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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Response Unworthy of 'Schindler'

The relatively cool reception official Moscow has granted to "Schindler's List," although in some ways understandable, is a troubling sign that many Russians may not yet be ready to come to grips with its past.


The film, widely hailed as director Steven Spielberg's masterpiece, has become a sensation, premiering to great fanfare throughout the world. Dealing with the mass annihilation of Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II, it is a three-hour marathon of unforgettable characters and images, a superbly told story and a beautifully filmed epic.


"Schindler's List" is also an attempt to convey the chilling madness of a scheme to rid the world of an entire religious and ethnic group, carried out with ruthless efficiency by the German war machine.


But the Russian press reaction to the film has been lukewarm, almost defensive, and the film opened with a much lower-key ceremony than in other world capitals. What can so grudging an official response to such an unexceptionable film signify?


Some have said that it is hard to impress audiences in a country where every family was touched by a war in which 20 million Soviet citizens died and whole populations were uprooted. Who is Spielberg, the thinking goes, to teach us about suffering? What does Hollywood know of the horrors of Nazism?


No one disputes the fact that Russia bore the brunt of World War II. And Russians rightly feel that their contribution to the Allied victory has been overlooked in the West. But Spielberg's movie in no way denigrates the sufferings of Russians in the war.


Similarly, few would dispute that Russia has made its own powerful films about the War. Classics of Soviet cinema such as Mikhail Romm's "Ordinary Fascism," made in 1966, and the more recent "Go and Look," by Elem Klimov, are vivid portrayals of the atrocities inflicted on civilian populations by Nazi invaders.


Yet this is no reason to belittle a movie about Jewish suffering in the war. No former Soviet citizen should forget Babii Yar, a reminder that they too share responsibility for the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Jews died due to local collaboration in Ukraine.


In fact, there may be a very simple explanation for the reluctance to accept this film, namely anti-Semitism. There is certainly enough anecdotal evidence to support this. Almost any Jew in Moscow could tell of neighbors muttering a once common phrase -- "Hitler did not go far enough" -- when angry at them.


Yegor Gaidar said it perfectly in Izvestia when welcoming Spielberg's movie to Russia recently: The inocculation against fascism only lasts 50 years, and this movie is here to give a booster shot now.