This week Russia won their first gold medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics with a performance by Yulia Lipnitskaia, the 15-year-old figure skater who performed to a Holocaust theme. A lot of criticism has followed the young skater for using the theme from “Schindler’s List” in a figure skating competition. But is it wrong to use a Holocaust theme in a sporting event?
This was not the first time Steven Spielberg’s film on the Holocaust has been reenacted in a figure skating performance. Katarina Witt first skated to the John William’s theme to “Schindler’s List” in 1994. At the time, Spielberg himself was so moved by the performance that he went out of his way to express appreciation to Witt. It is especially noteworthy that Witt is German.
Like Witt, the 15-year-old Lipnitskaia also skated wearing a red dress in memorial to the little girl in Spielberg’s film. In the award winning film, Oscar Schindler watches intently as a little blonde Polish Jewish girl rambles about the ghetto streets among the horrors. She is wearing a red dress, the only splash of color in the black and white movie. It is the red dress that makes the little girl stand out so vividly in the film, as it does in the mind of Oskar Schindler. The little girl so touches Schindler and fills him with remorse that he is compelled to find a way to save as many Jews as he can.
Lipnitskaia’s routine was choreographed by Ilia Averbukh, a former Olympic ice dancing medalist who is a Russian Jew. Her artistic reenactment of the film on figure skates is especially effective because she is so close in age to the Little Girl in the Red Dress. Yet even more so as the petite 15-year-old Lipnitskaia’s movements on ice make her performance seem effortless, like a child at play.
Why would anyone criticize such a young teenage girl reminding us again in such an artful and compelling way of the horrors of the greatest tragedy in modern times, if not in all of human history? The world has yet to internalize our need to learn from history. We must continue to use any medium that helps us “never forget” the Holocaust whether in museums, films, books or dance. We should be very thankful for young people who are still so moved by the heartbreak of the Holocaust that they are willing to explore new and creative ways of helping all of us to cry out “never again.”
Watch the routine as Lipnitskaia performed it at the European Figure Skating Championships:
Watch the Girl in Red from Schindler’s List: