Russian skater Julia Lipnitskaia’s gold-medal winning performance to John Williams’ theme from “Schindler’s List” has been knocked in some circles as “Schindler’s List: On Ice.”
But what would be wrong with that?
Katarina Witt first started skating to the music in 1994 in homage to Steven Spielberg‘s film and in remembrance of the Holocaust. Since then, as Slate noted, skaters including Irina Slutskaya and Johnny Weir have also used Williams’ music. The 15-year-old Lipnitskaia, like Witt, dressed in red to recall the girl in red in Spielberg’s film: a Polish Jewish girl whose death fills Oskar Schindler with remorse. Her dress provides the only flash of color in the film, and makes her death stand out from all the others, just as it did in Schindler’s mind.
Spielberg praised Witt’s performance, which was especially notable because Witt is German. Lipnitskaia’s routine Sunday was choreographed, according to Slate, by Ilia Averbukh, a former Olympic ice dancing medalist who is a Russian Jew.
It’s easy to mock anything by adding the phrase “on ice,” because it recalls schlocky winter spectaculars that pack in kids to watch their favorite cartoon characters skate. The joke may go back to the 1989 comedy “What’s Alan Watching,” which featured a fake ad for a show called “Gandhi on Ice.”
Lipnitskaia’s skate was an easy target.
“Get Spielberg on the horn!” tweeted Digg creative and editorial director David Weiner on Sunday. “Stevie baby, you seein’ this? Girl’s a star! And not a yellow one! Say it with me: ‘Schindler’s List: On Ice’!”
Okay, good one.
But seriously? We should remember the Holocaust any way we can: in museums and in documentaries, of course. But also in comic books, like “Maus.” Or even in bad movies, like “Monuments Men.” Or on ice. We should remember it in any format that keeps us from forgetting.
There’s a dumb tendency in America to call everyone Nazis: people who correct your grammar, hand out parking tickets, or try to convince you to sign up for health care.
But what the Nazis actually did was systematically target certain groups, declare them beneath other humans, and take away more and more of their rights, including, eventually, their right to life.
We as a species haven’t really nailed the concept of “never again.” Take for example Lipnitskaia’s country, Russia, the host of the Winter Olympics. Russia has made it illegal for people to be gay. And before we get too sanctimonious, the U.S. has its share of anti-gay laws, too.
No one is suggesting that gay people are being treated as brutally as the Jews were during the Holocaust. But the Nazis had to start somewhere.
Trying to take away a little of someone’s humanity doesn’t by any stretch make you a Nazi. But it makes you a little more like one.
Lipnitskaia’s routine is so powerful because she’s closer in age to the Girl in Red that any of the skaters who have come before her: With her slight size and cherubic appearance, she painfully recollects the children who died. Children may not only look up to her, but see their own faces in hers.
This year we’ll celebrate the soldiers who won World War II, with lots of cable and public television marking the anniversary of D-Day. And that’s wonderful.
But I’m happier about the fact that for a few minutes Sunday, young kids all over the world watched one of their own recall the greatest horror of the last century. She did it artfully, in a way that acknowledged tragedy without crossing over to exploitation or traumatic imagery.
If you don’t think anything artistic or meaningful can happen on ice, well, to each his own. But if we want history to survive, we need to pass it on in a way the next generation will understand. In as many ways as possible, to reach everyone we can.
Even on ice.
Watch the routine, as Lipnitskaia performed it at the European Figure Skating Championships: