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KIDS ON FILM

In the Grim Reality of 'Schindler's List' Lies Lesson of Truth : In "Schindler's List," the hedonistic opportunist Oskar Schindler makes a fortune in World War II using Polish Jews as slave labor, but then, unable to deny the murderous evil of his Nazi friends, he turns his attention and profits to saving 1,100 of his workers from the Auschwitz death camp. (Rated R)

January 06, 1994|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for The Times' View section

Normally, Eric and Samia Friedrichsen do not take their children to R-rated movies. But this one is different.

Eric, a descendant of German soldiers, and Samia, a descendant of Palestinians, wanted them to understand the reality of those dark years that horrified the world and affected their own personal history.

Hopefully, Samia said, the movie's emotional impact would outweigh intellectual arguments--including in her homeland--that the Holocaust never happened.

It was a grim, three-hour movie in black and white, but the children said it kept their interest throughout and they gained information about the Holocaust.

"Before, I didn't know it was that bad," said Samia's son, Ramy Dodin, 11. "I didn't know so many people got killed."

His sister, Reema, 13, said: "You never get facts. This movie, it opens you."

In addition to historical dates and places, she said she learned more about how it happened, "that they would shoot people for being educated, or just for really dumb reasons."

"You don't really believe that could actually happen. But people usually believe the movies they see, and I suppose it's true."

Reema said she recalls fellow students in the fifth grade claiming that the Holocaust never happened in the same way they would claim that Elvis is alive. Now a student in Amman, Jordan, where she is living temporarily with her father, she said the movie "won't make it there. Not a movie like that."

Reema's friend Kerstin Mikalbrown, 13, who went with the family, said that her father and stepmother are Jewish and that she already knew many facts about the Holocaust.

"I just didn't know how it happened. Like, they would shoot people at random. I didn't understand it until I saw it. I remember when (the camp commander) was at the window in the morning with a gun and he was just shooting people randomly. . . ."

Reema finished the thought: "Just to amuse himself."

Other powerful images that children might take away with them include those of other children: a boy hiding from soldiers in the sludge of an outhouse, a girl being ripped from her mother's arms, the heroism of a small German boy lying to soldiers to save his Jewish friends, the heart-ripping courage of a Jewish boy in the camps who witnesses the murder of an innocent man after no one admits to a petty theft.

"I know who did it," he confesses, trembling. "He did," he says pointing to the just-murdered man.

The movie's terror builds to a mid-movie climax with the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, whose scenes of chaos, fear and murder lingered longest in the children's minds. After that, scenes of mass slaughter and layers of bodies were almost numbing.

This is strong, frightening and sorrowful material--for anyone at any age. The question for parents is, when are their own children ready for it?

Those who saw it agreed that it wasn't for everybody.

"Overall, it wasn't that bad," Ramy said. "But it was scary at some points where there was a lot of violence."

He advised other children to see it if they can. "But if you don't think they can handle it, they shouldn't see it," he added. "I thought it was good, but it was very sad also."

Said Kerstin: "I think parents know their kids. If they think their kids can emotionally handle it, I think it's a really important movie for them to see."

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