David Thomson: Schindler's Girl in the Red Coat Speaks Out

tags: Holocaust, The New Republic, Davod Thomson, films, Schindler's List



David Thomson is a film critic who often writes for The New Republic.

Here’s an oddity, from Yahoo Movies this past Monday: two photographs, side by side—a dark-haired woman, apparently 23-years-old, in a belted red raincoat, standing in front of a wall covered with Jewish imagery; and then, a child, 3-years-old, in a red coat, but in the foreground of a black-and-white picture that shows German soldiers guarding abashed citizens. It is the same person in both pictures, Oliwia Dabrowska, from Krakow in Poland. There is a heading to the pictures and the short article that follows: “‘Red coat girl’ from ‘Schindler’s List’: I was ‘horrified.’

Have you placed it yet? In Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, there is a scene in which Oskar Schindler and his wife, both on horseback, and on a knoll above the city, see one of the first round-ups of Jews by German soldiers. They shot the sequence in Krakow, and it is a very persuasive evocation of Schindler’s mounting distress and conscience. But then something horrifying happens. Schindler notices one little girl, on her own in the crowd, and just in case we haven’t got the point Spielberg colorizes her coat. He makes it a dusty red, so that we will notice it and feel it. As if the true impact of the Holocaust depended on costume. The colorizing is very tastefully done, but that doesn’t stop the device from being appalling.

Not that Dabrowska’s horror was prompted in that way. Spielberg plainly cherishes children, and when they had shot the scene he took Oliwia aside and told her not to look at the finished film until she was much older. Like 18, he thought. But older people talked about the scene and the film, and Oliwia was impatient and frustrated, so at the age of eleven she saw Schindler’s List and she was “horrified”. She felt she never wanted to see the picture again. You can understand her feelings, just as you can appreciate Spielberg’s advice. A child is not ready to see Schindler’s List, which is a candid and vivid look at the experience of holocaust. But a child is not ready at the age of three to be rounded up for extermination. There are things too horrific to be filmed, or too awkward to be digested as part of a drama. Yet we have made a kind of pledge to be faithful to what happened in those places, and not to forget.



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