Names and numbers in Schindler’s List

“You shouldn’t get stuck on names…It creates a lot of paperwork.”

Schindler's List

The Nazi Soldier Hoss says this as he is being bribed into sending Schindler’s Jews to Czechoslovakia. The scene cuts, and then we are on Auschwitz grounds, watching a Nazi read aloud the names of the Jews who will board the train bound for Schindler’s factory. The camera shows his list: the lens focuses on the Jews’ assigned numbers, but they are left unsaid.

Throughout the film Jews are dehumanized by the Nazis: the most cruel instance perhaps being when the Nazi Captain Goeth, as he is contemplating raping her, refers to his Jewish housemaid as “not a person in the strictest sense of the word” to her face. She is something less than a person, and it justifies his crimes. In a way, Schindler’s list – the significance given to the names, rather than the numbers – is the counterattack to dehumanization; it symbolizes rehumanization. The list, when read aloud at Auschwitz, links their names with their survival.

To have meaning and worth is to have a name. That is why the Nazis dispose of names on their quest to extinguish the Jews while Schindler, as his love for his workers increases, records them. For a Nazi soldier committing crimes against humanity, victims’ namelessness was an asset. Schindler’s List is a poignant and harrowing reminder that discarding individuals’ names is equivalent to removing their humanity, and a precursor to stripping them of their lives.

Author: mjfleck7

Living and working in Heidelberg, Germany. Interests in shifting societal narratives, understanding, employing, and deploying art, reciprocity with the natural world, and Calvin and Hobbes. Running and folk music are good, too.

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