Monday, 12 March 2007

Schindler's Ark and other films dealing with atrocities

I've just finished reading Schinder's Ark, the Booker Prize winning novel by Thomas Keneally which inspired Steven Spielberg's adaptation Schinder's List. It seems weird that an Australian with seemingly no connection to the atrocities that happened in World War II can write such an engaging narrative about the Holocaust. Schinder's Ark is the story of Oskar Schindler, a German who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews from certain death in the concentration camps of Poland and Germany. It is based on the accounts of 50 survivors that Schindler rescued, as well as his own records and letters. I started reading it because I think the film is amazing and always wanted to know what it was based on, but also because the Holocaust fascinates me somehow; almost as if I can't get my head around how something so inhuman like this happened less than 60 years ago in the Europe that I have known and visited so many times.

In the summer I went interrailing around Eastern Europe, starting in Poland and working down to Croatia. In Poland, I visited Warsaw and Krakow and whilst in the latter decided to go to the concentration / death camps at Auschwitz - Birkenau to see the location of the events I'd been taught about in history lessons since I was at school. Most of the bunk houses at Auschwitz itself have been turned into museums where you can walk around and see artifacts left over from the camps. In one room this included a glassed off side of the room full of human hair, another of suitcases all with names written on them, one with hairbrushes, pots, pans, shoes, and disturbingly, children's shoes. The whole experience was moving in the extreme, it disgusted me but at the same time I had this curiosity to see more. I went into a gas chamber and saw the ovens where people were cremated. I saw the electric fences still standing as they were. And this was only Auschwitz I: the first camp before Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, was built to kill even more people in the gas chambers that could fit a thousand people in at one time. It was at the second camp that the immense scale of the Nazi's operation could be seen; this place was huge. We walked down the train tracks that lead down to the bombed remains of the killing machine at Birkenau, next to which a memorial made of over a million bricks covers the ground. What struck me was the silence of the place, that when you stopped and listened you couldn't hear anything apart from the wind through the trees. There's no one, not even birds, for miles.

What makes me think though, is that this happened relatively recently in our history and it just seems unbelievable that people are capable of such things. A friend of mine is in Cambodia at the moment and was just telling me about the atrocities that happened there in the 1970s. Haven't heard about it? Neither had I. Over 20% of Cambodia's population was murdered during the regime that ruled at this time. The same goes for the Rwandan Genocide which happened even more recently.

Like I said, I'm not really sure where I'm going with this...and it's a bit of a morbid subject. But it's so important to know about all this that's going on across the world. We're so concerned with what's happening in the rich parts of America due to terrorism, there's no focus on what's happening because of natural disasters. Has New Orleans even been touched since the hurricane? No doubt most of it still lies in tatters. What about the stolen generations of aborigines taken from their families in order to 'breed out' the race from Australia as recently as the 1950's. In fact, Aborigines were not given the right to vote along with the rest of the Australian population until 1962, until then, they were considered part of the wildlife.

'The NSW Aborigines Welfare Board controlled Aboriginal lives until the 1960s, pursuing policies that are now acknowledged as having contributed to the destruction of Aboriginal families and society by separating children from their parents. These children became known as ‘the stolen generations’ and are still searching for their families'. (taken from here)

It's just not right...there's so much other stuff going on that people need to be made aware of.

I'd really recommend reading the book of Schinder's List/Ark even if you've seen the film, I couldn't put it down. My friend's just recommended that I watch 'The Killing Fields' which is about Cambodia. I'd recommend Hotel Rwanda and of course Schinder's List for the other events I talked about. For the issues concerning Australia, Rabbit Proof Fence is an amazing film which is well worth a watch.

1 comment:

Miss Milk said...

Actually, Aboriginal people were given the right to vote and to be included in the census by referendum in 1967. Sorry to be such an annoying pedant. I really like your blog, that's why I'm reading the archives. :)

I think it's wrong that there's so much focus on one atrocity from over 60 years ago when the same sort of thing is still going on and nobody knows half as much about it. At least the Australian government have apologised now and are supposed to be working towards making amends. Here's hoping they'll succeed.


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