Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Paul Emile Anders

[This review was published in Civilian-based Defense, Winter 1993-94, vol. 8, number 6. Oskar Schindler was a real person; see the article"Oskar Schindler." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2011. <>.]

If civilian-based defense (CBD) does not at first succeed in countering an invasion and an occupation follows, even a brutal and genocidal one, survival tactics could help maintain morale and undermine the opponent. Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List holds lessons for such a situation. The film is based on a novel by Thomas Keneally.

Seeing this movie was an anguishing experience. The story centers on Oskar Schindler, a historical person. (I have not delved into Schindler's biography and do not know the movie or novel's accuracy.)

Schindler—bon vivant, womanizer, wheeler-dealer industrialist, and Nazi Party member from Czechoslovakia—sets up a factory during World War II in Kraków using Jewish workers provided by the Nazis. Schindler wants to make a lot of money, but as he gets to know his workers and the Nazi atrocities, he has a change of heart. He increasingly helps the Jews and has at his disposal great skills in the way of the world. To this noble enterprise are also dedicated the great mind of his Jewish bookkeeper and the workers' tenacity, courage, and astuteness.

The bulk of the film is set in Poland. When the Nazis decide to transport to Auschwitz the Jews at the camp where Schindler's workers are housed, Schindler engineers their transfer to a facility at his hometown in Czechoslovakia.

This film dramatizes various tactics for those dealing with invaders, especially for pseudocollaborators with invaders. If collaborators have a change of heart, should they consider remaining in their position and using it to undermine the invader? Schindler saved about a thousand Jews by using his contacts to safeguard his workers. What was done against the Holocaust was not CBD, but some of the peaceful means of opposition could be used in CBD.

• Psychology. Schindler may have briefly succeeded in curtailing summary executions of Plaszow labor camp prisoners by the psychopathic commandant Amon Goeth. Schindler told him a little story about how the emperor had shown a superior form of power by pardoning a malefactor. Schindler's consummate persuasiveness would not of course be available to all resisters.

• Threats. Schindler used masterful threats to get his bookkeeper off a train deporting Jews from Cracow. If two soldiers supervising the embarkation onto the train didn't do Schindler's bidding, they would soon find themselves fighting on the Russian front. When an official at Auschwitz threatened Schindler after Schindler offered him a bribe, Schindler refers to his own powerful friends. (The bribe was ultimately accepted and Schindler's female employees were saved from Auschwitz.)

• Religion. Practicing their religion helped some Jews maintain morale. After the slaughter of some work camp inmates, Jewish women held a religious ceremony for them in their barracks.

• Bribery and Gifts. Schindler undermined the Nazi bureaucracy with a prolonged series of bribes to key officials. Schindler cleverly dispensed money, diamonds, and liquor as needed to gain influence. He danced at their parties and schmoozed with them. When Schindler is briefly imprisoned for kissing a Jewish girl who handed him a birthday cake on behalf of his workers, the Nazi commandant defends him. In his review of the movie, Terrance Rafferty remarks, "The people who work for Schindler are lucky to be under the protection of a man who combines the recklessness of a pirate and the oily mendacity of a confidence man...A Gandhi couldn't have served them nearly so well."

(As a preplanned strategy, I doubt bribes would have a place in CBD. A policy of using bribes might encourage repression to force the oppressed to give bribes.)

• Sabotage. Another tactic is sabotaging production. At a factory Schindler later organized in occupied Czechoslovakia near the end of the war, he and his workers deliberately produced bad munitions for the Germans. This might not be suitable for CBD, which could get more mileage out of fostering trust among the invaders.

For fostering discussion of the tactics for CBD, this fine dramatization has valuable insights. High school and college classes, for example, could well use the film to begin a discussion of such tactics. Another work that comes to mind here is Ira French's The Eleventh Mayor, A Peace Play (revised by Mary Eldridge and Dr. John Mecartney), which is more directly educational. The film and play could be advantageously used in tandem. The film could be used to explore how shady dealing might or might not be pragmatically useful in CBD.

Liam Neeson plays the suave Schindler. Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi in an earlier film, is the adroit bookkeeper; and Ralph Fiennes, the cold blooded Nazi commandant. All are convincing. This three-hour plus film takes its place besides The Killing Fields in helping us to glean some wisdom from history's terrible years.

Source: quotation from Terrance Rafferty: "A Man of Transactions." New Yorker, Dec. 20, 1993, p. 132.

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