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Rabbi Hecht on 'Schindler's List'

January 10, 1994

In response to "When Will Jews Let It Rest?" by Rabbi Eli Hecht, Commentary, Jan. 2:

As a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, a presidential appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council, and one of a handful of benefactors of the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument in Pan Pacific Park, I believe I am qualified to respond to Rabbi Hecht's column.

Clearly Rabbi Hecht does not have the slightest understanding of why Jews--and all people--must understand the horrors of the Holocaust and never, ever forget it. The resounding message of every museum and monument which has been erected in memory of the Holocaust is not, as Hecht states, that "the world is never a safe place for Jews." The message of remembrance, rather, is that the world must do everything humanly possible to prevent man's inhumanity to man from repeating itself.

Each day, thousands of men, women and children of all races, religions, and nationalities visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. I am extremely proud that I have been a part of its creation--not because I wear a number on my arm . . . and not because I need a memorial to the nearly 60 members of my own family who perished at the hands of the Nazis. I am proud because of the many lessons it teaches to this generation and all future generations of children about ending discrimination of all kinds.

If Rabbi Hecht cannot see the importance of these lessons of the Holocaust, then he has closed his eyes to the rest of the world, turning his back on the horrors of Cambodia, Bosnia and Somalia. He refuses to recognize the ongoing acts of the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads, and the many gangs who terrorize innocent victims and create daily versions of the Holocaust in our cities.

The movie, "Schindler's List," and other movies like it, should be required viewing for all people. As a teacher, Rabbi Hecht should know that children cannot be taught tolerance without awareness.

As the Talmud reads (as well as the inscription on the ring presented to Oskar Schindler by the 1,200 Jews he saved), "He who saves one life, saves the world."


Beverly Hills

* For the life of me I cannot understand why Rabbi Hecht is so upset with Steven Spielberg's film "Schindler's List." In our religious schools we were taught that one who saves one life is saving the whole world. Schindler, for whatever reason, saved over a thousand Jews. For that alone he should be remembered. For all his moral shortcomings and the benefit he derived from Jewish labor, at the end he saved them.

I too was saved by a righteous Gentile. I never questioned his reason or morality. But when a Polish Catholic endangered his life and the lives of his children and grandchildren to save my life, then he should be remembered for the good he did. The last thing I recall our martyred parents, brothers and sisters asking of the ones who would survive was to tell the world what happened to them, and to remember them.



* It was such a pleasure to read an honest observation made by Hecht. I'm 69 and every time I see a Holocaust movie I cry. What the rabbi was saying is on target. Enough of suffering! As an American I remembered the hostility. Nobody really ever helped.



* It is true that Schindler was a member of the Nazi party, an aspiring war profiteer and bon vivant , but it is also true that somehow he discovered his humanity in the horrors of the Shoah as the rescuer of those Jews.

In response to Hecht's contention that Schindler's motives and actions are highly suspect, it might be easy to say that Schindler was a hero and leave it at that. But that would be dangerous. Heroes are not like other people. Heroes rise above what is expected of the rest of us and perform acts which are extraordinary. Schindler's journey from war profiteer to rescuer did not come suddenly. It emerged from Schindler's recognition that the Jews working for him as slave laborers were human beings. It was common humanity, that which linked Schindler to the Jews, that motivated his actions, not uncommon heroism.

Spielberg has given us a very precious gift in bringing Schindler's story to the screen.

Schindler was not a super-hero, he was a mensch , a human being. We need menschen , real human beings, more than heroes. That is what Schindler really teaches us.


Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana

* Does Rabbi Hecht propose that, as Jews, we let Passover and Purim rest along with the Holocaust? For centuries we have recounted tales of the enslavement and subsequent rescue of our people by "righteous" souls. Only an ostrich would not have noticed that along with dwelling on our past, we have celebrated life. We never used our oppression as an excuse to sink into despair.

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