Schindler’s List

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Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List opens with a close-up of unidentified hands lighting a pair of Shabbat (Sabbath) candles, followed by the sound of a Hebrew prayer blessing the candles. This scene, one of only a handful of color scenes in the film, closes as the flames flicker out. The wisp of smoke from the dying flames fades into the next scene, now in black and white, and becomes a plume of smoke from a steam engine. A folding table is set up on a train platform, where a single Jewish family registers as Jews. The single table becomes many tables, and the single family becomes a large crowd. Close-up images of names being typed into lists provide a sense of the vast number of Jews arriving in Kraków.

Oskar Schindler appears in his Kraków hotel room. His face is not shown, and the focus is on his possessions. He puts on his expensive watch, cuff links, and Nazi Party pin, and takes a large wad of bills from his night table. Schindler then enters a nightclub. Once he is seated, a high-ranking Nazi official at a nearby table catches his attention. Attempting to ingratiate himself with the local Nazis in order to secure lucrative war contracts, Schindler sends drinks to the table. Before long, he is treating a large table of Nazis and their friends to expensive food and fine wine. Schindler has his picture taken with everyone important at the table, as well as with dancers at the club.

Schindler next visits the Judenrat, the Jewish council charged with carrying out Nazi orders in Kraków. He walks directly to the front of a seemingly endless line of Jews, where he finds his accountant, Itzhak Stern. Schindler tells Stern that he needs investors, “Jews,” to help him buy an enamelware factory. Since Jews, by law, cannot own businesses, Schindler tells Stern that he will pay the investors in product, not money. A profiteer, Schindler knows that he will maximize his profit if he does not have to pay the Jewish investors in cash. He also wants Stern to run the business, but Stern initially refuses the offer, telling Schindler that the Jews will not be interested in investing.

Schindler, however, does not give up. Next, he visits a church where Jewish smugglers conduct business. All of the smugglers, except one named Poldek Pfefferberg, are scared off. Schindler tells Pfefferberg he will need lots of luxury items in the coming months, and Pfefferberg promises to procure them.

The scene then changes to one of masses of Jews walking over a bridge. Their armbands stand out starkly. It is March 20, 1941the deadline for Jews to enter the ghetto. A little Polish girl in the street shouts, “Good-bye, Jews,” over and over again. While Schindler arrives at his new luxury apartment, recently vacated by the Nussbaum family, the Nussbaums themselves arrive in the ghetto with thousands of other uprooted families.

Schindler finally secures money from the Jewish investors, who agree to accept goods as payment, because, as Schindler points out, money will be worthless in the ghetto. Schindler sets up his factory with Stern’s help and hires Jews, rather than Poles, because they are cheaper to employ. Workers at the factory will be deemed “essential”—a status that saves them from removal to death camps. Stern recognizes this fact immediately and fills the factory with many Jewish workers whom the Nazis would otherwise have deemed expendable.

At this point, Schindler is unaware that Stern is using his position in the factory to save people. His awareness grows, however, when Stern brings to see him a one-armed man who wants to thank Schindler for saving him by making him “essential.” Schindler dismisses the gratitude and chastises Stern for bringing the man to see him. Shortly after the scolding, Schindler has to rescue Stern himself from a train bound for a death camp.

Meanwhile, construction on the Plaszów labor camp begins, and Amon Goeth appears. Goeth, a sadistic Nazi, is charged with building and running the camp. When Plaszów is completed, the Jews are evacuated from the Kraków ghetto and sent to the camp. From a hill high above the ghetto, Schindler and his girlfriend watch the destruction. He sees a little girl in a red coat—the only color in the otherwise black-and-white scene—walking through the carnage. Schindler’s girlfriend tearfully begs him to go home, and Schindler is obviously moved by what he sees. Schindler convinces Goeth to allow him to build his own subcamp to house his factory workers.

Schindler begins to participate actively in saving Jews when Regina Perlman, a Jewish girl passing as a gentile, visits his office. She begs Schindler to hire her parents because she has heard that his factory is a haven. He refuses to help and sends her away. Later, he yells at Stern and tells him he is not in the business of saving people. But when Schindler finishes his tirade, he gives Stern his gold watch and tells him to bring the Perlmans over. With this decision, he begins to actively save Jews. Over time, Schindler gives Stern more and more of his own personal items to use for bribes to bring people to his factory.

Sometime later, Goeth is charged with evacuating Plaszów and exhuming and burning the bodies of 10,000 Jews killed there and at the Kraków ghetto. Schindler realizes that his workers, Stern included, face certain death at the hands of the Nazis, so he decides to spend his fortune to save as many Jews as he can. With that, Schindler begins to make his list. He persuades Goeth to sell him his workers, as well as Goeth’s maid, Helen Hirsch, to work in his factory in Czechoslovakia. The men and women are transported to Czechoslovakia on two separate trains, however, and the women are inadvertently diverted to Auschwitz, where Schindler is forced to buy them again. The men and women are reunited at the factory, where they remain until the war’s end.

When the war ends, Schindler tells his workers they are now free but that he will be hunted as a war criminal and must flee at midnight. When he bids his Schindlerjuden good-bye, they give him a ring made from the gold tooth work of a factory worker, engraved with the Talmudic phrase, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” Schindler breaks down, crying that he could have sacrificed more, saved more lives. He and his wife then flee.

The next morning, a single Russian soldier enters the camp and tells the Jews they are free. As they walk toward a nearby town, the scene dissolves into full color and reveals a group of real Holocaust survivors walking across a field. They line up, many accompanied by the actors who play them, and place rocks on Schindler’s grave. The last person at the grave is Liam Neeson (Oskar Schindler). He places a rose on the tombstone.
Oskar Schindler -

Played by Liam Neeson

The protagonist and eventual savior of approximately 1,100 Jews. The film follows Schindler’s progression from a callous, greedy war profiteer to a man willing to sacrifice his fortune to save the lives of his Jewish factory workers. Schindler is a womanizer and con artist who never hesitates to do something outside the law, such as placing bribes, to get what he wants. His metamorphosis into a hero is slow in coming. Initially, he is indifferent to the plight of the Jews and has little concern for the moral issues at stake. However, he develops compassion for the Jews and begins to see his factory workers as humans deserving of life. His compassion ultimately compels him to save them at great personal risk. Schindler’s motives are never directly stated in the film, and the real-life Schindler never offered an explanation.


Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler, war profiteer, womanizer, and Nazi Party member, becomes the unlikely hero and savior of about 1,100 Polish Jews during the Holocaust. He is essentially a con artist and moderately successful businessman who recognizes the potential for profit in wartime. He buys a formerly Jewish-owned enamelware factory and uses bribery and ingratiation to procure military contracts to make war supplies. At the beginning of his quest to become rich, he is indifferent to the Jewish situation, which he sees as merely an unfortunate result of war. A playboy with a large ego, Schindler routinely cheats on his wife and joins the Nazi Party not for ideological reasons but because it will help him make more money. Although he purchases the factory after it has been confiscated from Jewish owners and is given an apartment appropriated from wealthy Jews, Schindler feels no remorse and does not consider the origins of his good fortune.

Schindler, initially concerned only with himself and the success of his moneymaking scheme, undergoes a change that prompts him to spend his fortune to save the lives of those he once exploited. His motive is never completely clear—and indeed, the real Schindler never revealed his motivations. However, the film does suggest that at least one of his incentives was obvious: Schindler simply could not sit by and watch people he knew be sent to death. His metamorphosis from a man of indifference to one of compassion takes place gradually over a number of scenes. His respect for his Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern, probably has a great deal to do with his transformation, as does his witnessing of the Kraków ghetto evacuation, when he sees the little girl in the red coat. However, Schindler’s motivations may also be less altruistic: it is possible that his own ego and narcissism led him to be a savior. He initially reacts angrily to the idea that his factory is a haven, but perhaps became enamored of the idea of being a hero. The needs of his ego may, in some capacity, have surpassed his material needs. The film does not propagate such a harsh stance, but Schindler’s boorish behavior makes this speculation plausible. Nevertheless, whatever the results of an analysis of Schindler’s motivations, the good effects of his choices are undeniable.

Itzhak Stern

Itzhak Stern, bright, proud, and determined, brings out the moral side of Schindler, and Stern’s attitude toward Schindler reflects Schindler’s change throughout the film. Stern recognizes immediately Schindler’s callousness and greed. Early on, he expresses disdain for Schindler and controlled outrage at his original offer to have Stern run the factory and secure Jewish investors. He refuses to drink with Schindler, making clear he does not approve of Schindler’s morals. But Stern’s attitude softens as Schindler becomes an active participant in saving the Schindlerjuden, and he eventually sees the good in his employer. He finally does have a drink with Schindler when the two say good-bye after they learn of the closing of the Plaszów labor camp and realize Stern will almost certainly be sent to his death. By accepting a drink, Stern demonstrates his respect for Schindler, and Schindler accepts the finality of Stern’s probable fate.

Stern, like Schindler, is an opportunist, and he is the brains behind the rescue of the Schindlerjuden. Stern is the one who discovers a way to channel his essentially forced labor for Schindler into a way to help his fellow Jews. Schindler does no work, leaving Stern to run the factory, and Stern immediately begins to give factory jobs to Jews who otherwise would be deemed “nonessential” and would most likely be killed. He forges documents to make teachers and intellectuals appear to be experienced machinists and factory workers. Stern’s motivation—to help his people—is abundantly clear. Ben Kingsley plays him as a proud man with a mission and a palpable desperation to help all those he can. These traits are absent from Schindler, the film’s protagonist and hero, until late in the film. Although Schindler ultimately makes the rescue possible by using his connections and monetary resources, Stern plays just as large a role by driving Schindler gently from behind the scenes. Stern sets the wheels in motion, making the factory a haven for the Kraków Jews before Schindler even notices what is occurring.

Amon Goeth

Sadistic and ruthless, Amon Goeth represents the evil of the Nazi Party. Goeth finds a sanctioned outlet for his cruelty in the Nazi military and is representative of the mindless evil of the Third Reich and its “final solution.” He views Jews as vermin, creatures unworthy of possessing basic human rights. He kills often and without hesitation or provocation. Unlike Schindler, Goeth never strays into goodness. However, the lack of change in his basic nature does not render him a one-dimensional character; Goeth is a complicated and conflicted man, as well. He lusts after his Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch, and actor Ralph Fiennes skillfully conveys both the strength and ambivalence of this passion. Goeth attempts to seduce Helen, and when she shows no reaction, he turns on her, blames her for trying to tempt him, calls her names, and beats her savagely. Later, when Schindler wants to buy Helen to put her on his list, Goeth refuses. He tells Schindler he will never let her go, that he wants to bring her back to Vienna and grow old with her. Schindler tells him it can never be, and Goeth, exhibiting his conflicting feelings, replies that he would never subject Helen to Auschwitz, but would shoot her in the head, “mercifully,” instead. Goeth’s twisted idea of a merciful end for Helen epitomizes both his inner conflict and essential cruelty.

Amon Goeth 

A Nazi soldier in charge of building of Plaszów work camp. Goeth is a cruel, sadistic man deeply entrenched in Nazi philosophy. Goeth exhibits a true hatred for the Jews, at times shooting them randomly from his balcony high above the labor camp. He and Schindler share many common traits, such as greed and callous self-centeredness, but Goeth gives himself totally to evil and hatred. He is also deeply conflicted, torn between feelings of attraction and disgust for his Jewish maid. Goeth represents the all-consuming hatred of the Nazi Party.

Sadistic and ruthless, Amon Goeth represents the evil of the Nazi Party. Goeth finds a sanctioned outlet for his cruelty in the Nazi military and is representative of the mindless evil of the Third Reich and its “final solution.” He views Jews as vermin, creatures unworthy of possessing basic human rights. He kills often and without hesitation or provocation. Unlike Schindler, Goeth never strays into goodness. However, the lack of change in his basic nature does not render him a one-dimensional character; Goeth is a complicated and conflicted man, as well. He lusts after his Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch, and actor Ralph Fiennes skillfully conveys both the strength and ambivalence of this passion. Goeth attempts to seduce Helen, and when she shows no reaction, he turns on her, blames her for trying to tempt him, calls her names, and beats her savagely. Later, when Schindler wants to buy Helen to put her on his list, Goeth refuses. He tells Schindler he will never let her go, that he wants to bring her back to Vienna and grow old with her. Schindler tells him it can never be, and Goeth, exhibiting his conflicting feelings, replies that he would never subject Helen to Auschwitz, but would shoot her in the head, “mercifully,” instead. Goeth’s twisted idea of a merciful end for Helen epitomizes both his inner conflict and essential cruelty.

Emilie Schindler - 

Played by Caroline Goodall

Oskar Schindler’s wife. Emilie is a good and patient woman who loves Schindler unconditionally, even as he cheats on her continually. She expresses only exasperation upon finding another woman in Schindler’s apartment but is visibly hurt when she finds that the doorman does not even know Schindler is married. Emilie has pride, however, and leaves Schindler in Poland because he cannot promise to be faithful to her. She tells him to “send chocolate” to her at home in Czechoslovakia.

Poldek Pfefferberg - 

Played by Jonathan Sagalle

A Jewish smuggler and Schindler’s black-market connection. Pfefferberg, whom Schindler first approaches in a church, becomes Schindler’s provider of black-market luxury items. Pfefferberg is enterprising and determined to survive. During the liquidation of the ghetto, he plans to escape through the sewers. Though his wife, Mila, refuses to go in the sewers, he reassures her and goes to see if they are clear. When he returns for her, she is gone. He uses his quick wit to save himself in an encounter with Amon Goeth by pretending to be working under Nazi orders.

Helen Hirsch - 

Played by Embeth Davidtz

Amon Goeth’s Jewish maid, who lives a tortured life as the object of Goeth’s desire and disgust. Helen Hirsch is a strong woman lost in despair, forced to work for Goeth, whom she despises. She faces brutal, unpredictable beatings at Goeth’s hands and begins to lose hope, accepting the probability of her own death. She is representative of victims who experienced psychological abuse under the Nazi regime.

Marcel Goldberg - 

Played by Mark Ivanir

A friend of Poldek and a ghetto policeman. Goldberg is an opportunist and black marketer and becomes a policeman after striking a deal with a Nazi. The job pays well, which is all he cares about. Goldberg continues to be opportunistic throughout the film, accepting bribes from Schindler via Stern to move Jews into Schindler’s factory.

Julian Scherner - 

Played by Andrzej Seweryn

An SS officer whom Schindler bribes in order to gain the necessary permits for the sale of his enamelware factory. Although Scherner is a member of the Nazi Party and buys into all the beliefs of that party, he is not a sadist like Goeth. Scherner’s total disregard for the plight of the Jews comes from indifference and latent anti-Semitism. He represents the institutional evil that was the Third Reich.

Chaja and Danka Dresner - 

Played by Miri Fabian and Anna Mucha

A mother and daughter who epitomize family bonds and loyalty. Chaja and Danka are inseparable throughout the film. During the liquidation of the ghetto, Chaja makes the ultimate sacrifice, forcing Danka to take the last hiding spot left in a building. Danka, however, exhibits the same loyalty as she leaves the hiding spot to find her mother. This mother and daughter represent the loyalty and devotion of family.

Mr. and Mrs. Nussbaum - 

Played by Michael Gordon and Aldona Grochal

A wealthy couple forced to vacate their apartment, which later becomes Schindler’s. The Nussbaums are rich and snobbish, initially disgusted with not only their ghetto quarters but their country neighbors as well. However, they quickly lose their snobbery as they realize that all the Jews in the ghetto are in the same boat.

Rabbi Menasha Lewartow - 

Played by Ezra Dagan

A man who serves as a rabbi prior to the Nazi invasion. Rabbi Lewartow, whom Schindler saves, escapes execution at Goeth’s hands, and his inability to lead religious ceremonies represents the oppression of the Jewish faith. The rabbi is grateful and redeemed when Schindler, in the Czechoslovakian factory, tells him to begin performing prayers again.

Regina Perlman - 

Played by Bettina Kupfer

A woman who attempts to convince Schindler to save her parents. Regina lives in Kraków and passes as a gentile in order to avoid Nazi capture. She is desperate to save her parents and risks detection by dressing up and going to Schindler’s office to beg him for help. She is crushed when he refuses her, but her spirit is redeemed as she later sees her parents enter the factory gate.


Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Triumph of the Human Spirit

In the face of overwhelming evil, the Jews in Schindler’s List exhibit an unbroken spirit and will to survive. Mrs. Nussbaum, trying to make the best of the situation just like all the other Jews forced into the ghetto, tells her husband their ghetto apartment could be worse. Schindler’s factory workers believe they may be safe in his factory and continue to hope for survival. The event that perhaps best illustrates this triumph of spirit is the wedding in the Plaszów labor camp. Even though the Jews in Plaszów live in constant fear of death, including random shootings from a hilltop villa by camp overseer Amon Goeth, two people manage to fall in love. With possibly no future to look forward to, they marry in the hope that they will survive. A woman in the barracks apologizes to God for performing the ceremony when she is not a rabbi, but explains that desperate times call for desperate measures, and that the union of the couple is ultimately what counts. The groom crushes a light bulb—an improvised substitution for the traditional wineglass—with his foot at the conclusion of the ceremony. Not only does the couple wed, but they stay true to Jewish traditions, which symbolizes hope for the survival of the Jewish race.

The Difference One Individual Can Make

The more than six thousand descendants of the Schindlerjuden might never have been born had one man not chosen to take a stand against evil. The Third Reich sanctioned and encouraged violence against the Jews and sought the ultimate destruction of the Jewish race, and millions of citizens of the Third Reich either stood idly by or actively supported this persecution. In Schindler’s List, as the Jews in Kraków are forced into the ghetto, a little girl on the street cries out, “Good-bye, Jews,” over and over again. She represents the open hostility often shown the Jews by their countrymen. After all, the little girl did not contain this hatred naturally—she learned it. Through her, Spielberg sends the message that the evil of the “final solution” infected entire communities. Although some people tried to help their Jewish friends and neighbors, far more refused to help, fearing reprisal, and some even turned on their Jewish neighbors. Any one of these people could have made a difference in the lives of Jews, but almost none did. Oskar Schindler risked his life and stood alone against the overwhelming evil of the Nazi Party. The powerful idea that one man can save the life of another underlies the entire film.

The Dangerous Ease of Denial

The Jews in Schindler’s List, even as they are forced into the ghetto and later into the labor camp, suffer from a denial of their true situation. This denial afflicted many European Jews who fell victim to the Holocaust. They leave their homes in the countryside and move to Kraków and later to the ghetto because the Nazis force them to. Once in the ghetto, however, they believe the bad times will pass. Their denial of their situation continues in the labor camp, even as killing surrounds them. A prime example of denial occurs in the scene when Mila Pfefferberg tells the other women in her barracks about the rumors she heard of the death camps like Auschwitz. She tells the women how Jews are being gassed to death en masse, their remains cremated. The women respond with an almost angry dismissal, saying something like that surely could not happen. However, the actors manage to convey the fact that deep down, the women suspect the truth. They have suffered enough horror already to know mass extermination is possible.


Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Lists dominate the lives of the Kraków Jews in Schindler’s List. Early in the film, close-ups of name upon name being typed into the list of Jews registering in Kraków demonstrate the vast number of Jews forced into the city. But this first list only scratches the surface of danger and destruction. The lists become increasingly ominous during sorting exercises to determine who is fit to work or who is “essential” and who is not. Those deemed “unessential” are placed on the list to be evacuated to extermination camps. Stern’s name appears on a list sending him to Auschwitz. When Schindler saves him, an SS officer mentions that it doesn’t matter which Jew gets on the train, and that keeping track of names just means more paperwork. This disregard for names and particularity symbolizes the extent to which the Nazis dehumanized Jews. Schindler’s list is one that saves lives. The Nazis’ lists represent evil and death, but Schindler’s list represents pure good and life. In an ironic twist, the final list in the film is a list that Schindler’s workers give to him—a list of their signatures vouching for Schindler as a good man, to help him if Allied soldiers catch him. The saved in turn become saviors.


Trains were an integral logistical component of the Holocaust. Jews were loaded into actual cattle cars of freight trains, which carried them to death camps. In Schindler’s List, the first Jews arrive in Kraków by train and register as Jews on the platform. When Stern is rescued from a crowded train bound for Auschwitz, thousands of other Jews are visible on the train, packed into the cars like sardines. In one scene, Schindler implores Goeth to spray water into the cars on a hot day to help the dehydrated Jews inside. Goeth tells him that to do so would give false hope—a clear implication that the trains deliver Jews to their deaths. When the Schindlerjuden are transported to Schindler’s new factory in Czechoslovakia, the men travel in one train, the women in another. In this case, the trains signify hope and life, since they are taking their occupants to a safe haven. But the women’s train becomes a death train when it is diverted to Auschwitz, where Schindler’s intervention saves the women from extermination. The women board a train to safety, but as they depart, more trains arrive at the camp. The cycle of death seems never-ending.


Death and fear of death govern the lives of the Jews in Schindler’s List. Images of death pervade the film, usually in the form of executions, as people are shot in the head, often indiscriminately. This method of execution is used again and again. The one-armed man who thanks Schindler for employing him and making him “essential” is shot in the head by an SS officer as he shovels snow the next day. Blood flows from his head, staining the surrounding snow. In a later scene, Goeth orders the execution of a Jewish woman engineer who tells Goeth of a fatal construction error. Her blood, too, pours from her head and darkens the snow around her. The blood pouring from the victims’ heads is both literally and metaphorically the lifeblood being bled out of the Jewish race. In yet another scene, Goeth attempts to execute a rabbi working at the Plaszów labor camp. The rabbi stays kneeling as Goeth again and again attempts to shoot him in the head. But the gun jams, and the rabbi is spared, symbolizing the tenuous protection the Schindlerjuden had and the fine line between life and death.


Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Girl in the Red Coat

The girl in the red coat is the most obvious symbol in Schindler’s List, simply because her coat is the only color object, other than the Shabbat candles, presented in the main body of the film. To Schindler, she represents the innocence of the Jews being slaughtered. He sees her from high atop a hill and is riveted by her, almost to the exclusion of the surrounding violence. The moment Schindler catches sight of her marks the moment when he is forced to confront the horror of Jewish life during the Holocaust and his own hand in that horror. The little girl also has a greater social significance. Her red coat suggests the “red flag” the Jews waved at the Allied powers during World War II as a cry for help. The little girl walks through the violence of the evacuation as if she can’t see it, ignoring the carnage around her. Her oblivion mirrors the inaction of the Allied powers in helping to save the Jews. Schindler later spots her in a pile of exhumed dead bodies, and her death symbolizes the death of innocence.

The Road Paved with Jewish Headstones

The road through the Plaszów labor camp, paved with headstones torn up from Jewish cemeteries, is a replica of the actual road that existed there. The road adds to the historical accuracy of the film but also symbolizes the destruction of the Jewish race. The removal of the headstones from the cemeteries represents the enormity of the Holocaust. Unsatisfied with simply wiping out existing Jews, Goeth, by planning the road, denies acknowledgement of many Jews’ final resting places. By removing the grave markers, Goeth in effect erases the existence of the dead. Moreover, Goeth forces the Jews in the camp to build the road, rubbing in their faces the fact that they, too, will soon be erased. The message is clear: the Nazis view the Jews as not worth even grave markers and want only to erase them from history.

Piles of Personal Items

In one of the most jarring scenes in the film, Jews are loaded onto cattle cars as a recorded voice tells them to leave their luggage on the platform, as it will follow on a separate train. The luggage, however, will not follow them. Instead, Nazis bring it to a back room, where they dump out and sort the contents. This room holds huge piles of personal belongings, including photographs, shoes, hairbrushes, and clothing, all separated for processing. At a table sits a group of Jewish jewelers, forced to sort and determine the value of the gold, silver, and jewels belonging to those on the train. These piles symbolize the millions of lives that were lost—not just the physical lives but the very essence of the victims, who are stripped of their identity. One thousand hairbrushes represent one thousand victims and one thousand lives.

genre · Docudrama; epic film

setting (time) ·  19391945

setting (place) · Kraków, Poland

protagonist · Oskar Schindler

major conflict · Schindler struggles to save a group of Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis.

rising action · Schindler, a Nazi war profiteer and womanizer, upon witnessing increasing violence and killing of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland, undergoes a slow transformation, becoming a compassionate man obsessed with saving the lives of the Jewish workers in his factory.

climax · As Schindler witnesses the evacuation of the Kraków ghetto, he sees a little girl in a red coat. The image and the violence he witnesses so move him that his humanity is awakened, and he realizes he must do something to help.

falling action · After witnessing the evacuation of the Jewish ghetto, Schindler realizes his factory is a haven for Jews and begins actively to give Stern expensive goods to use as bribes to bring more Jews into his factory, where he can keep them at least somewhat safe.

themes · The triumph of the human spirit; the difference one individual can make; the dangerous ease of denial

motifs · Lists; trains; death

symbols · The girl in the red coat; the road paved with Jewish headstones; piles of personal items

foreshadowing · Schindler has to rescue Stern from a train bound for a death camp, foreshadowing his eventual rescue of all of his workers. The appearance of tables for processing Jews foreshadows death. Schindler’s use of bribery early in the film for his own gain foreshadows his use of bribery to purchase the Jews.


