Five years before Spielberg changed cinema with “Saving Private Ryan” (and in my opinion, that film really did change the way war films are made), he created one of his most personal films: another World War Two story, but this one based on a true person. And this film, “Schindler’s List”, has gone down in history to become not just one of the most celebrated films ever but also one of the most personal, because of the connection Spielberg had to the people portrayed in it.
The film is about Nazi businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), hoping to become a war profiteer as World War Two looms in Germany. After acquiring a factory to produce army supplies, he also acquires an assistant, a Jew named Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Stern convinces Schindler that Jews cost less to employ at the factory than Catholic Poles. Soon, the factory is full of working Jews, simply because they cost Schindler less.
But Schindler soon realizes another reason to keep Jews in his factory. One day, he and his wife witness the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, overseen by SS Lieutenant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), and Schindler is disturbed. At first, he only cared about Jews dying because it meant less workers in his factory. But suddenly, he realizes that the whole situation deals with real people and real lives.
As Goeth supervises the construction of the Plaszow concentration camp, enjoying the sexual company of Jewish woman Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz) and the entertainment of killing other Jews at random, Schindler continues to enjoy his financial support from the SS. However, when he decides not to leave Krakow, he begins to bribe Goeth for individual Jews to employ in his factory—when in reality he is saving them from being transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Each Jew costs a fortune, but Schindler is able (and willing) to pay that price. And he and Stern compose a list of Jews to buy from Goeth to keep in the factory, a list that Stern says represents life.
Over time, Schindler forbids SS guards to harm his employees, and he even allows his Jews to keep the Sabbath. When the war finally ends, Schindler has to flee, but before doing so, the Jews present him with a ring which reads: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” As Schindler and Stern bid farewell, Schindler begins to get emotional:
SCHINDLER: I could have got more. …If I'd made more money. I… I threw away so much money! You have no idea. …I didn't do enough. This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't!
Several of the Jews comfort Schindler as he sobs, before he must leave them. In an epilogue, it is revealed that Goeth was hanged, Schindler died decades later, and thousands of the “Schindler Jews” live today. And all because one man wanted to profit during World War Two! It seems that what started out as a mission driven by selfish ambition became something so much more.
“Schindler’s List” isn’t quite an example of leaving the ninety-nine as Jesus preaches, but Schindler’s final monologue as he laments to Stern represents this idea to me. He saved thousands of Jews from death in concentration camps, but he still had regrets that he could have saved just one more person. This is, to me, another example of God’s love for us; He is thankful for those whom He has found, but He longs for each one of us. I believe that it pains Him when just one person decides to turn away from the faith, because He loves each one of us so much. The way I see it, if Heaven rejoices when just one person comes to repentance, wouldn’t Heaven also weep for that one person who rejects God?
I guess that is an issue for another time and place, but regardless, I continue to pray that you would know the love of God for each man and woman on earth, including you, and that you would be able to come to that place of repentance if you need to be found there.