Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

A Glimpse of Something Good....

Well, well, here we are at Wednesday (strike that) Thursday (strike that)Friday already and finally I am getting around to blogging.

I shouldn't be of course. I have many other, more important, more financially productive things to do.

I've had plenty to blog about though. Firstly, I'm off to Sydney on holiday on Friday night! I haven't been to Sydney for a visit since 2003 when we came back from the UK. I am so excited, although I think I will spend a lot of time on trains.

I'm staying with the Baby Angel's Dad and his lovely wife on Friday night, then 'training' out to Parramatta to see The Good Witch and her Cuddlebun for Saturday and Sunday. Sunday night I'll train back into Sydney to stay with Miss Perisher 1992, then back out west again on Monday and down to Picton to see the Valkyrie. An overnight stay there and then another train trip back to Parramatta to stay the final night with the Good Witch and her lovely hubby*. Finally, I fly out back to Adelaide on Wednesday morning! Phew!!!!

So why the picture up there I hear you ask? Well, that goes to a story about school this week.

We have been studying the Second World War in History which has meant we have been able to watch a few terrific films. We saw 'The Battle of Britain' and numerous documentaries on D-Day; but this week we have been watching 'Schindler's List'.
I first saw this movie many years ago and remembered it as being powerful but very difficult to watch. When I knew I had to teach The Holocaust I was sure there were many other films out there on the subject, 'The Music Box', 'Playing For Time', oh......there were hundreds, surely.
Well, there may be many documentaries, there may be many made for TV mini series, but there was no other feature length film which showed the breadth of events over the years of Nazi dehumanisation with such grace and power. If you know of one, please enlighten me.

The picture at the top shows Oskar Schindler with some of his Schindlerjuden after the war. For those unfamiliar with the story, Schindler was a charismatic war profiteer whose basic humanity was challenged by what he saw unfolding around him. A complex character, he was a drinker, a womaniser and a shameless black marketeer. His enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland made him phenomonal amounts of money as an employer of slave labour and he acted as an intermediary in the illegal sale of confiscated Jewish art works and antiques. He was a member of the NAZI party and fraternised regularly with the sadistic Kommandant of Plaszow, the local forced labour camp.

Oskar Schindler was no angel.

But what he did was to shelter Jews by employing them in his factory as 'skilled workers'. Even the aging, 68 year old parents of a worker became 'skilled workers', essential to the Reisch. When the tide of war turned and the Nazis sped up their program of extermination, the population of the camp at Plaszow was scheduled for transportation to Auschwitz and certain death. At this point Schindler made a remarkable and ultimately life changing decision; if not for himself then certainly for the workers in his factory. He began to use his wealth to buy because of what you have done people to work in a new armaments factory he was setting up in Czechoslovakia. He bought 1100 Jews. By this act he was responsible for saving the equivalent of a quarter of the Jews left in Poland after the war. As one of the characters says to him at the end of the film, "There will be generations".

Phenomenal stuff.

For me, one of the most powerful moments in the film was Schindler leaving his workers on the night of the German surrender. As they thanked him for what he'd done, he looked around and began to question himself. He wondered how many more he could have saved. He looked at his car and his gold NAZI party pin and he wondered how many more people they could have bought. In the sight of the 1100 people whose lives he had snatched from the teeth of the beast, Auschwitz, he cried for the thousands he did not save, for the one he did not save.

Year 10 were mesmerised.

Now my Year 10 History class is my only mainstream group and much as I appreciate them, their enthusiasm and their general interest in history, I am aware that they are all incredibly boisterous, cynical, 15 year old boys (indeed there are only 8 girls in the class of 22) whose hormones and razor sharp wit run at fever pitch.

Just how much of the film they could cope with before descending into sniggering and snide comments was a worrying unknown; and of course the film is rated M and I hadn't had time to send home permission notes to all the parents before we watched it so..........

