MOSCOW (Oct. 20)
Before "Schindler’s List" arrived in Russia, the Holocaust epic was eagerly awaited as a mind-changing tool against ingrained anti-Semitism.
Then the director Steven Spielberg canceled his plans to visit Russia, the premiere was postponed and the police nabbed members of a neo-Nazi gang that had allegedly planned bomb attacks on theaters scheduled to show the film.
By the time the film eventually opened, it was a low-key event that generated minimal attention.
But now, finally, the film’s full educational potential is being explored.
On Sunday, more than 1,000 people — Russian military students, concentration camp survivors, World War II veterans and Jewish families — packed a large theater in central Moscow for what may be the first in a six-month scries of free Sunday screenings.
The event was organized by Rabbi Yosef Cunin, an American who oversees the Chabad Lubavitch Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue.
Instead of offering tickets only to religious Jews, Cunin wants to present the film to assimilated Jews and Russians from various walks of life.
He chose military students for some of the first free tickets because "these are the people who are going to be influencing the country, who will be holding the guns years from now."
The idea was popular, Cunin said, and won backing from Jewish business executives and Chabad of California, who covered the basic costs of the movie theater. East-West Creative Association, the film’s Russian distributors, decided to donate the film for the effort.
The results were heartening. Even after the applause following Sunday’s screening, there were several minutes of thoughtful silence from the audience.
Afterwards, teen-age military students dressed in green wool uniforms left the theater beside elderly concentration camp survivors and Jewish families. While the film was a catalyst for conversations among the military students about whether fascism will rise again in Russia, Jewish families dwelled on their own experiences with anti-Semitism, according to Cunin.
Since the initial event was organized, Cunin said a Jewish businessman has offered to pay for free weekly screenings of "Schindler’s List" for the next six months.