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Schindler's List is a 1993 movie based on the book Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally (the book was later renamed Schindler's List as well). The movie, adapted by Steven Zaillian and directed by Steven Spielberg, relates the tale of Oskar Schindler, a German entrepreneur who was instrumental in saving the lives of over one thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust. The title refers to a list of the names of 1,200 Jews whom Schindler hired to work in his factory and kept from being sent to the concentration camps.

Plot Summary

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

The movie begins with a depiction of a Jewish prayer. Opening the film with a religious ritual brings to mind the opening of Richard Attenborough's Academy Award-winning Gandhi (also with Ben Kingsley), in which the first scene shows the river Ganges, which is sacred to Hindus, and in the background can be heard a Hindu prayer chant.

At the end of the Jewish prayer, a candle burns out, and the film changes from colour to black and white, setting the mood for the dark content of the film.

The German Army Invades Poland

The Polish Army has been defeated by the German Army in the initiating event of World War II in Europe. Jews living in occupied Poland are ordered to relocate to population centers. The film's action starts with crowds of Jews from all over the country, hasidic, assimilated, rich, and poor, detraining in Kraków, and submitting their names to German officials waiting on the station platforms with typewriters and lists.

As this is happening, a newcomer has arrived in Kraków; his name is Oskar Schindler. Schindler, a heretofore unsuccessful businessman from Germany, has come to Poland with the hope of using the now abundant slave labour force of Jews and Poles to manufacture goods for the German Army. Schindler makes a very good impression with the occupation authorities early on, being a member of the Nazi Party and lavishing gifts and bribes upon the army and SS officials now running southern Poland. He becomes a friend to the SS and Police Leader of Kraków, Julian Scherner, and quickly calls in favors as Schindler begins to establish himself as a businessman in the Kraków region.

Schindler's Factory

With his military sponsors in his back pocket, he sets out to acquire a factory for the production of enamelware, mainly cookery. In his factory he is told to manufacture goods such as pots, pans, and cooking materials for the war effort. He hasn't the money to buy it, and his administrative skills are dubious at best, but he finds through his contact Itzhak Stern, a functionary in the local judenrat (Jewish Council) who in turn has contacts with the now underground Jewish business community. Schindler makes the Jewish businessmen a deal they cannot refuse: they will loan him the money for the factory, and he will give them a small share of the pots and pans produced. He takes particular pleasure in telling them that they must take him at his word, and that no court would ever uphold a contract between a German and a Jew.

Schindler gets his money and starts the factory; he keeps the Nazis happy and enjoys his new-found wealth, while Stern actually operates the factory and uses his position to help his fellow Jews, who have now been confined to a ghetto within Kraków. Workers in Schindler's factory are allowed outside the ghetto, and are certified as "essential workers," guaranteeing that they will not be rounded up at night by the Gestapo. This last point is key, and Stern uses his considerable skills to make sure as many people as possible are deemed "essential" by the Nazi bureacracy, even children, the elderly, and the infirm - people who would otherwise be rounded up and sent away. Schindler becomes aware of what is going on, and seems embarrassed by the whole arrangement, but takes no action to stop it.

Where exactly the "unessential" people are sent is a matter of rumor among the Jews; a few suggest that they are taken off to concentration camps, but people hearing this reject the idea as ridiculous. One old woman exclaims, "We are their work force! Why would they want to kill their own work force?"

The Razing of the Ghetto

At this point, an SS officer named Amon Göth arrives in Kraków to initiate construction of a labor camp, Plaszow, and to take control over the Ghetto. In one of the most sickening scenes in the film, a Jewish engineer explains that a foundation has been improperly laid, and for this he has her shot in the head. He then, in the next breath, orders that everything she requested be done. Goeth is the focus of the film's depiction of Nazi sadism and inhumanity, not only taking pleasure in murder and torture, but considering it an integral part of his job, a matter of duty. In one scene, he decides not to shoot a young boy for not properly cleaning his bathtub, but then, after reflecting, decides that he must be firm, and shoots him in the back as he walks away.

In due course, Goeth razes the Kraków Ghetto, sending in hundreds of troops to clear the cramped rooms and shooting anyone who refuses or cannot leave. Schindler watches the massacre from the hills overlooking the ghetto, and is profoundly affected. But, he now faces the more immediate problem of how to run his factory without his workers. He meets Goeth, befriends him, and convinces him to let him keep his workers for considerable bribes and payoffs. Schindler is now, though reluctantly, sheltering people who have very few skills in his factory.

It is during the clearing out of the ghetto that Spielberg introduces a character known as "the girl in red": a young girl wearing a red coat. The color of the coat stands out, because it is the only object that appears in color throughout the entire film (except for two instances of a candle flame); the rest of the movie is filmed in black-and-white, except for the final present-day coda. Film critics and scholars have suggested the appearance of the girl in the red coat is a "marker" used by Spielberg to denote the transformation of Schindler's personality. The first time she appears, Schindler changes from a cold-hearted businessman interested only in profit into a person struggling to do the right thing; he makes his first attempts to covertly assist his workers and save them from persecution and death afterwards. With the second appearance of the girl in red, Schindler makes a further transformation into an altruistic angel whose primary motive is not profit, but rather to save the lives of his workers.

