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Guilt In The Films Life Is Beautiful And Schindler’s Ark

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World War 2 is often regarded as the most destructive conflict in history in which many civilians were ensnared by an inescapable hostility. Thomas Keneally’s “Schindler’s Ark” follows this abysmal lifestyle through the lens of a German superior who faces the tribulations of war. The characteristics of power and responsibility are both portrayed in the novel’s protagonist in which he explains, “Power is when we have every justification to kill but we don’t.” Guilt is also an inescapable subject of Keneally’s novel where he address the profound culpability experienced by many perpetrators of the holocaust. In comparison, Robert Benigni’s classic, “Life is Beautiful” takes an alternative perspective from a Jewish father with the common occurrence of the lack of guilt many had for the oppressed.

What is guilt?

For a society that was confronted by devastation, deprivation and death, an inevitable swarm of guilt affected those living and surviving in the era of World War II. Like any emotion, guilt can be experienced by anyone. But to what extent do people feel guilty? And why is it experienced more than others? For centuries, guilt has been defined as an internal emotion which resides under the veneer of ones behaviour. In circumstances where feelings of guilt for an action deserving remorse is not present, possible signs of psychopathy can be associated to a singular individual (Psychology Today, 2012). However, to what extent can we hold one person responsible for the lack of guilt characterised by multitudes of personal? Concerns through the psychology of guilt investigates the discrepancies in guilt experienced by a collective group. In this instance, the absence of penitence experienced by the numerous characters from “Schindler’s Ark” and “Life is Beautiful” including Amon Goeth and Doctor Lessing can be explained by the feelings of guilt which can in some cases be abridged.

Lack of Guilt

In a society plagued by tyranny, most perpetrators existing in this era fail to show signs of remorse during situations of great tragedy. The qualities represented of Amon Goeth in Keneally’s novel reveal nothing of a valiant leader but rather a deranged war profiteer whose sadistic behaviour exposes the lack of guilt he expresses for those around him. Throughout the novel, Goeth kills several Jewish people without provocation from the front of his house. (Find quote to fit somewhere) Unlike Schindler, Goeth’s personality reeks with animosity and repugnance for those indifferent to himself. Despite his repulsion against the Jewish people, he lusts for a Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch, where Keneally masterfully depicts the strength and ambivalence of his passion. In many occasions throughout the text, Amon viscously beats Helen despite his irrefutable attraction for her. Undeniably, it is not unreasonable for an audience to perceive his actions as being remorseless and cold-hearted. “Life is beautiful” also adopts the lack of guilt portrayed by a German doctor. Guido’s hopes of escaping the prison camp are unexpectedly hastened where Dr Lessing recruits him from the camps in desperate attempts that he would be freed from an intellectual “torture” caused by an unsolved riddle. Robert Benigni represents a mind obsessed with a task, oblivious to the tremendous suffering around him and his apparent inability to sympathise for the horrors which his actions have helped to create.

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Discernibly, lack of guilt is a recognisable emotion for many perpetrators of the holocaust. However, to what extent can we hold all offenders responsible for the remorseless attitudes displayed by others? Thomas Keneally explore the diverse nature of the cognitive and moralistic development of individuals in the concept, as written based on the era of the holocaust, delves into the concepts of German guilt and innocent to of Nazi Germany. Coinciding with the emotional and physical wounds from war, an unwavering burden of nationality troubled many German citizens during the war and still continues to this day. In a dictatorship society, many German’s were manipulated to believe as being the “superior race” and an enforcing regime to exterminate the Jewish population began. However, despite this wide spread annihilation, many stood as bystanders who carried the liability of the mass murder caused by their own republic. To this day, the ramifications of the holocaust have caused many German’s to feel guilt from the horrors committed. Keneally makes the idea that Schindler could not overcome his guilty conscience during the end of the novel in which he is brought to tears on the realisation that he could have saved of people. Despite the 1200 lives he spared, this number was considered insignificant in his eyes to the extreme amount of individuals he was unable to save. Indisputably, Keneally draws on this idea of German guilt in a theatrical culmination of his rendition of Oskar Schindler’s journey through the Holocaust.

Attempt to prevent guilt

Regardless of the profound culpability expressed by Schindler’s futile attempts to save more people, he rose to the highest level of humanity and his compassion for people restricted further guilt from occurring. The novel describes Oskar riding on horseback as he views the liquidation of the ghetto in which he is compelled by the attention of a girl in a red dress who wanders aimlessly through the chaos of the street. Keneally skilfully incorporates red into his masterpiece to symbolises the innocence of the six million victims, exposed to ruthless slaughter. As she walks unscathed through the madness surrounding her, Schindler is bound by the awareness that he must do everything in his known supremacy to protect the Jewish citizens in his desperate attempts to be freed from the guilt of his nation. This is documented by his audacious behaviour to repel against his own regime to protect and harbor Jewish residents.


Guilt is also an inescapable subject of Shindler’s List (1993) and the Holocaust in general. It is meaningful for filmmakers, poets, novelists, and historians to address the idea that some felt profound culpability throughout the Holocaust, especially perpetrators

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Guilt In The Films Life Is Beautiful And Schindler’s Ark. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from
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