True 'Schindler's List' story told in exhibit at Pellissippi State
An exhibit about Oskar and Emilie Schindler, made famous in the film Schindler's List, is at Pellissippi State Community College through Oct. 6, 2017. Amy McRary/News Sentinel
Steven Spielberg's film "Schindler's List" made Oskar Schindler famous, showing how the factory owner saved 1,200 Jews from World War II concentration camps. Now the true story — both heroic and human — of Schindler and his wife, Emilie, is detailed in an exhibit at Pellissippi State Community College.
Spielberg's black-and-white film plays quietly in a corner of the college's Bagwell Center for Media and Art Gallery. Shown on a series of wall panels of photographs, maps and text, the exhibit created in Germany goes beyond what viewers of the 1993 film starring Liam Neeson may recall.
For more than 5½ years, Oskar and Emilie Schindler risked their lives to save 1,200 Jews from what the exhibit says was certain death within Nazi concentration camps. The couple saved Jewish workers in their factory first in Krakow, Poland, and later in what's now the Czech Republic.
Spielberg's award-winning movie focused on Oskar Schindler. Emilie's work became better known in the 1990s after author Erika Rosenberg wrote her biography.
The exhibit at Pellissippi details the Schindlers' lives before, during and after the war, including their 1927 marriage and their post-war separation. But the display illustrates clearly how one or two individuals made a life-and-death difference to many.
Good from evil
"This exhibit reminds us that good can come from evil. And that we can stand up as individuals to evil where it exists," Amanda Carr-Wilcoxson, a history instructor at Pellissippi, said.
The Czech-born Schindler "was nothing if not a complicated man," Carr-Wilcoxson said. He saved Jews who worked in his factory yet that factory made armaments for the Nazis, she said. While he saved Jews from death camps, Schindler was an early supporter of Adolf Hitler, Carr-Wilcoxson said. And as he worked with his wife to save others, he "wasn't the most faithful husband," she said.
The exhibit sets the Schindlers' story in the context of Europe before and during the Nazi occupation. It also recalls poignant personal moments, noting that Oskar Schindler and Emilie Pelzl fell immediately in love when they met.
It details how Oskar Schindler often bribed Nazis with money and once with diamonds to save Jews. It includes an illustration of the first two of the 19-page "Schindler's List" of the names of Jewish workers Schindler said were needed in his factory and so saved from concentration camps.
The exhibit tells of Oskar Schindler's wish that the story of suffering and liberation of "his Jews" become a major Hollywood film and how two efforts to achieve that dream failed. At one point, he spent two weeks in a 1963 meeting with "Casablanca" screenwriter Howard Koch. Koch's screenplay, finished two years later, was never filmed.
The Schindler exhibit is at Pellissippi, 10915 Hardin Valley Road, through Oct. 6. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is free. Co-hosted by the Tennessee Consortium for International Studies, the exhibit will tour six other Tennessee locations.
The exhibit ends by asking viewers to stop to reflect.
"It asks you to think about how evil happens and how you as a member of society are able to go against evil, and why you should," Carr-Wilcoxson said. "It's powerful, important and very timely."