It was the best part Liam Neeson ever played, the best film Steven Spielberg ever directed, and the Best Picture of 1993. So good was this film that it is ranked 8th among the 100 best American films of all time. It showed us all that even in the darkest of times a flicker of light can shine in the most unlikely of places and in the most unexpected ways.
I am referring, of course, to “Schindler’s List”– the unforgettable Hollywood depiction of one of the most inspiring stories to emerge in the 20th century. Adapted from the book by Australian author Thomas Keanally the story is of Oskar Schindler, an Austrian businessman who saved the lives of over 1100 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.
Schindler joined the Nazi part and during WWII used his factory to produce ammunition for the war. He had no great claim to fame or virtue. The legend he became emerged from the story he lived through–a story that he wrote by his simple response to what he saw going on around him.
Though raised in a Catholic home, he was not noted to be a religious man. He was, in fact, an opportunistic businessman who sought to profit from the war.
Yet something happened in 1943 that produced a change in his heart. While witnessing a raid on the Krakow Ghetto, where soldiers were used to rounding up the inhabitants for shipment to the concentration camp at Plazcow, Schindler was appalled by the murder of many of the Jews who had been working for him. (This moment was depicted in the movie by the little girl with a pink dress in what otherwise was a black and white film.) From that point forward, he began to make a deliberate effort to preserve the 1100-plus Jews who worked in his factories. His passion grew to the point where in desperate determination he spent virtually every dollar he had to preserve as many Jews as he could.
Oskar Schindler was played brilliantly by Liam Neeson. The lesson of the Schindler story is threefold.:
- One person can make the difference. By doing what he could, Schindler saved a whole generation of Jews.
- Small steps we take for good grow into bigger steps as time goes on.
- Human life is priceless. For someone who understands this, no sacrifice to too great to preserve and protect it.
After the war, a journalist who interviewed Schindler wrote:
“Oskar Schindler’s exceptional deeds stemmed from just that elementary sense of decency and humanity that our sophisticated age seldom sincerely believes in. A repentant opportunist saw the light and rebelled against the sadism and vile criminality all around him.”
Schindler’s list offers a powerful metaphor to us all, one that sparkles like a diamond in every direction, reminding us that life is priceless, that no matter how bad things look round you, there is always hope, that no matter how much peer pressure you feel to go along with the crowd, you can still follow your conscience and do what is right.
Sometime, from the lowest moments in history, someone rises up to surprise us all. Oskar Schindler is one of those people. For him, grace happened. And he recognized and cooperated with it.
Today we face similar challenges. While a World War does not rage between nations, there is a full scale war being waged against children and young people (at risk youth), and at risk students throughout the world. It’s chilling. Human trafficking is the fastest growing organized crime of the 21st century—exploding at such a rate that it has tied arms dealing as #2 and is closing in on drugs as the most lucrative crime of all. It is the modern day slave trade. Even as Oskar Schindler stood in the gap for the Jews, so we must do what we can to free the slaves of our generation–or educate them before they become enslaved!
We may not be in the same time or place as Oskar Schindler, but because of the information explosion, the internet, and mass media, we share the same opportunity as he did to see the “vile criminality” of the world we live in. And there has never been the opportunity as there is now to do something about it.