The Holocaust documentary

Sense, meaning, and redemptive politics

Authored by: Brad Prager

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415717397
eBook ISBN: 9781315678863
Adobe ISBN: 9781317392460


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Shortly before the ending of Schindler’s List (Spielberg, 1994), perhaps the most well-known feature film about the Holocaust, the Jews who had been under Oskar Schindler’s protection are liberated by Germany’s surrender and freed from servitude. A passing Soviet soldier, in response to being asked what they should now do, tells the former prisoners to go neither east nor west, because they are wanted in neither direction. He then points off-screen and proposes: “Isn’t there a town over there?” The soldier’s gesture is allegorical: it indicates the future represented by Palestine without actually naming it. At this point Spielberg cuts to a wide-angle shot of the survivors crossing a field, and, as an indication of the direction in which they are now meant to be walking, we hear the folk song “Jerusalem of Gold.” Following a brief cutaway to a staging of Amon Goeth’s hanging and then some words about Schindler’s eventual fate, the film returns to the Jews. The image dissolves to color, moving the narrative out of the past and into the present. The actors are replaced by their older counterparts, and at the bottom of the screen the title appears: “The Schindler Jews today.” This famous feature film thus concludes as a documentary. Spielberg ultimately cuts away to Schindler’s grave marker, and one by one the still-living Holocaust survivors, in many cases accompanied by the actors and actresses who played them, reverently lay small stones on the protagonist’s grave.

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