbrunner, one of Hitler’s top henchmen, had already given orders that all the prisoners in all the camps should be killed before the Allied liberators can save them from Hitler’s genocidal plan.

I previously blogged about Ernst Kaltenbrunner here and here.  I blogged here about the alleged order to kill the Dachau prisoners before the Americans arrived to liberate the camp.  Strangely, Wikipedia does not mention the order to kill all the prisoners.

But what is the real reason that Schlindler must hurry off and leave his prisoners to their fate?

It is because he is the Commandant of a sub-camp of the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp.  He knows that he will be put on trial by the Allies, as a war criminal, because as the Commandant, he is responsible for all the deaths of the Jews, who died of sickness, or other causes, in his camp. At the end of the war, prisoners were dying because of the typhus epidemics in all the camps.

Why did the German soldiers leave Schindler’s factory at the end of the movie?  It was because they knew that they would also be put on trial, as war criminals, because every soldier in Germany would be a “war criminal” if he were captured by the Allies.

The Allied war crimes trials had already been planned long before the crimes had been committed.

According to Robert E. Conot, author of the book Justice at Nuremberg, the idea of bringing the German war criminals to justice was first voiced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 7, 1942, when he declared: “It is our intention that just and sure punishment shall be meted out to the ringleaders responsible for the organized murder of thousands of innocent persons in the commission of atrocities which have violated every tenet of the Christian faith.” Roosevelt was referring to atrocities committed in the concentration camps, beginning in 1933; most of the war crimes that were prosecuted by the Allies, after the war, had not yet been committed.

The Declaration of St. James on January 13, 1942 announced British plans for war crimes trials, even before the British BBC first broadcast the news of the gassing of the Jews in June 1942. On December 17, 1942, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told the House of Commons: “The German authorities are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe.”

On October 26, 1943, the United Nations War Crimes Commission, composed of 15 Allied nations, met in London to discuss the trials of the German war criminals which were already being planned. That same year, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin issued a joint statement, called the Moscow Declaration, in which they agreed to bring the German war criminals to justice.

So every soldier in the German army knew that he would be put on trial as a war criminal, that is, if he manged to survive Eisenhower’s death camps.