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‘Schindler's List' DVD Launch Event a Moving Experience

11 Mar, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

He didn't do it for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. He didn't do it for Jaws. He didn't do it for Jurassic Park, or for any of his other movies, for that matter.

But for the DVD launch event for Schindler's List last week, Steven Spielberg broke form and came to the Universal Studios lot to meet the press and talk up the release.

It wasn't your typically festive gathering, however. Spielberg and a troupe of the movie's stars, including Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, were accompanied by five Holocaust survivors, including Celina Biniaz, frail and white-haired, a former schoolteacher who was the youngest woman on German industrialist Oskar Schindler's real list of Jews he saved from death by starting a factory in Poland.

The arrival of Schindler's List on DVD coincided with the 10th anniversary of both the film and Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has collected more than 52,000 videotaped testimonials from Holocaust survivors and is now in the process of cataloging them and using them to create educational materials for schools and libraries all over the world.

The event's most touching moment came when Biniaz hugged Spielberg and said, “Schindler saved us. You are our second Schindler.”

Prior to the film, Biniaz said, she had been unable to talk about her stay in the concentration camps, “not even all those years while I was teaching school.” Watching Schindler's List “liberated me by giving me a voice. Before that, no one had a reference point, no concept of what it was really like.”

Spielberg said the DVD of Schindler's List is only now being released because he wanted to wait until the film's and the foundation's, 10th anniversary. “Making that film was truly an experience that did change my life,” he said at the event. “It led me to find my heart and my soul,” and yet at the same time, Spielberg said, “it was a nightmare to relive those horrific memories, day in and day out.”

He noted that when Schindler's List was made, “the world was relatively at peace,” and he believes the movie's overriding message of tolerance is particularly relevant today.

“Rwanda, the trouble between Israel and the Arabs, the explosion of terrorism — that all happened afterward,” Spielberg said. “It's a lesson that people haven't really learned that much from history. Schindler's List came out, and then the world began to become a very sad place again.”

Holocaust survivor Biniaz, whose videotaped testimonial is part of the DVD's 77-minute Voices From the List documentary, said Spielberg created an “extremely accurate” account of what life was like in the concentration camps and during the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943.

“But in many ways, the horrors were greater,” she recalled. “If he had made it as true to the horrors as they really were, people would not have seen it.”

British-born actor Ben Kingsley, who played Itzhak Stern, Oskar Schindler's Jewish accountant, in Schindler's List and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001, agrees.

It could have been more brutal, but fewer people would have seen it,” he said.

Working on the set, which was filmed mostly on location, wasn't easy, he recalls. “It was hard to let it go,” Kingsley said. “We were working on the cobblestone streets of Krakow, where there had been trucks, searchlights, gunfire. We could see people in the windows looking out just a peep from behind the curtains, watching us, and then turning away — just as people must have done years ago.”

As launch events go, this one was hardly typical. But then again, neither is Schindler's List.

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