Because he's long been stereotyped by the rousing neo-romantic adventure scores for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park franchises, it's easy to forget that composer John Williams is hardly idiomatically challenged. When Steven Spielberg gratifyingly used the clout of his enormous commercial success to produce and direct this brave Holocaust drama, his longtime musical collaborator used the opportunity to display both the depth and maturity of his musical gifts and training, producing a score with sad, evocative melodies frequently carried by the violin of the great Itzhak Perlman. Rich with ethnic nuance and showcasing the composer's masterful orchestral/choral subtlety, Williams's emotionally compelling score for Schindler's List also won the Academy Award for Best Dramatic Score.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was designed to kill. Four gas chambers murdered thousands at a time, belching out smoke and human ashes. Starvation, thirst, disease, and hard labor reduced the average lifespan to less than three months. More than 1-million people perished in the largest German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Seventy years after her liberation, Kitty Hart-Moxon makes a final return to Auschwitz-Birkenau to walk among the crumbling memorial with students Natalia and Lydia, who, at 16, are the same age now as she was then. As Kitty tells them her story of daily existence, themes begin to emerge: the ever-present threat of death, resilience, friendship, human strength, resisting the Nazis' constant lethal intent, and living like an animal while still remaining human. Natalia and Lydia ask questions; Kitty provides answers, passing her legacy to the next generation.