Culture, Ethnocentrism and Schindler’s List

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 6 January 2017

Culture, Ethnocentrism and Schindler’s List

Culture is made up of values, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics customary to the individuals who are a part of a certain group or society. It is how we define and mold ourselves to our society’s shared principles, enabling us to contribute to our society. But until we experience another culture different from our own, we are not even aware of what characteristics make up ours. In most cases, we do not acknowledge our culture until another individual breaches one or our traditions, or we disregard someone else’s.

If a person takes into consideration another culture’s standards and behaviors and understands that there is no right or wrong between the two cultures, then that person has reached cultural relativism. However, this is difficult to do as it is common for all people everywhere to place their own culture patterns at the center of things, no matter which culture he or she is a part of. When people do this, cultural conflicts are initiated, as seen in the movie Schindler’s List, which portrays a nearly textbook example of extreme ethnocentrism.

One of the features of any culture, ethnocentrism is the practice of judging another culture based on the standards of one’s own culture (Macionis & Plummer, 2010). When a person evaluates another culture, that culture’s traditions, customs, language, and other racial practices are compared to his or her own, and finds those people to be inferior or lower to themselves. This can lead to vanity, false pride, and a superiority complex, in regard to one’s own ethnicity, resulting in condescending and sometimes violent behavior towards the other culture.

If the people of one culture refuse or cannot understand or adjust to the other people’s culture, disastrous consequences arise, that include war and genocide. This is the basis of the Nazi and Jewish cultures seen in Schindler’s List. A movie by Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List is the true story of Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, a womanizer, a war profiteer, and the savior of more than 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust of WWII (Spielberg, 1993). The movie opens in Krakow, Germany during WWII, with the initial persecution of the Jewish people living there.

Any businesses and jobs the Jewish people had were taken away by the German military, and they now are being forced into the Ghetto to be crammed together without their possessions and very little clothing and food. As the movie progresses, the Jewish people face ever-increasing cruelty at the hands of German soldiers. In the middle of all of this is Oskar Schindler who is looking for a way to make a tremendous profit from the war. He starts a factory making pots and pans, using the Jewish people living in the Ghetto as laborers.

The story is about Schindler’s cultural attitude (very German Nazi) that changes as he sees the horrible and unwarranted torture and murder of the Jews that work for him. After questioning his Nazi values, he realizes how very wrong the Nazi opinions are of the Jewish culture, and ends up using his own money buying 1,100 Jews from a Nazi commander, in order to save them from the Auschwitz death camp. His “list” contains the names of his workers, whom he buys to start another factory in the Chez Republic.

After watching the movie, there was very little that this writer did not find culturally shocking. The attitudes of the Germans towards the Jewish people were one’s of disgust, hatred, and complete indifference to any pain, suffering, or fear the Jewish people were experiencing. The movie was filmed entirely in black and white (except for the little girl’s red coat), leaving the viewer to concentrate and absorb the Nazi’s attitudes of cultural superiority over anyone not like them, without the distractions of the colors surrounding these two conflicting cultures.

The red coat is extremely important as it symbolizes Schindler’s awakening; first, as the little girl runs through the Ghetto looking for a place to hide as her people are massacred by German soldiers (witnessed by Oskar); and second, when Schindler witnesses the burning of 10,000 dead Jewish bodies heaped on giant burning piles, he sees the dead body of the little girl still wearing the red coat. One cultural difference between the American culture and the Nazi culture is the forcing of an entire race into one central location, stripping away rights, property, and employment.

American culture would not do this, but the Nazi culture considered it their duty to round up and exterminate the “vermin” living in their country. The Jewish people did not rebel or protest against their treatment from the German soldiers, even when one Jewish man was dragged out of a line by a soldier and shot in the head in front of family and friends, for no reason or cause. In another scene of random shooting, a German commander used the working Jews inside his camp as target practice.

Although the people were working hard and were nearly starved, this Nazi viewed them as nothing more than rats and killed them. A person doing this in America would be arrested, put in jail, and most likely be given a death sentence after his trial. Another cultural difference (and one difficult to watch) was the burning of dead bodies in huge piles out in a field. Because the Nazi culture did not consider Jewish people to be human, it was perfectly acceptable to burn the “garbage”, as it was the quickest and easiest method of eliminating waste.

There is no comparison for this to American culture, and the only other justified instance of these vast quantities of burning bodies happening in history was during the plagues that hit Europe. It was a major culture shock to this writer to see half burned bodies being pulled out of ash piles, then carted to another burning pile, all done by the Jewish people imprisoned in the camp. Ethnocentrism promotes inequality because the culture who believes it is superior can be the larger or dominant culture compared to other cultures, giving it the power to create laws that discriminate against anyone that is different.

Having supreme power, this culture can change the social and financial status of individuals or ethnic groups, without any concerns or remorse for stripping the very humanity from another culture. The dominant culture increases inequality by segregating any person (or group) judged to be inferior to its own, or force the inferior cultures to give up their values, beliefs, and practices and adopt the dominant culture’s beliefs.

In extreme ethnocentrism, genocide occurs because the dominant culture believes that other inferior cultures need to be wiped from the face of the Earth, thus ridding the planet of filth and ignorance. Business is not conducted the same way between cultures, so conflicts can happen when the two different cultures are locked to ethnocentrism. One factor is the communication process in which each culture assumes that business will be conducted in its own native language, say English and Japanese.

Correct translation is crucial to success if neither culture is willing to do business in a different language other than its own. Certain accents may also reinforce ethnocentrism, creating a negative stereo-type and possibly reinforcing prejudices (Cross-cultural, 2011). A culture’s social organization can also have ethnocentrism conflicts. For example, one culture believes in gender equality while another believes women are inferior to men, and so they have different or no rights compared to the men of that culture.

Another conflict between two businesses from different cultures is the use of child labor. Western cultures find these practices horrible and exploitive, but those cultures that allow children to work do not put the value of educating their children above the family’s survival. A working child can bring the family the much needed finances to provide survival necessities, such as food, clothing, and shelter for the entire family. As we have seen, culture is very complex and can influence every aspect of our lives.

Ethnocentrism is a universal human reaction that is seen in all known societies or groups, and in nearly every individual. Ethnocentrism may seem to encourage solidarity of a group and strengthen loyalty, but it also hinders any understanding of a different group or culture. Because one culture believes their way is the best way, there is no incentive to interact with another culture decided inferior. Positively, this sort of conflict often leads to social change, but negatively, it discourages changes and promotes discrimination, wars, or the genocide of another culture.

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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 6 January 2017

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