Major Themes and Frames of the Film

Major Themes

  • One man can make a difference in the world.

The impact a single person can have on the world is one of the major themes throughout the movie. “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire,” quoted from the Talmud by Stern in Schindler’s List, helps to illustrate the difference Schindler makes by saving over one thousand Jews from death.

Text: As Schindler is preparing to flee he is presented with papers that explains who he is and what he did for the Jews during the war. All of his workers signed the document. Schindler is also given a ring that has the words “He who saves a life, saves the world entire,” engraved on it. This is a line taken from the Talmud. Schindler expresses his regret for not using his money to save more Jews, and Stern reassures him that no matter how many more Jews should not have died, Schindler’s actions saved hundreds of lives. That’s all that mattered.

Subtext: Schindler is being framed as a hero that saved not only hundreds of Jews during the War, but also future generations, descendants of the Schindlerjuden. The scene also sends the message that even though there were millions of people killed during the war, what Schindler did was enough; because of the hundreds of lives Schindler saved, he shouldn’t be accountable for the millions that weren’t.

  • Good always triumphs over evil.

Good triumphing over evil is a common thread woven throughout movie. There are many examples that Spielberg points illustrates, such as Schindler’s ability to overcome obstacles like being thrown in jail, or how one of the Jewish workers were saved because the Nazi guns mysteriously didn’t work. At the end of the movie, when Schindler takes a risk and gives the Nazi soldiers an opportunity to kill all of the workers or to go home and find their families, they choose to go find their families. These are only small examples throughout the movie that represent that people, even Germans, are inherently good, until influenced by evil ideas and ideologies held within a society. In the end, Schindler is depicted as escaping “home-free,” from any kind of punishment for associating with the Nazi party, while Goeth, the officer over the Plaszow labor camp, and many other Nazi Germans are shown being hung for their atrocious behavior and actions throughout the life of the Holocaust.

  • Denial of the truth

Ignorance toward the truth can have a detrimental influence on the outcome of events; in this case, the lives of millions of Jews.

Click the following link for the video clip

A prisoner in the barracks tells his fellow women and children about what happens in the death camps, and describes the gas chambers. The other women in the barracks say that they can not believe the story, and that it is too ridiculous. The women then came up with reasons as to why this story about Jewish prisoners being gassed could not possibly be true, and how they are an important work force for the Germans.

The underlying message in this scene concerns what happened in the minds of many Jews and Germans alike. Many of the Jews and Germans were in denial about what was really going on in the concentration camps – ignorant, so to speak. Because people inherently don’t like the idea of death or murder, both incarcerated Jews and onlooking Germans would falsify reasons as to why provocative stories about the camps were untrue; they didn’t want these rumors to be true, first of all, and secondly, it is, even today, still so entirely difficult to imagine what really happens at some of the camps, especially extermination camps. Because the Jews did have knowledge of the brutality and immorality taking place in these camps, we are confident enough to call them ignorant just as the decent Germans and the rest of the world for a period of time.

Major Frames

  • Girl in the Red Coat

Basic Text:
In June of 1942, Oskar Schindler and his mistress witness an Aktion, or Nazi strike to “round up” Jews for deportation, on the Krakow ghetto. He watches with intensity as a little girl wearing a red jacket runs throughout the streets, alone. She stood out within the mass chaos, and in Spielberg’s otherwise black and white film, her coat appeared red. This scene of the film is known as the “moment” Schindler’s perspective and motive sways from profit-seeker to savior.

It is important to recognize the director’s intentions in giving the girl’s red coat color in the colorless film. The little Jewish girl, sporting a bright red jacket, walks untouched through a mob of Nazis slaughtering their counterparts. Spielberg framers her to stand out, but remain undetected by onlookers as if she were invisible. The subtext? The Holocaust, a massacre leaving an estimated 11-17 million non-Germans dead, was hardly recognized throughout the rest of the world at the time. Ignorance is not always bliss, and Spielberg plays this concept into Schindler’s List by using the innocence of the child in the red coat, who later appears to audiences as having been shot to death, to symbolize the innocent lives taken as a token of the world’s ignorance.

Though framed as the turning point in Schindler’s life, the girl in the red coat did not exist based on Schindler’s experience in the Krakow ghetto. In actuality, Spielberg constructed this scene based on memories of a Plaszow work camp survivor Zelig Burkhut, who he had interviewed before the film’s production. Burkhut witnessed a Nazi shoot and kill a young four-year-old girl wearing a pink coat. He said “It is something that stays with you forever.”

Many years after the Aktion he witnessed, Schindler reminisced and said, “Beyond this day, no thinking person could fail to see what would happen. I was now resolved to do everything in my power to defeat the system.” He did, in fact, witness the Aktion in the Krakow ghetto, but there is no evidence that the experience held a substantial influence on Schindler’s intentions throughout the Holocaust.  Gradual change in his morality has been thought to be a more realistic view of Schindler’s role in saving the lives of his Jewish workers (Hill).

As pictured, a memoir was written by a Holocaust survivor, Roma Ligocka. Within the Krakow ghetto, Ligocka was recognized by her strawberry-red coat. After watching Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, she was inspired to write the memoir, entitled “The Girl in the Red Coat,” having identified with some of Spielberg’s characters, particularly the girl in the red coat.

  • Auschwitz labor and extermination camp: shower scene

Basic Text:
In this scene, 300 of “Schindler’s women,” who had been spoke earlier about rumors of gas chambers, stepped right into their worst nightmare. After being mistakenly deported to Auschwitz work camp, the women are gathered, undressed, given quick hair cuts, and told to enter a room that resembled showers. This fit one woman’s description of the suspect gas chambers Jews were known to die in. The women are terrified, but all too suddenly, water streams out of the shower heads as to clean the women. Even audiences of Schindler’s List can feel the relief. Later, Schindler comes to the rescue and retrieves the women and children who had been mistakenly sent to Auschwitz, because he “needed” them to work in his factory.

This scene represents one of the few “miracles” of the Holocaust, and serves as a break from the high-intensity murder scenes throughout the film. The entire clip encompasses the concepts of death and terror then a quick change of feelings, to that of hope, luck, and optimism:  three ideas that were practically non-existent within the Jewish death camps. This scene also re-emphasizes Schindler’s heroism throughout the Holocaust, as he was determined to save all of the Jews, even the women, who were on his “list.”

Truth and Truthiness: 
As opposed to certain inaccuracies throughout the film, certain details of this scene have been verified by the research we have done. Three hundred of the Schindlerjuden women who were meant to be sent to Schindler’s sub-camp, really did get transported to Auschwitz labor and extermination camp, but not by mistake, on October 21, 1944. Before any prisoners were redistributed to other camps, they were to be quarantined, stripped, given hair cuts, bathed, and then identified. It was necessary for the 300 women to be sent to Auschwitz because it was the only location that had enough female “kapos,” SS guards and police, to manage the women, who were in numbers of thousands, through the quarantine process.  Schindler told only one of the Schindlerjuden women that they would be sent to Auschwitz before being transported back to his sub-camp, or factory; the rest were unaware of the layover.

A Schindler survivor, Anna Duklauer Perl, said, “I knew something had gone terribly wrong(…)they cut our hair real short and sent us to the shower. Our only hope was Schindler would find us.’  The women spent the night in what was commonly referred to as a sauna, a disinfectant bath warehouse. There were several gas chambers located near the sauna that the Schindlerjuden women were held in. They were, in fact, undressed, their hair was cut, and they were sent into a public showering facility to bathe. This was routine for new inmates arriving at Auschwitz. Spielberg frames the moment as a terrifying experience for the women, even though, typically, inmates entering the camp were unaware of the gas chambers or their potential death. Another of Schindler’s survivors, Etka Liebgold, states, “One night they took us to the gas chamber. We were waiting the whole night – in the morning we found out: Schindler is here!”Schindler did end up retrieving “his” women from Auschwitz, a difficult and costly task in reality.

