Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Why “Schindler’s list” still matters

(RNS2-NOV08) A typewriters used in Steven Spielberg's film, "Schindler's List," in among the artifacts on display at the new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. The typewriter still holds the ?Oskar Schindler list? used in the film. For use with RNS-JEWISH-MUSEUM, transmitted Nov. 8, 2010. RNS photo courtesy NMAJH.

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.

Oskar Schindler was corrupt. Had Oskar Schindler not been so corruptible and so corrupting, he could not have saved so many lives. Survivors of the camps say that they vastly preferred the corrupt Germans to the principled Nazis. They could deal with the corrupt Germans. They could be bought.

That is precisely why he could do what he did. It was not in spite of the profane pieces of himself, but precisely because of them.

The ancient sages taught that everyone has a yetzer ha-tov, a good inclination, and a yetzer ha-ra, a not-so-good inclination.

They taught that without the yetzer ha-ra, the not-so-good inclination, the evil inclination, the unholy impulse, the animalistic part of us (OK — the part of you that is a total jerk, or worse), the world could not exist.

“Without the evil inclination, no one would father a child, build a house, or make a career,” says the Talmud. You need that part of yourself.

The evil inclination is not only the urge to do evil. It is also libido, and ego, and the striving for power.

Early Christianity waged an all out war against that impulse. Monks and mystics tried to liberate themselves from it.

Modern secularism wages a war in favor of that impulse. In the watchwords of the faith, according to the ancient Book of Nike: Just do it.

Judaism understands that the aggressive, active, ambitious part of the human psyche is essential to maintaining and propagating the world. Everything within us is worth something. To know that is the work of the soul.

Even the unholy impulse within us is good for something.

Oskar Schindler wasn’t saintly. It is probably the case that very few of the righteous of the nations who saved Jewish lives were saintly. Some of that must have had ulterior motives. (Some, in fact, were anti-semitic, but believed that they had a human responsibility to save Jewish lives.)

For me, the holiest moment in “Schindler’s List” is that moment when he is watching the liberation of the ghetto in Krakow. He is on horseback on a hill. He sees a young girl in a red coat — that famous moment in the movie that is the only one shot in color.

The look on his face, as played by Liam Neeson, was worthy of an Academy Award all on its own. It was the look of a man who understood the horror that was before him, and decided that he would rise above it.

The saintly thing about Oskar Schindler was that he could use all the pieces of himself — even the seemingly unworthy and unsavory pieces.

Watch “Schindler’s List” again. You will see what I mean.

And, ask yourself: how can I use the dark, not-so-good pieces within myself, as well?




About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


Click here to post a comment

  • When in doubt, when dealing with one of those m0r0ns, its good to refer to the site about the David Irving/Deborah Lipstadt Trial.

    It gives a full rundown on attacking holocaust denial. The case itself destroyed any pretension of taking such ideas seriously. So much so that Holocaust deniers haven’t produced anything new since the decision. They have been recycling 20+ year old tracts online.

  • Its still relevant today because we have people here who think throwing children in concentration camps is a good idea.

  • DJT. He even loves holding children for ransom. Did it twice in two years already.

    Plus DJT loooooves Nazis. Calls them very fine people. Inspires them to mass murder. Uses their rhetoric (as do you) So much so that his supporters go straight into deflection mode over it. Trying to blame non lethal opponents of them for their murders.

  • “Schindler’s list” is loosely based on a real story with Hollywood taking a lot of liberties. Reminds me of “Sound of Music”. I saw that movie of the Von Trapp family, as a child and thought it was true to the letter, only to find out later the liberties Hollywood took in the remaking of a true life event. At best Hollywood is entertainment, not a passage from God or indisputable history.

  • There is nothing intrinsically evil about libido or ego or power. It’s how one indulges those qualities and for what purpose that matters. I prefer the interpretation that most evil is really a misguided attempt to achieve a perceived good. Rarely do people do evil with the raw intent to accomplish evil.

    In a way, this makes evil all the more insidious. How many ordinary citizens in Germany thought they were just minding their business, taking care of their families and livelihoods and trying to keep a low profile? Yet they enabled monsters by their inaction. How many in this country today just want to make America great again? Isn’t that a perceived good?

    Oskar Schindler may have acted for self-serving reasons. But the point is, he acted. Perhaps that made him virtuous in spite of himself.

  • Any thinking person understands that movies are not true to life. Life is not lived in three acts made up of short scenes played out in front of invisible fourth walls. Real life is tedious and unwinds slowly, and formative experiences are, more often than not, undramatic.

    The best a film based on history can hope for is to fascinate us enough that we become interested in learning more about the true story. “Schindler’s List” accomplished that in spades.

  • On this issue Hollywood is manipulative. It glorifies the Jewish Holocaust as if it is an epiphany. while at the same time not showing one single movie on all the other Holocausts of World war 2. such as the carpet bombing of Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin, or even the nuking of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
    Hollywood has deftly avoided showing the horror of the Holodomer under Stalin where 40 million died, or that under Mao or the Khmer Rouge. Had they done that the average person would understand that genocide has happened all too frequently and to too many people, not just the Jews. That also includes the Armenian massacre of 2 million in 1915. Russian Revolution of 1917. None is shown but the Jewish Holocaust is enshrined. that is misleading to the extreme.

  • Ah, I see. Could it be that when you say “Hollywood” what you really mean is “the Jews who run Hollywood?”

    I agree about the other atrocities you mentioned not getting their due and if Hollywood was part of the free press I’d consider that an outrage. But it isn’t and I don’t. The entertainment industry isn’t about art or truth. It’s about money. If they stumble onto art and truth, they got lucky.

    Nor should it surprise you that films made in this country about WWII tend to favor the Allied point of view. That doesn’t make the Holocaust any less tragic or reprehensible. But if you feel strongly about it, try to get a movie about Dresden or Nagasaki financed. I’ll come see it.

  • My true colors are honesty that the suffering of people are the same. I have found that Americans give far less compassion to the suffering of blacks, native Americans, Muslims, but give exceptional compassion for Jews. That shows you lack any understanding of suffering and it is based on race and religion.
    Too many Americans comment as if a black man should get over his suffering while we all have to remember what the Jews went through and do that without question.

  • It shouldn’t surprise you that people tend to focus on injustices perpetrated by others but not on those perpetrated by themselves or their kind. That’s not an American thing. It’s a human thing. It’s not right but it’s understandable.

    As for myself, I don’t compare the relative degrees of atrocities. I’ve often spoken out for greater awareness of the lingering effects of slavery, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, the marginalization of Native Americans, the evil of using weapons of mass destruction on noncombatants (Nagasaki and Hiroshima), and a host of other issues. And I’ll keep doing so.

    But I also recognize that the Holocaust was distinctive because it represented the dangers of an entire nation embracing a demagogue who used scapegoating as a political weapon. It’s a cautionary tale for our times and should never be forgotten.

  • “But I also recognize that the Holocaust was distinctive”
    That is the crux of your problem. It is not distinctive at all. There are the facts :
    Nazi Germany hated the Jews. that is undeniably true. Outside of that everything is in question. [This part is what we are not allowed to debate and I would love to].
    There is no reason that our education system to the media and hollywood the entertainment aspect, cannot be objective of the Russian revolution, the Bolshevik revolution. The closest we got was “Dr. Zhivago” or “Fiddler on the Roof”. This is in Russia There is no reason why these media covers up the American Indian wars from 1777 to 1879 almost nonstop. and the eventual extermination of a race. America did that. or the “killling fields” of Buddhist Cambodia. the Khmer Rouge did that. or the slaughter of over 40 to 60 million Chinese by other Chinese.
    Because of the number and frequency of Holocaust related movies it has been ingrained into our minds that this stands out more than anything else. It does not. Nothing about is special “if” we deal with the details. IF if if.

  • Gee, thanks for identifying my problem for me. That’s awfully decent of you.

    I think we’ve gone about as far as we need to on this one. Have a nice day.

  • Sarcasm is the weakest response and only shows you do not have a strong hand to support your side. Also I am sure that you do not want to open up a dialogue on the holocaust with me. You would lose on so many aspects that you have taken for granted without question.
    In order to debate me on the Holocaust you should be aware of other holocausts of World war 2 and specifically Russia. Russia is very important in Jewish history and a vital aspect in any debate regarding the horrors of Europe and the Western world.

  • Spud, I never knew you cared about children. I always though you were a proponent of abortion!
    Well there is something redeemable about you!

  • No children are killed in abortion. Children are born. My concern for life extends past gestation. Same can’t be said of fetus worshipers.

  • Your screed is typical Neo Nazi bullcrap. There have been movies made about all those others atrocities. Nobody is suppressing or supplanting them. People tell their own stories about their own people.

    Hollywood is guuded by two things, box office and having stories to tell. If there is a story to tell which holds interest, they will make a film of it.

    In many cases the stories are told by the people and countries which experienced them. Japan has gone over its firebombing nuking in literally hundreds of films.

    Btw the carpet bombing of German and Japanese cities are not holocausts nor on par with the mass atrocities of Germany and Japan. They were the result of total war initiated by those two nations. Interesting you avoided mention of allied cities terror bomber like Warsaw, Rotterdam and Coventry.

    There are obvious neo Nazi vibes from you here

  • Neo Nazi piece of crap never heard of Dances With Wolves, The Killing Fields, Reds, Hotel Rwanda….

    No, you ignorant garbage. It’s not Jewish Hollywood keeping other stories suppressed.

    The Holocaust was also the most documented mass atrocity in history as well. From its own perpetrators to survivors and those recording its aftermath.

    Plus all of its victims were European. Making its appeal to American and European film industries from an ease of production point. Making it an easy story for appealing to English speaking audiences l.

  • You have been a liar who made an argument too ridiculous to take seriously. You are not interested in dialogue. Just giving out a canned screed. One far too stupid to consider for debate. The previous poster was a polite person who though he was getting an informed conversation. You proved otherwise.

    I already pegged you for a lying hateful piece of crap with a canned agenda from the outset. Your garbage is not only hackneyed it is so wildly ignorant that Wikipedia entries show how stupid your premise is

  • The expression you are looking for is

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

  • Obviously not. But then again I am not stuck having to justify hated of people and alleged concern for the unborn. Lying about basic facts is necessary to your viewpoint I guess.

  • Inside a womb is very different from those born. That is basic mammalian biology. One which makes your fetus worship female enslavement position very silly.

    Your concern for life apparently is only those gestating for nine months. Mine is for birth plus entire life for as many years as possible. .

  • Babies are born. A fetus is attached to its mother until birth. When it becomes a baby/child/infant.
    A fetus is very different from a baby in all physical respects.

    Basic biology makes you sound stupid.

  • No Spud, you surpassed me on that a long time ago.
    It is a baby from conception. It won’t turn into a puppy

  • It is neither a baby or puppy until born.

    Only a fool thinks an argument concerning transmogrification to another species is worth giving.

    I guess if you can’t tell the difference between born and unborn, you also expect puppies to come out of women.

  • Spuddie
    why are you so angry. Obviously you have the upper hand. You have the media. Hollywood, Politics.
    and the entire Western world supporting your point of view. why the anger?

    I am assured of my stand because a good deal of the Holocaust has been debunked except it is not being reported.

    Have you head of Jean-Claude Pressac? he was hired by those who strongly believe in the exact version of the Holocaust so that he could prove that the so called “Holocaust deniers” were barking up the wrong tree.
    he ended up questioning good sections of the Holocaust and those who hired him yanked his books and suppressed his evidence as fast as they can.

  • Heard of the Jewish guy David Cole? and his on the sight -in Auschwitz first hand research?
    Just to let you know the Red Cross who were allowed into all the camps through the war by Hitler were not allowed to testify or give witness during the Nuremberg trials
    Both the prosecutor and the defense blocked them. This is ‘the’ Red Cross of America.

  • Heard how in 2001 David Irving destroyed any chance a Holocaust denier of being taken seriously by anyone? All by demonstrating its complete and utter dishonesty and basis in nothing other than malicious bigotry.

    Its why there has been nothing new from Holocaust deniers since 2001. You are rehashing garbage which has been old hat online since the 1990’s

    See for details as well as a complete breakdown on why such arguments like yours are entirely fictitious malicious garbage.

    BTW David Cole repudiated the views you mentioned and admitted it was nothing but trolling for effect.
    ““I have spent the last few years in silence on the subject of my time with the denial movement, a silence caused mainly by my shame at what I had done with my life and my desire to distance myself from that life…”

  • I know what I am talking about and apparently can use a search engine. You are recycling crap which predates Yahoo.

    You are nothing but a liar who is using garbage which was thoroughly demolished in public for all to see nearly 20 years ago.

    See for details on such devastation to your view and why nobody has to even pretend to take you seriously.

    “Have you head of Jean-Claude Pressac?”

    He’s new to you I suppose. But has been around since the late 80’s/early 90’s. His work was also demolished along with David Irving back in 2001. Again, one can find this all at

    Sorry buddy but you came way too late to this party to be able to make these references with a straight face. Holocaust deniers had their entire work laid out in a public forum to be examined and cross-examined by experts. The conclusion was that it was complete and utter neo-nazi garbage and its most mainstream and prolific proponent was proven by a preponderance of the evidence to be a lying sack of sht.

  • Nope. Don’t have to be civil to lying sacks of crap. Especially neo-nazis. Still, your rant is so stupid that wikipedia searches make short work of it.

    Of course it doesn’t help your view at all that you are recycling crap which hasn’t changed since 2001. When David Irving imploded and took any reason to take you guys seriously with him.

  • Now you are sounding desperate. Truth does not need that. One hard indisputable fact: the number claimed to have been either killed or died in Auschwitz has been lowered from 4 million to 1.1 million. and the “mistake” of 3 million was not acknowledged by the Media.
    19 languages in Auschwitz stated that 4 million were killed and anyone denying that is an “antisemite” That number held till 1988 when it was revised down. Remember you claim to absolutes. the absolute of the Holocaust is that 6 million died not 1 or 2 million ..soo it is mistakes like this that revision is needed. what have you to say about this?

  • Nope. You are just recycling crap which was already laid out before a public forum and destroyed piece by piece for all the world to see it in 2001 (as seen in ).

    “One hard indisputable fact:”

    Quite disputable. Not a fact at all.

    In fact new research (something which hasn’t been done in holocaust denial tracts in 20+ years) shows numbers killed and the extent of the infrastructure of mass murder were actually underestimated.

    Sorry loser, but the stuff you are putting out is old and moldy. Long debunked since what it looks like before you were born. It may be new to you, but that is about it.

    You are far too late for the party where Holocaust deniers can pretend to be serious people who can be taken seriously.
    Your silly denier tactic is #10

  • Wow, you are an 1diot.

    From your own quoted source
    “Foner’s Spotlight article makes the following assertions regarding the number of people killed at the camp:…”
    “Foner’s assertions are simply not true”
    The Leuchter Report, which Foner alludes to extensively in his Spotlight article, has been thoroughly refuted

    You didn’t quote a Jewish Source, you quote-mined. Missing the entire part where the assertions you cited were debunked entirely.

    Good that you admitted to being a lying sack of crap so quickly. You thought you were being witty and instead demonstrated I was entirely correct here. I guess this is why you don’t link to your assertions.

  • You are right. I quoted the wrong source. I should have figured they would lie. Here is one:
    “The extermination camp in Birkenau, established in the second half of 1941”
    Birkenau was a labor camp. Sorry pud the world is awakening and in Auswhitz the number of “4 million dead or killed” has been removed.
    There is too many lies about the Holocaust including the repetition of the number “6 million” which goes back to 1898 if not earlier.
    You are brainwashed and it would be impossible to discuss this issue. I am not. I do not come from this culture. I studied the holocaust from established books in libraries and like you was horrified. then later the myths began to be exposed. There is a growing number of rational minded people willing to openly discuss the holocaust. you are not one of them. Thanks though for sharing.


    You are a piece of neo-nazi crap. You deliberately misquoted and lied about the content of your source allegedly cited.

    No need to pretend to take you seriously here ever. All your arguments were laid out and demolished nearly 20 years ago and can be seen at

    I do not come from this culture. I studied the holocaust from established books in libraries and like you was horrified”

    Nope. You are lying to me again. You picked up crap online from neo-nazi sources and are trying to pawn it off as if you did any reasonable study. Even engaging in a ridiculous “gotcha” which only works if people do not click or read the link you posted.

    Holocaust denial has been dead for 20 years. Its why you are stuck quoting arguments which have been so long debunked online that only the young and stupid these days even try to recycle it.

    For any questions concerning holocaust denial, one simply can visit and see how all their arguments and assertions were demolished for the world to see.

    Again, you are far too late to this party.

  • Oh Spuddie.
    It is language like yours that endures me to the Jewish cause.
    Again. Number in that camp was lowered to 1.1 million. That means 4 million was a lie.
    Red Cross were the only eye witnesses in those camps during the war. They were not admitted into the trials.
    German prisoners were tortured to into confessions during the Nuremberg Trials. which was mainly staffed by Jews. No fair trials there.
    To qualify as a survivor of the Holocaust you can be on a ship owned by the Axis powers (including Italy) and out in the ocean, or have flown over the Axis nations and lands they held. If you took vacation for a weekend in Rome during the war you are a survivor. One of so many twists and turns in the myth and reality mind games.
    also doctored pictures. black smoke from smoke stacks were doctored to look white since black smoke indicates something else is being burned than bodies.
    Gas vents in Auswhitz are on floor and meant for disinfection of clothing, not killing humans. any human who falls on those vents blocks them and is impossible for them to work. That is why men like Cole and Jean Claude Pressac proof was silenced.

  • Sorry Mikey, but you’re done here. You already lied like a cheap rug. Any credibility you hoped to have is lost.


    You are not even bothering to cite a source for anything you claimed. Given your previous dishonesty, nothing you say here needs to even be read let alone addressed. Honest people cite their sources. You do not, nor will not.

    No need to ever take any assertion you make here seriously. It has all been covered fairly comprehensively and in an objective manner. Mostly by the Holocaust deniers themselves laying their arguments out for scrutiny and seeing them demolished by a host of far more honest experts. Both sides with the ability to cross-examine each other’s witnesses and evidence.

    All of it can be seen at

  • I made a comment to the article. You decided to tail me. You are done here since you had nothing to contribute except challenge my comment which btw had nothing to do with you.
    You can bellow and cuss but those methods no longer work. the article is about reasons to go see a half myth. It deals with Hollywood and all the lies and propaganda that worthless industry churns out. You do not have to reply to my comments since my original comment only referred to the article. I wold not touch you with a broom. I avoid people like you.

  • Mikey, you came to spread well worn and thoroughly debunked lies created by neo-nazi pieces of crap. You were caught lying in an obvious fashion and continue to do so.

    You have nothing of value to say here. Nobody needs to debate you, or even take your statements at face value. Especially given your propensity towards dishonest quoting. Without a link to a source, you are just assumed to be making crap up.

    If you are actually interested in the subject, check out

    Sorry loser, but you are 20 years too late to the party.

  • You may think that of me and as I said before there are less of you Holocaust peddlers than before. The truth is coming out whether you like it or not. You have nothing to contribute except peddle the Holocaust.

  • I am a Sri Lankan American and my ancestors had nothing to do with the issue one way or the other. You cannot guilt trip me the way you can with white folk.
    In China Hitler is openly celebrated including the whole “Nazi” thing. they even have weddings in Nazi uniforms. Asians treat this Holocaust with objectivity and by that can see the lies when they are presented. We are not blinded into submission or correct terminology or political mumbo jumbo. Sorry Spuddie but I am too dark to be a Nazi.

  • You are a mor0n repeating garbage long debunked and tossed in the trash pile a generation ago. You are also an obvious l1ar.

    If you want real information on the subject check out

    If you want to continue to demonstrate what kind of dishonest scumbag you are, continue what you are doing. I am not looking to give you a guilt trip. I am looking to rake you over the coals for being a malicious dishonest f00l.

    To quote your least favorite musical;

    So long, farewell, auf wiedersein, good bye.

  • I strongly believe that the Germans are highly civilized, always have been and one of the most decent people on the planet. It is abusive and cruel to falsely accuse them of such heinous crimes and now that there is ample proof that Germans are in fact good Christian people where most of the holocaust is fabricated and most of their suffering has been white washed, I know what type of person you are.

  • Well that makes you an id1ot and a l1ar. There is no proof of your claims and people who made such maliciously dishonest and stupid statements have seen their work go up in smoke in a publicly visible way.

    As noted in

    You are a malicious liar and not even an adequate one. I am not asking you to go away mad, just go away. Nobody needs you here.

  • I find Germans are a far better people than Jews and I find Christianity more noble than Judaism. if not for Christianity Judaism would have died in 72 AD.
    The Talmud’s attack on Christ Mary and Christians is vile and disgusting. That is my opinion.

  • As for Hollywood it is today the Porn Capital of the world and peddles in Child flesh trade. Hollywood movies are backed by the military and the Pentagon. I am surprised that the American military would let hollywood produce so much adult material but then again Porn is used as a weapon. Israel used it against the Palestinians and now against Iran. So it all ties in.

  • “Israel used it against the Palestinians and now against Iran. So it all ties in.”

    Oh no, pictures of naked people have destroyed your will to live!

    The intersection between neo-nazi and incel is always one of the funniest connections that rises up when talking with them.

  • Pornography destroys both the performer and the viewer. Jews own the Porn industry and use it effectively here and in the ME. It is part of Cultural Marxism as well.

  • Far from it. You have never been more alive since you engaged me. In your sad pathetic self centered wimpy drip you call your life you came alive in this forum ever since you decided to engage me. Even your trolly life in forums has not been as exciting as meeting me. 🙂

  • I thought about you and your rather harsh and bullying tactics you have used on me, (which btw, is now common with those who want commenters to submit to one form of thinking) and I realized that Yahweh has punished or been extremely tough on his “chosen ones’, not because they are chosen, but because all the suffering they cause towards other people who they see as pagans and goys, pray to Yahweh and he listens to our cries and punishes those who do mischief.