One of the monstrous paradoxes of the Holocaust is that the Nazis, in many cases, kept meticulous records, as if history would ultimately vindicate the atrocities they documented, or as if well-kept columns of names and figures could impose some framework of sense and logic upon all the horror. But as Schindler’s List showed, that obsessive mania for ledger-keeping worked both ways. German industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) hires accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to impose some financial sense on a business built on collaboration, black-marketeering, and slave labor.
But soon, he’s helping Schindler compile the list of Krakow ghetto residents he needs to staff his factory, a list that both men know could save those named on it from almost certain death. Schindler will sacrifice nearly all he has to add names to the list, but it’s Stern who’s as much an architect of the list as Schindler. And, in Steven Spielberg’s reckoning, it’s also Stern who gets to give absolution to Schindler for not sacrificing even more to lengthen the list. In writing down those 1,100 names, Schindler and Stern had done more than most to impose sense on the senselessness.
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