Historical Context Hitler, wwii, and the Jewish Holocaust

Lists of various kinds figure throughout

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Lists of various kinds figure throughout Schindler's List. The Nazis use lists to keep track of Jews, and they keep lists (such as invoices, manifests, and vouchers) to sort the loot they plunder from their victims. When Schindler's office manager, Abraham Bankier, does not turn up at his factory and is put in a cattle car bound for a labor camp, Schindler confronts a young Oberscharführer who holds an enormous list of names of those who are to be transported. The official refuses to release Bankier and Schindler's other workers because "they're on the list." Schindler retorts that "it is not my place to argue with the list," demands to see the official's superiors, and thus gets around the system and frees his workers. It is through the use of such lists that the Nazis create a seemingly clean, orderly system to rid Europe of Jews. Lists make individuals seem less than human, like objects that can be counted, categorized, and dispensed with. Even the Jewish police, such as Symche Spira and other OD members, make out for the SS lists of unsatisfactory or seditious ghetto dwellers; in this way they aid the Nazi in their systematic annihilation of their brethren. Other Jews, such as Marcel Goldberg, a clerk in charge of lists ("labor lists and transport lists and the lists of living and dead"), receive bribes for putting Jews on favorable lists, including a list of those who work at Schindler's factory. Schindler, however, is not at all partial to lists. He does not like paperwork, preferring under-the-counter work and leaving details to his managers and secretaries. But, ironically, it is by creating a list of workers that he extricates and saves them from the labor camps and almost certain death. It is by creating this list, which Dolek Horowitz thinks of as "a sweet chariot which might swing low," that Schindler saves more than 1,100 Jews from the well-oiled German machinery whose purpose it was to exterminate them.


 The importance of the testimony of witnesses is stressed in many discussions of the Holocaust. Witnesses are survivors who tell the world of the horrors they experienced so that perhaps history will not repeat itself. Schindler's List is a story that is reconstructed through the eyewitness accounts of fifty Holocaust survivors. As characters in the novel, many of them are represented as being distinctly aware of their status as witnesses. As Schindler observes the Aktion in which the Jewish ghetto is decimated, he has the sense of being a witness. It is at this stage, too, that he recognizes that the SS officer's leniency to the little girl in red means that the Nazis believe that all witnesses will perish — that is, that all Jews and Jewish sympathizers will be exterminated. Poldek Pfefferberg, too, when he moves among the dead bodies after an Aktion, "sensed why he had been placed there. He believed unshakably in better years to come, years of just tribunals." For many Jews, the need to recount their stories and to let the world know what happened helped them to continue to fight for survival. As one of the women at the Auschwitz camp says to Clara Sternberg as the latter looks for the electric fences on which to electrocute herself, "Don't kill yourself on the fence, Clara. If you do that, you'll never know what happened to you."

Theme Statements

  • He who saves a single life saves the entire world

  • In dark times we must rely on flawed heroes

  • War brings out some of the best and some of the worst human impulses

  • Good vs. evil

    • No matter how much evil is in the world, good always prevails

    • In the midst of evil, there is profound good

    • Everyone has to accept one another’s differences

    • In bad times, we must rely on flawed heroes

    • Everyone leaves a mark in this world

  • False appearances

  • Ambition

  • The misuse of authority


External – Schindler vs. position/conditions

Internal – Schindler vs. himself

Interpersonal – Schindler vs. Nazi regime

Schindler vs. Goeth

  • Oskar vs. Emilie – he constantly fought with and cheated on her, yet he respected her opinion and defended her honor.

  • Oskar vs. Women – his marriage, girlfriends, he spoke AT them. Ironically, he treated women he did not know better than the women he did. He did really value them at all.

  • Oskar vs. Jews – because he did the bulk of his list from memory with Marcel Goldberg, some people were inadvertently left off the list. Goldberg also accepted bribed from people to be put on the list, and he erased others. For this, Oskar was blamed and many held grudges against him.

  • Jews vs. Jews – because of the many difficult situations, many Jews were actually forced to work for the Nazis in a Jewish police force. Thus, many Jews had to enforce Nazi rules on their own families. Frustrations arose in camps and ghettoes whereby not all Jews agreed. I’m sure everyone was envious of the members of Schindler’s List – they all knew the list meant life.

  • Oskar vs. Goeth – one of the main conflicts of the novel that never actually came into full existence. Oskar had to hide what he was doing from the Nazis and especially Goeth. Goeth was just as powerful as Schindler so Oskar had to be very careful what he was doing. They were essentially on different sides and didn’t know it, at least Goeth didn’t know it.

  • Jews vs. Nazis – the whole event of the Holocaust happened because of Nazi hatred of the Jews. The Jews were under constant guard and persecution. Even when they tried to fight back, it didn’t work.

  • Oskar vs. Nazis – Oskar had to hide his true intentions from the entire Nazi party for the better part of the novel. Once he saw Genia, he saw the cruel and malicious intent of the Nazis and he was openly disgusted by it all. His every movement from then on went against the Nazi system in every way.

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