Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis

New York Times
December 12, 1993

Film: Steven Spielberg Faces the Holocaust


As a youth, Steven Spielberg says, he was ashamed to be a Jew.

Moving from Ohio to Arizona to California, the Spielbergs were often the only Jewish family in the neighborhood. "I was embarrassed, I was self-conscious, I was always aware I stood out because of my Jewishness," the director recalls. "In high school, I got smacked and kicked around. Two bloody noses. It was horrible." His family had direct ties to the Holocaust: relatives died in Poland and Ukraine.

Now, nearly 30 years later, at the age of 46, Mr. Spielberg has marked his own voyage as a Jew -- and as a film maker -- with "Schindler's List," his riskiest, most personal film. The director was offered the project a decade ago but admits that he was frightened of undertaking the Holocaust then. He wanted to wait, he said, until he got older. The film, which has already received some glowing early reviews, opens on Wednesday.

Based on Thomas Keneally's prize-winning 1982 book, the movie stars Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, an enterprising German-Catholic businessman, rogue and Nazi Party member who moved to Cracow after the German invasion of Poland. He earned a fortune on bribes and black-market deals. But as he began to absorb the horror surrounding him, Schindler built a factory-camp to protect his unpaid Jewish workers. By the war's end, Schindler -- who was by no means a saint -- had bartered his vast fortune to save the 297 Jewish women and 801 Jewish men reported to be on his list of workers. He died virtually penniless in 1974.

The book was given to Mr. Spielberg in 1982 by his early mentor, Sidney J. Sheinberg, president of MCA. It was Mr. Sheinberg who in the late 60's had seen Mr. Spielberg's first, short film, "Amblin," about two hitchhikers, and signed the director, then 20, to a contract.

"When I made the first deal with Steven," Mr. Sheinberg said, "it was because of the sensitivity of those characters and the relationships on the screen. People say, 'Gee, isn't he capable of only doing dinosaur sci-fi pictures or adventure yarns?' Well, tg recalled that "when we were making 'Schindler,' Liam came up to me one day and asked me if I could ever make another Indiana Jones movie where the Nazis are cartoon villains. I said, 'Never, never.' Right now I can't conceive of anything that's simply entertainment." The Bottom Line The Question Is, Will It Be a Hit?

No matter how well the film does -- and it is debatable whether audiences, especially during the holidays, will flock to see a film on such a horrific subject -- "Schindler's List" will certainly not turn into another Spielbergian gold mine. Mr. Spielberg has made the two top-grossing films of all time, last summer's "Jurassic Park" and the 1982 movie "E. T., the Extra-Terrestrial."

His 30 films over 25 years include phenomenal successes such as "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and, with George Lukas, the Indiana Jones trilogy. In September, Forbes magazine listed him as the second richest person in the entertainment industry (Oprah Winfrey was first), with an estimated income this year of $42 million.

Universal officials are almost embarrassed to talk about the commercial possibilities for "Schindler's List." Thomas P. Pollock, chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group, said, only half-kiddingly, "I feel like Sam Goldwyn who said, 'This is such an important film, I don't care if we ever make any money so long as every man, woman and child in the country sees it.' "
Search for a (single) word:

http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/spielberg.html - - - Last modified: Friday, 06-Aug-2004 09:19:20 EDT