An Oscar to Reward Remembrance

March 23, 1994

In the years immediately after World War II, the enormity of the evil represented by the Holocaust left the world so traumatized the subject could hardly be discussed. Aside from works like "The Diary of Anne Frank," written by a 13-year-old Dutch Jewish girl before she was murdered in a German concentration camp, the extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis was virtually undocumented outside the records held in official archives. Only in the 1960s did the first comprehensive histories of the Holocaust begin to appear.

The Academy Awards won by "Schindler's List," Steven Spielberg's monumental remembrance to Hitler's victims, are an indication of how far Americans, at least, have come from those days. Along with the opening of the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., last year, the recognition accorded Mr. Spielberg's film marks a growing national consensus that the terrible lessons of the Holocaust must not be forgotten. As a Jew, making the film may have been a form of bearing witness as well as a personal and artistic triumph for Mr. Spielberg; but acknowledging the horror of that era is an obligation incumbent on all who believe such a tragedy must never again be allowed to occur.

Mr. Spielberg's Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture, and the five other awards received by "Schindler's List," have come at a time when anti-Semitism around the world is increasingly a cause for concern. In Russia, nationalist parliamentarian Vladimir Zhirinovsky makes no secret of his desire to emulate the Nazi approach to "the Jewish question." In Germany, neo-Nazi and fascist groups are experiencing a resurgence. In the United States, black and white demagogues cynically stoke the fires of religious hatred and bigotry.

Mr. Spielberg suggested in his acceptance speech that schools should teach about the Holocaust as an antidote to the ignorance on which bigotry thrives. He is right, but there is still no real consensus on how this should be done. Ironically, the Germans require more thorough instruction in the subject than we do. And despite the recent multicultural trend, the contrast between the recognition accorded "Schindler's List" and the relative obscurity of the movie "Sankofa," a similarly searing film treatment of the African slave trade, shows that Americans still have difficulty coming to grips with their troubled racial history. Nevertheless, it is possible Mr. Spielberg's achievement may ultimately render Americans more open to consider their own most fearful past as well. Better for schools to teach all our tragic histories than condemn future generations to relive them.

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