"I knew the people who worked for me... When you know people, you have to behave toward them like human beings."
— Oskar Schindler (not a line in the movie, but attributed to the man himself)
Schindler's List is a 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg, shot almost entirely in black and white. Loosely based on real events from World War II, the film won seven Oscars; it currently stands at #8 in the IMDb top 100 movies. The film is based on the book Schindler's Ark by Australian author Thomas Keneally — which in turn is based on the actions of the man named Oskar Schindler.Allegedly, Schindler's wife once said that Schindler himself did nothing remarkable before or after the war — World War II, that is. He was a businessman in Nazi-controlled Germany who, while trying to profit from the German invasion of Poland, ended up running a factory using enslaved Polish Jews as the workforce. As the Nazis started to send captured Jews to the concentration camps, Schindler resisted their actions. The movie's title comes from the "lists" he kept of skilled workers that he could not afford to lose... which just so happened to be every worker in his factory. At great personal risk and at the cost of any sort of financial security — he was bankrupt by the time the war ended — Schindler ended up saving 1100 people from being killed in concentration camps. As the end of the film points out, the Schindler-Juden and their descendants now number more than the entire Jewish population of Poland.
Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The film uses clearly healthy actors to portray prisoners of the Holocaust, though some scenes do feature some pretty skinny people, but look at real footage of the prisoners you'll see that making them look like the real prisoners would have been impossible without starving them.
All Germans Are Nazis: Subverted. Oskar Schindler was in fact a member of the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party — but he, like so many other Germans, was in it for the political and economic advantages. By the end of the film, to call him a Nazi is to both be blind and a pedant of the first order.
All Love Is Unrequited: To the limited extent to which he is able to feel an emotion such as love, Amon for Helen. It being unrequited is understandable, seeing as he was a violent serial killer.
Anti-Hero: At the start of the film, Schindler. He didn't care what the Nazis were doing, as long as he could make money out of it, and only saves Stern out of a need to continue running his business without interruptions. Later on, though, he started to see the horrendous things the Nazis were doing and started to help and by the end of the film was an Atoner.
The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People: Happens to Schindler, who begins the film as a serial adulterer and war profiteer, but as the death tolls and dangers increase, becomes continuously more concerned with preserving human life and trying his hardest to keep people alive. Schindler himself believes - ironically - in the opposite, that war brings out the worst in people, and that if the war had not happened, Amon Goeth would be generally a really nice guy. The movie itself suggests that war brings out the truth in people i.e. Goeth is really a monster, and Schindler is really a good guy.
The Atoner: Schindler is possibly one of the most representative characters of this trope. Once a ruthless businessman, he ends up spending all his money, time and energy to save Jews from a certain death. His last lines from the movie are a perfect illustration of this (see "Samaritan Syndrome" below).
Badass Boast: This storm is different. This is not the Romans. This storm is the SS - also rather weird to be said in Real Lifeduring the Polish Campaign, as the 1939-1940 SS-Verfügungstruppen comprised only a small percent of the German armed forces, had not yet proven themselves in battle, they were poorly equipped and hardly the poster boys to fill the newspapers and newsreels. The legendary Waffen-SS grew after the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Batman Gambit: Schindler's overall plot to keep his group of Jewish prisoners from being executed, which actually originated with Stern. Through a complex system of bribery, persuasion, and illusion, Schindler is able to keep nearly all of his prisoners alive in his factory while also resisting the Nazi war effort by producing faulty shells.
Bilingual Bonus: In dubs of the film, Schindler always addresses his workers with the polite form (i.e. "Sie" in German, "Vous" in French), in contrast with the other Germans who use the informal "you"note for native speakers of German it's considered very rude to use the informal "you" to people who are not your close friends. This is Truth in Television (like most of the movie).
Plenty of unsubtitled German, Polish, and occasional Hebrew in the original, due to its inconsistent Translation Convention. In particular, the increasing restrictions on Jewish life blared out from microphones in German. For example, as Poldek walks down a street to the church, a truck behind him relays the message "Attention, attention! It is now forbidden for Jews to perform Kosher slaughter."
It goes further in real life. Schindler escaped arrest but his entire life was ruined. His marriage failed (the movie does mention this). His later business' were all failures and by the end of his life, he was living on donations from Jewish charities. This arguably makes his actions even more meaningful.
