What does Schindler's List teach us about human nature's capacity for good and evil?

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Schindler's List is a human tragedy in which the world is shown how small acts of kindness can change the fate of a person and the whole world. Oskar Schindler was an ethnic German businessman born in Svitavy (German: Zwittau), Moravia, Czechoslovakia. He worked for an insurance company during World War I. In 1924, Schindler joined the Nazi Party, and became party member #168555.5 He was a spy for the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), reporting on Czechoslovak military activities to the German high command.

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Schindler's List is a great work to explore when considering the human heart and its capacity for extremes. After all, the Holocaust brought out the worst tendencies that plague mankind, but such things are always contrasted by the opposite, as well as the many tones of gray in between. The...

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people committing those crimes against others are, of course, an example of the sheer viciousness humans can show towards those considered inferior. In comparison, people like Schindler and other real-life heroes like Irena Sendler prove that even the darkest times can't break human compassion entirely. And not just them; there were people in the camps themselves who found the strength to help others in the most terrifying places imaginable. Between those two groups are various degrees of others: those who tried to stop it; those who tried, but not very hard; those who simply went along; etc.

I think one of the fundamental reasons why Schindler's List is so successful in bringing light to this subject is that it manages to bring the horror to life. There is a certain line after which such things turn into statistics—too big for us to imagine, but more importantly, to relate. The brilliance of this book is that while no story (but Schindler's own) stays in the focus for too long, you get a feel of the characters and their pain. They become real to us, putting the historic backdrop into context - making Schindler all the more heroic and Goeth all the more terrifying.

The other issue I'd like to draw your attention to is that when we speak of great good and great evil, it often comes down to our personal experience. A person's world is defined and shaped by those around them and the lines run sharp in situations the novel depicts. One word, look, or coincidence could be life-saving, or it could doom you. Those fortunate enough to meet Schindler were saved by objectively small miracles: mostly lying, deceit, and manipulation. If you start calculating the average risk he took to save someone, it might not actually be much—all bowled up in the grand scheme of deceiving Nazis, with the implication of what would have happened if he was caught. But just like Schindler grieves that he could have done more, sacrificed more, you should also be mindful of the way the price of human life is shown. Just one look of pity or a golden ring could have easily saved someone's life. Is sacrificing some jewelry or selling a pin on its own an act of great good? Probably not. Is pointing out someone you recognize, out of context, an act of great evil? Not really. Yet both could be everything to someone. One person can be saved by a little trinket, the other doomed to a horrible fate by pointing.

Human beings are capable of great evil and great good. Schindler's List is excellent at showing us just how fine those lines sometimes are. At times when human lives are measured by such small things, every moment is a chance to come down on either side of that divide. It's comforting to know that there are some among us, like Oskar Schindler, that are capable of making the right choice, time and time again.

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The construction of the narrative poses human beings between paths of extreme virtue and shocking cruelty.  While it is easy and very convenient to look at Schindler and be reminded of all that is redemptive and good within human beings, one need only look at Goeth to be reminded of all that is reprehensible.  In the character spectrum upon which both characters are placed, it is this lesson where human nature is best seen.  When Schindler is motivated by money, it blinds him to what is happening around him.  It is only through bearing witness does Schindler vow to act in a manner that brings down the system around him.  This might be another lesson that is being taught about human nature in that there has to be acknowledgement of suffering in order to alleviate it.  Human beings must see for themselves and must bear witness to what is done for then change can happen.  Yet, we are confronted with Goeth, who not only is aware of such cruelty, but inflicts it with horrific calmness.  When he stands on the balcony of his villa and randomly shoots people for his own joy or sadistic pleasure, it is a statement that there is little hope for human nature.  In the end, the lesson taught to us is that the human being is a creature capable of great levels of cruelty along with an endless reservoir for compassion.  This lesson does resonate because it refuses to take the latter for granted as it is constantly under siege from the former.

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