The List

To Amon Goeth's considerable consternation, and to Schindler's horror, an order arrives from Berlin commanding Goeth to exhume and destroy all bodies of those killed in the ghetto razing, to dismantle the Plaszow, and to ship the whole population to Auschwitz. Goeth remarks sarcastically, "It will take about four weeks for me to do the paperwork -- that ought to be fun." Schindler prevails upon Goeth to let him keep his workers, so that he can move them to a factory in his old home of Zwittau-Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia, away from the Holocaust - now fully underway in Poland. Goeth acquiesces, for a payoff in the order of millions of Reichsmarks. So that his workers can be kept off the trains to the killing centers, Schindler, with Stern, assembles a list of his workers.

This list of "skilled" inmates was Schindler's List, and for many of the inmates of Plaszow camp, being on the list meant the difference between life and death. Except for a railway mishap, in which one of the trains carrying women was accidentally redirected to Auschwitz, all the people on Schindler's list arrive safely at the new site. Those who went to Auschwitz were soon returned by a train which was sent to Schindler's camp, after Schindler bribes another Nazi official. Once the workers arrive in Czechoslovakia, Schindler institutes firm controls on the Nazi guards assigned to the factory, permits the Jews to observe the sabbath, and spends the rest of his fortune bribing Nazi officials. He runs out of money just as the war in Europe comes to an end.

As a German, a Nazi, and a "profiteer of slave labor" (his words), Schindler must flee the oncoming Soviet Army. He packs a car in the night, and bids farewell to his workers. They give him a letter, explaining to others that he is not a criminal, and they also give him a ring, engraved with the Talmudic quotation, "Whoever saves one life saves the world entire." Schindler is wracked with guilt, seeing his car, and realizing he could have bribed ten more people from Goeth for it. He pulls the Nazi Party pin from his lapel, and cries, "This is gold. I could have gotten one more person for this. He would have given me one... One more person." He then leaves. The next morning, a Russian dragoon arrives, and announces to the Jews, "You have been liberated by the Soviet Army!"

The Coda

The film ends in Israel, at the grave of Oskar Schindler, in the present day. The actors portraying the major characters in the film pass by the grave, and place stones on it, while the actual persons they portrayed walk beside them doing the same. The camera pans, revealing a long line of people.

In a final shot, a man places a rose on the grave, and stands contemplatively over it. Though many believe it to be Director Steven Spielberg, it is actually the shadow of Liam Neeson who portrayed Oskar Schindler in the film and is the only actor not present in the aforementioned line of people. (

The Movie

The movie was directed by famed director Steven Spielberg, who later spoke of the making of the movie as affecting him deeply. It was produced almost entirely in black and white (with a colour prologue and epilogue, a red coat in two scenes, and colour candle flames in another). It starred Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, and Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth. The movie's tagline (see above) is taken from the Talmud. Critically acclaimed, the film won praise for depicting—often in exceptional, graphic detail—the horrible brutality of the Holocaust.

Nominated for twelve Academy Awards, this movie won seven, including the coveted Best Picture and Best Director awards for Spielberg, which many of his supporters felt he had been unfairly denied for prior productions, although he had previously received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

In the years since its release, Schindler's List has risen in status to be considered one of the greatest movies of the 1990s, if not of all time. It is also considered to be Steven Spielberg's greatest directorial accomplishment by many viewers and critics; the former vote it consistently among the top ten (#6) movies on the Internet Movie Database Top 250, while the latter voted it #9 in the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Movies series. In 2004, the Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. As of 2005, it is the most recently released film in the registry.

Following the critical and box office success of Schindler's List, Spielberg founded and continues to finance the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, a non-profit organization with the goal of providing an archive for the filmed testimony of as many survivors of the Holocaust as possible, so that their stories will not be lost in the future.

However, the Holocaust historian David M. Crowe has questioned in a new book the authenticity of the facts portrayed in the movie. "Schindler had nothing to do with the list," the author writes in the new biography of the German businessman. Oskar Schindler was in jail for bribing the Secret Service commander Amon Goeth when the famous list was being drawn up and had little involvement in it, according to a New York Times report. From the total of nine lists, four were drawn up primarily by Marcel Goldberg, a corrupt Jewish assistant to the SS officer in charge of transporting Jews, Crowe wrote.


  • Stellan Skarsgard was considered to play Oskar Schindler. Ironically, Skarsgard claims he is often mistaken for Liam Neeson.
  • Ralph Fiennes' performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. While he didn't win the Oscar, he did win the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA Award, which is the English equivalent to the Oscar.

1997 TV controversy

In February of 1997, the film was shown on television in the United States, being carried by NBC in two parts, on consecutive Sunday and Wednesday evenings (February 23 and 26). The telecast was the first ever to receive a TV-M (now TV-MA) rating under the TV Parental Guidelines that had been established at the beginning of that year, and many fundamentalist and evangelical Christian groups stridently objected to the film's being shown on network television at all, due to scenes of nudity and the use of vulgar language which were not edited out of the TV production.

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See also

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