Behind the Scenes:
In an interview with Susan Royal from Inside Film, soon before the release of Schindler’s List in 1993, Spielberg talks about the emotion behind the camera while filming the shower scene:
We talked to everybody beforehand. For one thing, they had to know  why they were taking off their clothes. The clothes came off so easily, once the Polish people who were in those scenes understood what we were trying to do and that it was a health action at the hands of the German physicians. Nobody came  over and said, “I’m Catholic, I can’t do this.” The clothes came off, the people  did it without question. Without question. And they were humiliated,  and the humiliation we caught on film. We only did this a couple of times. It wasn’t that way all day long, but they were, you know, undressed for a number of  hours, and it was hard on everybody. It was hard on me to be there, I couldn’t look at it, I had to turn my eyes away, I couldn’t watch. It was easier to see it in black and white than it was in color, actually. I couldn’t watch, but I shot it. It’s kind of hard to get across to you what that means. But it was one of the worst three days on the movie. I think for everybody involved.” 
Spielberg added: “The most difficult part was putting the women into the showers, turning off  the lights on them. That was tough, and he mentioned that one woman, who was born in a concentration camp, “had a  complete breakdown” during the shooting of that film.

Mr. and Mrs. Schindler live happily ever after

Basic Text:  Mr. Schindler, accompanied by his wife Emilie Schindler, leave their factory, Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik, in Schindler’s proclaimed last  (his car). Schindler sports a prisoner’s striped uniform, having given his suit to the Schindlerjuden, “his” Jews. The married couple would seek refuge, having been a part of the Nazi party, by fleeing the country.

Subtext:  This final scene of the story is framed to be a humble fairytale ending, of sorts. The married couple leave Germany together, seeking refuge, though without money or a plan. Sporting the humbling concentration camp uniform, Schindler shows his respect for the Jews he has saved, expressing equality through his new attire and lack of money.

Truthiness:  First of all, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler were accompanied by Schindler’s mistress, and some of his Shindlerjuden when their exit was made, who were left out of the closing scene of Schindler’s List. They fled to Argentina to avoid repercussions of associating themselves with and as Nazi Germans. According to this site, Schindler left his factory with more money than he opened it with. The catch? He lost it all when he had to cross into American territory, posing as a surviving Jew; this was when Schindler and his posse had to wear the uniforms originally meant for contained Jews.  Once in Argentina, the team purchased a small farm to live on.

It is also rumored that Schindler left his wife and mistress and returned to Germany. He spent the remainder of his life as a struggling business man, living off of handouts from former, thankful Schindlerjuden. There is no known specific reason for Schindler abandoning his loved ones, and as Emilie Schindler states in her biography, A Memoir, while visiting her husband’s grave after 37 years, “At last we meet again(…)I have received no answer, my dear, I do not know why you abandoned me(…)But what not even your death or my old age can change is that we are still married, this is how we are before God. I have forgiven you for everything, everything.”

Meeting Itzhak Stern and Acquiring the Factory

Click on the link below to view the clip

Basic Text: Oskar Schindler is asking Itzhak Stern for advice about purchasing a factory, and if he knows of Jews with the money that would be willing to front the cost. Stern claims he does not know of anyone that would be interested in such a proposal.

Subtext: Itzhak Stern does not trust Schindler with what the business idea he is proposing, and Schindler is portrayed at the end of the conversation as someone who is trying to do the right thing by telling Stern that the Jews should be interested.

Truthiness: There are several details that are incorrect about this scene, when Schindler and Stern meet. It is portrayed here that:

  • Schindler sought out Stern for advice about the enamalware factory
  • Schindler had no contacts concerning Jews who would front the money for the company
  • Schindler had offered Stern the job to run the factory for him
  • It was Itzhak Stern that found the financial backing for Schindler; the trade was pots and pans for the money to buy the factory.

The truth?  Stern and Schindler were actually introduced at Josef Aue’s office, a friend of Schindler’s who came to Krakow at the same time, for the same reasons as Schindler. Stern was the chief accountant of the Jewish store that Josef Aue had acquired. Aue was impressed one day be Stern’s tact in dealing with a difficult situation involving the accusation of a Jew stealing. After dealing with the problem, Aue told Stern that he wanted to share something confidential: he then introduced Stern to Schindler. According to Itzhak Stern, their first meeting was on November 18 or 19, 1939. Schindler was interested in acquiring a business and wanted his advice. Schindler took a financial balance statement out of his pocket about the Rekord, Ltd. Company, and wanted to know Stern’s opinion about its financial health. Stern happen to know a great deal about this company due to his brother, who was an attorney, that represented a Swiss company in suing Rekord, Ltd. Stern gave Schindler the advise to rent or purchase a business and not take one over as a trustee because a trustee would operate the factory for the Reich, whereas the owner “was relatively free in the employment of Jews,” which cost much less.


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