Black and White Morality: It does not get much more blatantly evil than Goeth and his Nazi buddies, and it definitely does not get more genuinely righteous than heroes like Stern and, eventually, Schindler.
Character Development: At the beginning, Schindler only saves people because he needs them for his business. By the end, he has spent his entire fortune on them.
The Charmer: Oskar Schindler. He can make total strangers his close friends in next to no time, and uses his charisma to get a foothold in German industry.
He later uses every bit of his power of persuasion trying to convince Goeth to become a more merciful person. Amazingly, it seems to work, but Goeth immediately abandons it.
Chekhov's Lecture: The first part of Schindler's "People will remember my name" speech to his wife. More subtly, Stern's fake lecture to the history and literature teacher about leaving his papers in his drawer, given so Stern can give the man a second chance at being deemed an essential worker. Some time later, Stern himself leaves his card at home and almost dies because of it.
Colonel Kilgore: Goeth is something of a cross between this and Psycho for Hire. He's delighted that there is a war on, because it lets him do what he loves to do most: killing, molesting, and torturing people who are at his mercy.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Schindler is having German soldiers hose down the Jews that have been stuffed into deathly-hot cattle cars, Göth and the other Nazis initially laugh at what is apparently one of their own tormenting the Jews with a little taste of water, but Schindler keeps hosing the cars and even has drinking water and food brought to the train for the guards to give to the Jews every time they stop. By the end of the scene Göth is staring at the scene with blank incomprehension; he has gone through humor, exasperation and boredom, and has now reached a point where he really cannot figure out what the hell Schindler is doing. The idea that Oskar is trying to help the Jews just does not fit.
Also the scene where Schindler tells him the story about mercy being true power. At first he seems to have finally gotten it... then he changes his mind and shoots a Jewish boy for not being able to clean a stain out of his bathtub.
Face Death with Dignity: Sadly, even Karma catching up with him feels hollow when Amon Goeth somehow looks positively bored when he's finally hanged for his crimes.
Fan Disservice: The film contains male and female full frontal nudity, but this is during the concentration camps entrance process, thus lacking any eroticism. This being despite the actors having normal healthy bodies, visibly clean, trimmed and hairless in the scene with the trainload of women being sent to the showersnote the vast majority of women in the 1940s did not shave their body hair and the handful who did were wealthy socialites or luxury prostitutes, not hungry, unwashed and lousy work camp prisoners. They did not recreate realistically the scene to avoid scaring the viewers to the verge of heart attack, as the image of Real Life exhausted and starved prisoners naked and full of lice would be as horrible as traditional depictions of Hell.
Freak Out: The SS soldier in the scene of mass burning of bodies is quite literally Driven to Madness. This is a case of Reality Is Unrealistic - the image of the typical Nazi is usually one of Punch Clock Villainy, devotedly efficient, remorseless and robotic, yet survivor tales quickly point out the way SS guardsmen lost their temper and went into bouts of hysteria after a particularly disgusting mass killing and how often this did happen.
Friendly Enemy: Goeth only once suspects that Schindler is double-crossing him, in spite of overwhelming evidence (and even then he misses the mark: "If I am making 100, you must be making 300"). When Schindler is arrested at one point for kissing a Jewish woman, Goeth goes out of his way to speak on his behalf to get him released.
Schindler: (casing his new apartment, which used to be owned by an evicted Jew) It couldn't be better.
Mrs. Nussbaum, the evicted Jew, now living in the ghetto: It could be worse.
Mr. Nussbaum, losing it: Look around! How could this possibly be any worse?!
That particular example is especially ironic because it happens during the film's first "act". Dude has no idea.
Grave Marking Scene: The final scene of the film shows the actual Schindler Jews visiting the grave of the actual Schindler. They each leave a stone on the grave to mark their visit, as per Jewish custom, leaving every inch of the grave covered in the stones of the Jews he'd saved.
At the start of the movie, Oskar Schindler is perfectly willing to bribe Nazi officials and manipulate people in order to make money. He slowly comes to realize that the Nazis, and especially Goeth, are monsters.
Subverted with Goeth. After Schindler's speech to him on the virtue of "real power", the audience can easily mistake Goeth for being moved/enlightened. How wrong they are...
Heroic BSOD: After finally rescuing his workers, Schindler suddenly becomes overwhelmed with guilt that he did not save any more.
Hero of Another Story: The connection Emilie Schindler has with Jewish workers is underplayed. Spielberg admits her story could be an entirely different movie.