Stern:   “. . . The Jews themselves receive nothing. Poles you pay wages. Generally they get a little more. Are you listening? . . . The Jewish worker’s salary, you pay it directly to the SS, not to the worker. He gets nothing.”
Schindler:   “But it’s less. It’s less than what I would pay a Pole. . . . Poles cost more. Why should I hire Poles?”


Stern:   “The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.”


Goeth:   “Is this the face of a rat? Are these the eyes of a rat? ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ I feel for you, Helen. No, I don’t think so. . . . You nearly talked me into it, didn’t you?”


Hoss:   “I have a shipment coming in tomorrow. I’ll cut you three hundred units from it. New ones. It’s yours. These are fresh. The train comes, We turn it around. It’s yours.”
Schindler:   “Yes. I understand. I want these.”
Hoss:   “You shouldn’t get stuck on names. That’s right. It creates a lot of paperwork.”


Stern:   “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party assumed power in Germany and began plans for war. The party wanted to rid Germany, and eventually the world, of “impure” groups: Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and the handicapped, among others. Thus began a period of genocide.

In 1935, the German government passed the Nuremberg Laws, which defined individuals as Jews based not on their religious practices but on bloodlines. In other words, a person raised Christian who had at least three Jewish grandparents was considered Jewish and therefore impure. These laws also called for the separation of the “pure” Aryan race from the Jews. In 1938, in an event called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), the Nazis broke windows and tore apart Jewish businesses and synagogues, foreshadowing the eventual attempt at comprehensive destruction of the Jewish race.

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the policies of racial hatred already in place in Germany were adopted in the new German-occupied territories. Jewish people could no longer own businesses in Poland and other German-occupied territories and eventually were forced to wear armbands or patches emblazoned with the Star of David so they could be easily identified as Jews. They were forced out of their homes in the city and countryside and into ghettos, concentrated and separated from rest of the population. The Kraków ghetto, featured in Schindler’s List, covered sixteen square blocks and was populated by approximately 20,000 Jews. In time, Jews were forced to work in labor camps, and some were murdered by mobile killing units.

Around 1941, the “Final Solution” was implemented in order to exterminate all the Jews, Gypsies, and other “impure” groups in Europe. Today, it stands as one of the darkest periods in human history. The Nazis evacuated Jews violently from the ghettos, sending them to Auschwitz, Treblinka, and other death camps to face the gas chambers. Bodies of the murdered were cremated in large ovens, often making the sky above the death camps and surrounding towns black with smoke, with human ashes raining down like snow.

During this bleak and terrifying period in Kraków, Oskar Schindler, a war profiteer and womanizer, saved the lives of about 1,100 Jews who worked for him. These people would come to call themselves Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). Given that the Nazis killed millions of people during the Holocaust, 1,100 might seem an insignificant number. However, this number represents 1,100 unique human lives, all of which would have ceased to exist if not for Schindler, and those 1,100 produced some six thousand descendants. Despite the overwhelming scale of the Holocaust as a whole, the powerful story of the Schindlerjuden and the man who risked his life and wealth to save their lives has endured


Oskar Schindler was an ethnic German born in what is now the Czech Republic, in 1908.

A businessman, he saw the opportunities in profiting from the German invasion of Poland and bought an enamelware factory in Krakow.

He was a member of the Nazi party and mingled with the SS elite in the city.

He employed a large number of Jewish workers in his factory, mainly due to the lower costs of employing Jews after the German invasion.

After witnessing a raid during the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, Oskar Schindler was shocked to find many of his employees murdered and created his legendary list of 'Schindlerjuden' (Schindler's Jews) to be spared from deportation to work in his factory.

It was made possible thanks to his German-speaking Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern and Schindler's close relationships with high-ranking SS officers in Krakow.

As the Holocaust continued Schindler used his lists to protect the over 1,200 workers and their families on his list.

He would go out of his way to convince SS inspectors that women, children and even the disabled were essential workers in his factory to spare them from being sent to the camps.

Having spent his fortune on bribes and black-market wares to for his workers, a destitute Schindler and his wife fled to Austria after the war.

He died, penniless, in Germany in 1974 at the age of 66, and was buried in Jerusalem. His grave carries the Hebrew inscription 'Righteous among the Nations'.

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