Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

The Reception of Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' in the German Media

Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

The Reception of Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' in the German Media

Article excerpt

I

The German premiere of Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List took place in Frankfurt - where Oskar Schindler had spent the last years of his life - on 1 March 1994. The premiere was something of an occasion and was attended by Spielberg himself and by many important figures in German public life. The film had a profound effect on its prominent audience, so profound that some were unable to find words to express their feelings. The literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki refused to make any comment. Then Federal President Richard von Weizsacker's only comment after seeing the film was 'ich kann, ich will jetzt nichts sagen.' The Minister President of Hesse, Hans Eichel, found the film 'beklemmend und schockierend', while Ignatz Bubis, President of the Central Jewish Council in Germany, who himself had been interned in a concentration camp, maintained: 'genauso war es, selbst die Details stimmen, wie sie [the Jews, WN] in den Verstecken aufgestobert und erschossen wurden. Mir ist, als ob alles gestern war' (Die Welt, 3/3/1994, p. 10). The film went on to become an enormous success in German cinemas. Within the first four days of showing, 98,000 people had seen it - a high number considering that Schindler's List initially ran in only 45 cinemas throughout Germany. After a week this figure had risen to 371,482 (Die Welt, 25/3/1994, p. 11). Two weeks later Schindler's List had climbed to second place in the German film charts, and by the fifth week of showing it had topped these charts. It remained at the top for the following six weeks. By the fifteenth week of showing, when it was still eighth in the German charts, it had been seen by 5.719 million people.(1) The German translation of Thomas Keneally's book Schindler's List, on which Spielberg based his film, also sold well as the 'book of the film': after Schindler's List had run for seven weeks in the German cinema, the book had risen to fourth place on the bestseller list. It remained among the top ten 'Belletristik' bestsellers for about fifteen weeks.(2) The front page of the newspaper Neues Deutschland (30/3/1994) reports that, at the end of March, Keneally's book was even top of the bestseller list in the Eastern part of Germany. According to Die Woche (21/4/1994, p. 29), the Bertelsmann Verlag sold 90,000 hardback copies of the book and the Goldmann Verlag 1,000,000 paperback copies in March and April 1994. Between 1982 and 1994, only 5,000 copies of the book had been sold in Germany. There was also considerable interest in the film in the media. Indeed it is fair to talk of a 'Medienereignis'. The press not only reviewed the film, but published articles on Schindler and on those he protected, as well as interviews with Spielberg, 'Schindlerjuden' and Schindler's widow. There were one or two debates which accompanied the film, and these could be followed in television talk-shows as well as in the press. It is the media reception of Schindler's List that will form the focus of this article.

Statistical surveys show that, since German reunification in 1990, right-wing terrorism has increased dramatically - both in the Western and the Eastern parts of Germany.(3) There has been an accompanying rise in radical right-wing ideological agitation. At the outset it is important to emphasize that the running and success of the film in Germany more or less coincided with a number of occurrences in Germany which confirmed this trend. Moreover, events in early 1994 appeared to indicate that, alarmingly, neither the judicial nor the political authorities were prepared to take the necessary steps to curb right-wing extremism. On 4 March 1994 Franz Schonhuber, at the time head of the Republican Party, accused Ignatz Bubis of 'Volksverhetzung und Verleumdung', simply because Bubis, not without reason, had maintained that the Republicans were responsible for agitating against foreigners. A few days later, on 14 March, Minister of the Interior Manfred Kanther warned against the Republicans developing into a 'rechtsextremistische, verfassungs-feindliche Partei' but considered it too early to think of banning the Party. …

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