Julius Madritsch, the other kindly industrialist who ultimately decides not to collaborate with Schindler, did in fact save many hundreds of his workers and other Jewish prisoners by granting them a haven in his sewing workshop and helping to smuggle them out of the ghetto to freedom. Among other schemes, he had his workers' children smuggled into the workshop in cloth sacks, and had around 100 of their names added to Schindler's list before the liquidation of Plaszow. Like Oskar, he was named as "Righteous" by Yad Vashem in 1964.
Historical Villain Downgrade: The real Amon Goeth was actually far worse than his film counterpart. See that page for examples of how bad he was. Crossed with Historical Badass Upgrade when he is displayed proudly wearing the Iron Cross 2nd Class, the Sudetenland Medal and the Silesian Eagle, none of which he won in Real Life, and his importance in the political machinery of the Holocaust is overplayed - he never got above the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) and never held any sort of political and military power.
The one-armed old man who personally thanks Schindler for giving him a job, the next day he is executed by SS officers, because.
"The worst is over... we are workers now!"
Schindler's female workers are seen happily boarding a train that will supposedly take them to Schindler's plant. They end up at Auschwitz by mistake, but he gets them out safely with a well-placed bribe.
Ignored Epiphany: Goeth almost seems to have had an epiphany following Schindler's speech to him about mercy and real power, going as far as pardoning the Jewish boy who's failed to clean his bathtub. Then he changes his mind and shoots the poor kid from his balcony.
Interrupted Intimacy: Schindler is having sex with his mistress when he's informed that Stern has been mistakenly put on the train that takes Jews to the death camps.
Kids Are Cruel: The young girl screaming "Goodbye, Jews!" as they are rounded up and the boy who makes a throat-slitting gesture as their cattle truck passes by him on the railroad to the extermination camp. In the German dub, the girl says "Verschwindet, ihr Juden!" (Go away, you Jews!), which is even harsher.
Laser-Guided Karma: When Goeth finds a Jew in the factory who is working very slowly he takes him out to execute him, only for the gun to jam. It looks like this is just going to be a brief, agonizing reprieve, but it jams over and over again, as does a borrowed gun. Finally Goeth gives up, pistol whips him savagely, and then storms off in a huff. At the end of the film, we see Goeth's execution by hanging as a war criminal. Apparently it is quite a low-budget affair, as he is just standing on a chair. The executioner takes several attempts to kick it all the way out from under him, and we see him flinching all the way. This was loosely Truth in Television, as it took three attempts to execute Goeth.
Lima Syndrome: Goeth, to the limited extent to which he is capable of such a thing, falls in love with Helen by the time she is to go to Auschwitz.
Little Dead Riding Hood: The only color shown in the movie (aside from a candle at the beginning, the Blauschein stamp, and the ending scene) is a girl in a red coat, shown hiding from the Nazis. Later in the film, she is seen in passing again as one of a stack of corpses, only recognizable because the red coat is again the only color shown. Steven Spielberg wanted to use red because of the association with blood, and because Oskar Schindler really did see a toddler (Roma Ligocka) dressed in red - apparently she actually survived, and later wrote her own memoir titled The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir.
The physical scene in the camp. After the adults pass, they are seen relaxing, even smiling and laughing. Cue the children of the camp being driven by...
When the women are lead into the showers, expecting to be gassed only to find out they are in actual showers. They are ecstatic to have survived, but then as they are leaving they see another batch of women going into a different set of showers, this one beneath a crematorium...
Morton's Fork: A small one by Goeth. He asks a Jewish worker to make him a hinge and times him. If he makes it too slowly Goeth can shoot him for being inefficient. If he makes it quickly, Goeth can point out that though his work is fast, the number of hinges he has made throughout the day is very small and shoot him for slacking off on the job.
OOC Is Serious Business: Stern never drinks, and is even called out by Schindler for this. When they ended editing the list, Schindler promises him to have a drink with him when all ends, Stern decides to do it right there, showing that he is not sure if he is gonna live.
Out-of-Character Moment: Amon Goeth when speaking to his Jewish maid, Helen, in the basement, but then subverted when he switches back to his usual awful self.
Pet the Dog: Played straight in a couple of fleeting moments of humanity from Goeth, like taking the time to thank his servant, Helen, and removing Poldek from the execution line after an inspection, but predominantly subverted.
