Schindler’s List, which was based on Thomas Keneally’s 1983 historical novel, Schindler’s Ark, tells the story of Oskar Schindler- a rich and greedy German businessman who becomes unlikely humanitarian amid the barbaric Nazi reign. Upon witnessing the inhumane treatment of his Jewish factory workers at the hands of the Nazi’s, Schindler makes a list of all the people he wants to save from their fate in Auschwitz. He pays off a Nazi officer for every member of this list, using the money that his Jewish workers had previously helped him make. This film was revolutionary not only in cinematic technique but also in the way it effected education about the holocaust.
In order to bring people into the experience, if you learn about individual stories, you are better able to grasp the complex issues. The story of Schindler’s and his list of Jews allowed people to connect with and understand the struggle of the people in Schindler’s position as well as the plight of the Jews in Germany at this point in history. Before Schindler’s List, schools generally approached the subject of the holocaust only as a minor aspect of World War II. World War II and holocaust education mostly focused on battles fought, concentration camps rather than the experiences of particular people and their struggles. Education before this time definitely didn’t focus on individuals who stood up and did something, especially if it was a “small” contribution. This film focused exclusively on the individual, reading off lists of names of the holocaust victims. Schindler experiences an emotional breakdown towards the end of the film because he realizes how significant each life that he saved was and starts to think of all the other individual ones he could have saved. Stern presents him with a ring that says “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire”, expressing the absolute importance of a single life in the grand scheme of things. Not only did this place significance on each life that Schindler had saved/could have saved, but also assured him that by saving only one life, that he has done enough.
In Schindler’s List, the cinematic effects also serve to help educate the viewer. The black-and-white presentation effectively evokes the World War II era and deepens the impact of the story. Black and white also presents the filmmaker with the opportunity to utilize some sparing color in order to highlight key scenes and cue the audience to shifts in time. For example, the opening full-color scene, one of only a handful of color scenes in the movie, fades into the next scene, in black and white, plunging viewers into 1939.
Schindler’s List helped change the face of holocaust and WWII education by placing emphasis on the individual as opposed to the big picture. It provided an opportunity for empathy and personal connection with the people of the time period and threw into sharp relief the true horrors of the events that occurred.