Spielberg brings Holocaust home to Berliners: Adrian Bridge, at a screening in Berlin, finds Schindler's List stirring German consciences

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The Independent Online
FOR ONE short moment, the Berlin audience at the first-night showing of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List allowed itself a nervous chuckle. Oskar Schindler, the hero of the film, had just told two officious young Nazis to rescue his Jewish book-keeper from an Auschwitz-bound train - or risk being sent to the Russian front by the end of the month. The two men leapt to it immediately.

It was a rare spasm of laughter in what for most of those present had otherwise been an almost intolerable ordeal. Emerging from the cinema afterwards, the audience, of mixed ages and backgrounds, appeared collectively shell-shocked. Some had tears in their eyes; others had been rendered speechless, yet others simply bowed their heads and walked away as fast as was decently possible. If one of Steven Spielberg's aims was to stir the German conscience, he struck home more tellingly than anyone ever before him.

'Of course, I knew about the gas chambers: we have seen them in documentaries, we have read about them in books. But tonight I actually felt I was inside one,' said Ingeborg Hausmann, a west Berliner who experienced the war as a child. 'I have never felt the horror of the Holocaust so acutely - or felt so ashamed to be a German.'

Widely suppressed feelings of guilt about the atrocities of the Nazi period have been rekindled as a result of the release of Schindler's List in Germany this week. In newspapers and television programmes, the film, which chronicles the astonishing story of how one German businessman saved more than 1,000 Jews from death at Auschwitz, has provoked extensive debate and soul-searching.

Most German commentators agree that, painful though it is, Schindler's List - like the similarly US-produced Holocaust television series in the 1970s - is an important milestone in the almost impossible process of coming to terms with the country's past. 'Everybody should see this film,' urged the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in a front page article. '(It) will move the nation.'

Heiner Neumann, a 42-year-old in the first-night Berlin crowd was clearly moved. But although convinced that the film should be compulsory viewing for all Germans, he remained sceptical about its overall impact. 'Of course, anyone seeing it will be shocked by the brutality. But many younger people will somehow consign it to an almost pre-historic age of barbarism with nothing to do with life today,' he said. 'But in fact much of the aggression and intolerance shown in the film are still very German traits. Today, they only manifest themselves in much smaller ways. But you have to ask, how much have we really learnt?'

Many other uncomfortable questions have been prompted by the film, which went on general release here on Thursday. The most frequent has been, why were there not more Oskar Schindlers in Germany? And why, furthermore, was Mr Schindler, who lived in Frankfurt until his death in 1974, barely acknowledged in his own country for his courage and humanity?

According to Bruno Preisendorfer, writing in Berlin's Zitty magazine, Schindler was never honoured as a hero in West Germany because that would have undermined the huge collective suppression of the past embarked upon after the war. Schindler's actions gave the lie to the oft-stated claim that most Germans did not know about the gas chambers. As the Frankfurter Allgemeine put it: 'The viewer is forced to ask, 'Why didn't others try to do what he did?' '

Nobody in the Berlin cinema audience on Thursday had an answer to that. But some had nevertheless taken heart. 'If nothing else, it reminded us of what it means to be human,' said Mr Neumann.

MANILA - The Philippines government yesterday overturned its own censor's decison to cut sex scenes from Schindler's List and ordered the film to be shown in its entirety, Reuter reports.

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