Goeth tries this several times, succeeding the first two. He gives up with the third, a Jewish boy who can not clean the stains from his tub; after pardoning the boy, Goeth snipes him down while he is walking back to the barracks.
And then, of course, there is the scene where he tells Helen his appreciation of her before beating her and smashing a shelf full of wine on top of her.
Psychopathic Manchild: Goeth. He has tantrums like a child, does things on a whim, and likes to break his toys. Unfortunately, in this case, his toys are human beings being starved and worked to death, who he kills on the merest whim (e.g., he wants to kill someone). Accent on the "merest" part.
Reality Is Unrealistic: When the film was released, some criticized Spielberg for including such a "blatantly evil" villain as Goeth in the film, claiming that he was too pointlessly cruel to be believable. What these people are unaware of is that Spielberg toned down what a monster Goeth was in real life. He regularly tortured people, and had a special dungeon built under his villa for this specific purpose, and is believed to have personally murdered over 500 people (about a fourth of the deaths that occurred in his camp). And yes, there is tons of evidence and documentation and were tons of witnesses for all of it.
Additionally, some reviewers singled out the scene where the female Schindler Jews are ushered into a shower room at Auschwitz, only to gasp in relief when it turns out to be a real shower room. The Nazis really did this; prisoners who were chosen to work on their arrival at Auschwitz were sent to real showers and delousing. Those who weren't selected for slave labor on arrival were sent to fake showers and gassed. No small part of this was for the sake of keeping some veneer of deniability up - of course people get showered and not gassed, what silly rumors! Although by 1944, most people knew what that "snow" around Auschwitz was.
Refuge in Audacity: Schindler claims to be supporting the Nazi party while deliberately having his Jews work unproductively in his factories, both to simply save the Jews from being gassed and to put a dent in the Nazi war machine. And he gets away with it.
Reliably Unreliable Guns: One Jew ends up being pistol whipped rather than shot in the head because Göth cannot get either of his pistols to fire, no matter how much he attempts to clear any jams.
Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more. Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them. Schindler: If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just... Stern: There will be generations because of what you did. Schindler: I didn't do enough! Stern: You did so much. [Schindler looks at his car] Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. [removing Nazi pin from lapel] Schindler: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! [crying] And I... I didn't! [sobs into Stern's chest]
Tempting Fate: At every stage of the Jews' predicament, someone comments that things can not get worse, or that they are now in a pretty good position (as workers that is). Justified of course, given this was barbarity on an unimaginable scale.
Terrible Interviewees Montage: Played with in a comic relief scene. A series of increasingly attractive girls with increasingly poor typing skills appear in Schindler's office, trying to get a job as his secretary. Schindler the incorrigible womanizer is in turn increasingly besotted. The sequence ends with Schindler slumped down in his chair, depressed, as an older, stern-looking woman types away at lightning speed.
Those Wacky Nazis: Oddly enough, variously played straight (holy shit but Nazis apparently know how to party), and horribly, brutally subverted. By the end, no one is being "wacky".
Translation Convention: Applied haphazardly. Sometimes everyone speaks "English," while other times, it is in unsubtitled German or Polish. The general idea seems to be that we don't hear "English" when the focus characters (for example, the Polish Jews at Auschwitz) can't understand the language being spoken, but it can be really hard to tell sometimes.
Yiddish, meanwhile, is seemingly never translated.
Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: The protagonist wrestles with his conscience for quite a while before making the leap from being an opportunistic entrepreneur to a subversive hero. This is never remarked upon until the closing minutes of the film, not even by Stern. As Roger Ebert observed, there seems to be an unspoken understanding between the two men, as though saying it aloud would mean instant death.
Undead Author: Why one character argues the Nazis can not really be killing everyone, because then who would be telling the stories about them killing everyone? Poor fool...
Part Truth in Television: the hundreds of thousands of camp survivors did tell the stories - as witnesses in war crimes trials.
Villainous Crush: Amon Goeth has one on Helen Hirsch, his Jewish maid. This leaves him conflicted because he believes her to be inferior to him.
"What Now?" Ending: The Schindler Jews, now jobless, are approached by a Soviet who yells out his boilerplate announcement of their "liberation." He then goes off-script and confides that most people despise Jews now, but they might have luck finding food in the next town over.
There are fewer than four thousand Jews left alive in Poland today. There are more than six thousand descendants of the Schindler Jews.