Literature of the Holocaust
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"To a Nazi with love": Schindler's List Debuts in Boston
Spilling Holocaust Survivors' Memories
By Bob Hohler and Brian McGrory
Thursday December 16, 1993
Rena Finder's angel returned yesterday.
A half century after a Nazi industrialist, Oskar Schindler, secretly spared her and 1,200 other Jews from death in World War II. Finder saw him again in a monumental movie about his life and theirs -- a film that at long last, she said, gave a forgotten hero his rightful acclaim.
"He was wonderful," Finder said of Schindler. "He was tall and he was handsome and he had a twinkle in his eye. He was our hero and our God. How can you say thank you for someone who saved your life?"
Finder, 64, and dozens of Jews and non-Jews who jammed the sold-out Boston premiere of "Schindler's List" at the Nickelodeon theater yesterday instantly proclaimed the film to be one of the most moving and important cinematic works in years, an epic that captures in vivid detail one man's heroism amid the horrors of Nazi genocide.
With its debut occurring amid increasing concern about anti-Semitic activity and revisionism, Steven Spielberg's master work provides a vital -- and timely -- historical perspective of the Nazi scourge, according to many members of the audience.
But the movie also celebrates the extraordinary potential that ordinary citizens have to do good, said Leonard Zakim, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
Schindler, a munitions manufacturer, was a Nazi industrialist, a wartime profiteer who made a fortune off the slave labor of Jews.
But as Schindler witnessed the Nazi military's atrocities, he evolved into a secret savior who spent his fortune in bribes to spare his 1,200 Jewish workers, Finder among them, from the death camp at Auschwitz.
"His evolution should bring a message to everyone who is concerned about gang violence, bigotry and hopelessness," Zakim said. "The only way things are going to change is. if you take the responsibility to change yourself. You can't wait for Martin Luther King or anyone else do it for you."
Finder, of Framingham, was 10 years old when the war began. The Nazis killed her father at Auschwitz and forced her and her mother into slave labor in Schindler's Polish factory, where Finder made bullet-shell casings.
Near the end of the war, the Nazis ordered Schindler's factory in Poland closed, and his workers to be exterminated in the Auschwitz death camp.
But Schindler made his list, a roll call of his Jewish employees, and bribed Nazi officers to allow the workers to be transferred to a factory he would open in his native Czechoslovakia.
"He was a gambler, an opportunist who loved living on the edge," Finder said. "He loved outsmarting the SS," a Nazi organization whose duties included running concentration camps.
When Finder and hundreds of other Jewish women who worked for Schindler were mistakenly shipped to Auschwitz rather than Czechoslovakia, he saved them.
And when a Nazi guard was about to shoot Finder for mistakenly breaking her factory machine, Schindler intervened, she said.
"He said, ‘You idiots,’ this little girl could not break that machine," she recalled.
She said Spielberg's depiction of Schindler "was just the way I remember him."
"It’s so real," she said. "I wish he were here today so I could hug him and kiss him."
Many others in the audience marveled at Spielberg's vivid attention to the details of the lives and tortuous deaths of the Jews.
"The most amazing thing was how close it was to the details of the Holocaust, the ability that Spielberg had in capturing not only the terror and heartbreak, but the heroism and decency," said Rabbi David Jacobs of Quincy. "There were many good people. There just weren't enough of them."
Many members of the audience, young and old, Jews and non-Jews, left with a feeling of weakness, overwhelmed, they said, from the movie's power. Indeed, after the three hour and 15 minute saga ended, no one stood to leave as the credits began to roll. Instead, most dabbed tears from their eyes and stared solemnly at the screen.
"It was very strong and powerful and moving," said Jack Hogan of Boston. "I just thought of it in terms of how many injustices are served on so many different people, whether it be Jews or gays or anyone else."
Many in the theater had nowhere near the connection to Schindler that Finder does, though they left with a feeling of warmth and closeness.
"I never heard of Schindler," said John Huston, of Brighton. "But just the fact that there was such a tremendous humanitarian is inspiring."
Julius Kaplan, of Newton, who fought the Nazis in Italy as an American soldier and who lost many relatives in Poland to the Holocaust, said viewers should consider the film a documentary.
"People have to believe it," he said. "They may think it's only a movie, but it's not."
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