Study Guide

Schindler's List Race and Religion

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Race and Religion

It's no mistake that the movie opens with a Jewish prayer and closes in a Jewish cemetery. Steven Spielberg wanted to recount this awful period in human history, but he also wanted to show it as a Jewish story. Suffering and persecution are universal experiences, unfortunately, but this particular story is about Jews.

The Nazis weren't really fans of religion in general, Christianity included. They thought that allegiance to a religious faith got in the way of good old nationalistic sentiment. Plus, Christianity had those annoying Jewish elements—you know, like the Old Testament. The Nazis didn't even view Jews as members of a religion. They classified them as a racial group. So your parents might have been Lutheran and raised you as a Lutheran, but if you had even one Jewish-born grandparent, you were out of luck. Tainted. Doomed.

Still, there are instances in Schindler's List where we see Judaism as a religion, where belief and tradition are a way for people to cope with the unimaginable. The Nazis forbade any observance of Jewish holidays or rituals, so they had to be done in secret in the ghetto or the camps, giving some small comfort to people facing imminent death.

Questions About Race and Religion

  1. At what points do the movie's Jews have a chance to express their religious practices and beliefs? What's important about those scenes?
  2. At one point, Amon states that the synagogue is going to be used as his stables. In what ways is that a monstrosity equal to his treatment of the Jews themselves?
  3. What's so important about opening the film with a Jewish religious ceremony? How does it inform the story to come?

Chew on This

Religion provides the Jews with their only sources of hope during some of the darkest days of the Holocaust.

Schindler was a totally secular guy, but he still managed to ultimately act in a highly moral way.

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