Germany Revisits Its Nazi Past In Spielberg's Holocaust Film
`Schindler's List' director hopes his movie makes a statement against ethnic hatred
FRANKFURT, GERMANY — DIRECTOR Steven Spielberg walked out onto the stage and stood patiently, sometimes offering a faint smile as the paparazzi snapped away.
It was a scene that Hollywood's most commercially successful director has gone through countless times in his life - an important part of the ritual associated with movie premieres.
But Tuesday's news conference in Frankfurt, in connection with the German opening of his latest film, ``Schindler's List,'' was hardly a run-of-the-mill media event for the maker of blockbusters such as ``E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial'' and ``Jurassic Park.''
There was no hype, but plenty of personal reflection.
Directing ``Schindler's List'' - a film that depicts one German's struggle against the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust - has changed Spielberg as a person, he says. And it's the director's hope that Germans who see his movie will go through a catharsis similar to his own.
``I'd look at this as a public service,'' Spielberg says of the movie. ``I would feel that it is time in Germany for this generation to teach their children without showing guilt, and knowing that education is the way to stop another Holocaust [from] happening.''
``Schindler's List'' is based on the actual story of Oskar Schindler, as chronicled in the book by Thomas Keneally. Schindler, a loyal member of the Nazi Party and a slick operator, turns a tidy profit on World War II, only to give it all up to keep his 1,200 Jewish employees out of Nazi death camps.
Spielberg held the movie's German premiere in Frankfurt on Tuesday as a tribute to Schindler, who spent the last 16 years of his life in this city before his death in 1974.
At least one major German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, urged people to see the movie. But Der Spiegel magazine speculated that a significant number of Germans still aren't prepared to see ``Schindler's List.''
``No one wanted to hear or look at what happened,'' the magazine said, referring to the Nazis' systematic extermination of millions of Jews. ``And after the war, this suppression remained widespread.''
Michel Friedman, a Frankfurt-based lawyer and the son of a ``Schindler Jew,'' says that in present-day Germany there is not enough discussion in people's homes about the Holocaust.
``Today I see a generation that's more open,'' says Mr. Friedman, talking about how younger Germans regard the Holocaust. ``But this generation needs a lot of help, and that help can only be given by discussion in the family.''
As for Spielberg, he says Germans today can't be blamed for the actions, or inaction, of previous generations.
But he adds that the movie should project a strong message to contemporary Europe, which is grappling to contain ethnic warfare in the former Yugoslavia.
``When I first heard the term `ethnic cleansing' it shattered me,'' the director says. ``I thought I could do some good [by making `Schindler's List'].''
Whether or not many Germans see the film, Spielberg says his own experience during the making of the film means that he may never look at his profession in the same way again. During the news conference, he spoke at length about how the film helped rid him of the shame he once associated with being Jewish, as he tried to assimilate into a mostly non-Jewish community as a youth.
``You can't set the present or future right without looking at the past,'' he told a reception crowd. ``I've done that as a Jew.''
He says that starting in April he will take a year off from filmmaking. ``I'm not sure how I could just jump into a musical, or a western ... or another Indiana Jones,'' he says. ``I need time.''
``Schindler's List,'' which has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, debuted in Poland on Wednesday and in Israel yesterday.