I did a lot of pre-screening and censoring based on what might challenge their adolescent comfort zones; however, in the end, there was only one or two scenes that drew the censors 'skip' button! :-) One was the moment where Goeth (sadistic Kommandant) feels up a Jewish girl's breast. I knew that would challenge their testosterone levels. There was also a particularly gruelling scene where inmates were stripped and sorted for transportation in the camp yard. There was quite a bit of nudity, particularly of older, rather grotesque figures, picked no doubt to highlight the ravages of starvation and also to emphasise the dehumanisation of the victims; so while I thought we could cope with the long shots, some of the close ups later in the scene were probably skating on thin ice.

I did choose however, to leave 'in' the scene where the women stripped and were herded into the 'showers'. I actually stopped the film first and explained to the kids why I wanted them to see it. I pointed out that there was nudity but that I trusted them to look at this maturely and to think instead about what would have been going through the minds of the women as they waited in the shower room; huddled, shivering, virtually paralysed with fear; all dignity stripped from them as they waited to see what would spew forth from the malevolent, mushroom shower heads poised over them.

Not a single comment or wisecrack was heard. The kids were enthralled. We're talking 'pin drop' here !!!!!!!!

But even more amazing, and certainly illuminating, was the conversation which followed the film.
As it finished, one of them commented
"He wasn't really a very good man was he Mrs A.?"
Before I had a chance to comment another pupil chimed in,
"Of course he was good, what about all the Jews he saved?!"
Then another,
"But he was an adulterer. Look at all the women he slept with."
"Yea miss, he won't go to heaven will he?"
"Of course he will, saving all the Jews would make all the difference."
What amuses me is that these are all kids from 'church' families who go to Youth Group and have presumably attended Sunday School all their lives and yet still the myth that you are saved or damned by your 'works' persists. In particular, the young man who objected to Mr Schindler's morals was very difficult to 'shift'.
"No one's perfect Andrew, " I said to him, "everyone has weaknesses and makes mistakes."
"Yes, but how hard could it be? I mean all he has to say is 'I'm married'. Hello?! "
"Ah, I'd like to ask him about that again in 10 years time :-)
So there was much discussion and the idea of an imperfect hero was tossed around. The fact that Schindler had claimed that 'war brings out the worst in people' and yet, in his case it seemed to have brought out the best, was aired and we speculated about how we, as people, would have faired had we been in the shoes of either Schindler or his Jews.
Unfortunately the bell went way too soon as I felt there were so many more ideas and themes to examine. Of course on the following day, all sign of the mature, thoughtful Year 10s of the previous lesson had vanished and instead, I found my class once more full of jabbering, slobbering, ferromone ridden 15 yearolds.
Still, it was nice to see the kind of people they may eventually turn out to be :-)
Post Script: After this encounter with The Holocaust, I clicked over to Maggie's site to find an amazingly beautiful piece written on just this subject. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

* I hope they like their pseudonyms :-)


A Free Man said...

Have a good trip!

I was going to make a smart assed comment about teachers teaching with videos, but then I read the rest of the post. Sounds like you really got through to them.

ENjoy the teaching break.

Anonymous said...

Wow - what a refreshing and rewarding experience from your classoom! Way to go! i'm impressed that the maturity lasted for at least the initial class period. And the discussion you had - wow - something resonated with them.
I loved your commment about getting a glimpse of the people they will become - how insightful of you.

Maggie, Dammit said...

I remember the first time we talked about the Holocaust in school was in 6th grade, waaaaay before Schindler's List was made, and we watched a movie - "Return to Sobibor"

There was a scene where a bunch of Jews are naked in line for the gas chambers, and not a single kid made a fuss about it. I remember thinking how crazy that was.

You did good! :)

HipMomma said...

It's a very powerful movie and I think that sometimes in order to be moved we have to be shocked. I wonder if it would have been allowed in schools here, though.

Maggie said...

I hope that you have a WONDERFUL trip! You most certainly deserve the break!

I have to admit, I have never seen Schindler's List. I know, I know - I really should - it looks amazing.

Brittany said...

Girl- you are nutso! What a crazy trip... Enjoy that Holiday! :)