Schindler's List (1993)




Director:    Stephen Spielberg

Starring:    Liam Neeson (Oskar Schindler), Ben Kingsley (Itzhak Stern), Ralph Fiennes (Amon Goethe), Caroline Goodall (Emilie Schindler), Jonathan Sagalle (Poldek Pfefferberg), Embeth Davidtz (Helen Hirsch), Malgorzata Gebel (Wiktoria Klonowska), Shmuel Levy (Wilek Chilowicz), Mark Ivanir (Marcel Goldberg), Béatrice Macola (Ingrid), Andrzej Seweryn (Julian Scherner), Friedrich von Thun (Rolf Czurda), Krzysztof Luft (Herman Toffel), Harry Nehring (Leo John), Norbert Weisser (Albert Hujar).

Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a profiteering capitalist using the virtual slave labor of Polish Jews to manufacture cookware for the Nazis. He has an epiphany with the violent destruction of the Krakow ghetto and its inhabitants.  Schindler is able to save a lot of his former workers who now have to exist in a Nazi work camp.  He is able to convince the Germans that he needs the people on his list of "essential" Jews for work in his munitions factory in Czechoslovakia and thereby saves 1,100 people from certain death.




Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

September 1939.  The German forces defeated the Polish army in two weeks. 

Jews ordered to register all family members and relocate to major cities .  More than 10,000 Jews from the countryside arrive in Krakow daily. 

Businessman Oskar Schindler, wearing a Nazi Party pin, attends a ball.  He buys a round of drinks for Nazi officers.  A high ranking officer sends his assistant over to Schindler to find out who is this generous man.  When the assistant doesn't return, the officer has to go over to Schindler's table.  Schindler greets him warmly and then brings the officer's pretty blond woman to the Schindler table.  Later Schindler leads some group singing. 

German military officers cut off the locks of Jewish men. 

The Judenrat  --the Jewish Council of twenty-four elected Jews personally responsible for carrying out the orders of the regime in Krakow, such as drawing up lists for work details, food and housing. It was also a place to lodge complaints. 

Schindler is looking for Itzhak Stern.  The man is an accountant and Schindler wants him to help him to start up a new business from one that has been placed in receivership.  Jewish investors in the business will be paid back with the factory's manufactured pots and pans.  Stern will run the business and Schindler will do the presentation of the company.  Schindler enters the Catholic Church to speak with black market traders.  Almost everyone leaves, except for one fellow.  And that is a good enough opportunity for Schindler. 

March 20, 1941.  Deadline for entering the Jewish ghetto. 

Edict 14/91 establishes a closed Jewish district south of the Vistula River.  Residency in the walled ghetto is compulsory.  All Jews from Krakow and the surrounding areas are forced from their homes and required to crowd into the area of only sixteen square blocks. 

Jewish families have to pack up their belongings.   Outside people are throwing things at the Jews as they pass by and shouting "Good-bye, Jews!".  The families move into their new ghetto apartments.   Goldberg works with the Germans and gets insulted by some of his Jewish acquaintances. 

The money starts coming in to Schindler in a big way from investors.  Jewish workers work for nothing.  Schindler will only have to give some money to the German S.S.  Stern works on the street getting workers for Schindler.  He is also busy helping to make fake essential work papers.  Schindler helps in the training of the workers.  Among the female workers he picks out a secretary for himself.  Later he poses with a lot of young women in front of his factory:  The Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik (German Enamelware Factory) that makes pots and pans for German military use.   Stern is a rather stern man and will not acknowledge Schindler's material gratitude for his hard work.  

Schindler's mistress Klonowska gets up to answer the door.  It is Schindler's wife Emilie.  Schindler tells Emilie that he has some 350 workers.  He admits that it is the war itself that has made him successful.  When her husband cannot guarantee her that the doorman and the maitre d' will never mistake her for anyone else besides Mrs. Schindler, Emilie leaves to go back to Moravia.  The one-armed worker Lowenstein comes up to thank Schindler for giving him a job.  He tells Stern:  "He saved my life."

Schindler gets very upset one day when he learns that Germans have taken all of his workers to shovel snow.  The guards shoot Lowenstein to death for being a one-armed man.  On another occasion the Germans grab Mr. Stern.  Schindler has to go down to the train station to cajole/coerce the Germans in charge there to let him have Stern back.  He threatens the Germans in charge by telling them that they will both be in southern Russia by the end of the day.  Stern was picked up because he had left his work card at home. 

"Jewish Town" Krakow Ghetto, Winter 1942.  The new commander Untersturmfuhrer Amon Goeth arrives.  He is taken on a tour of the ghetto.  Side A is on one side of the ghetto and contains the healthy workers.  On the other side is Side B containing the surplus labor area, mostly composed of the elderly and infirm.  Plaszow Forced Labor Camp is currently under construction.   Later Goeth picks out a secretary from a line of Jewish women.  Her name is Helen Hirsch.  A female Jewish engineer working with the Germans complains to Goeth that the laying of the concrete is so bad that the building will fall down.  Goeth is irritated by the woman and tells the officer in charge of construction to shoot her.  He carries out the order.  Goeth then tells the men to do exactly what the female engineer said to do. 

March 13, 1943.  Liquidation of the Ghetto.  Goeth tells his men that they will start with ghetto B.  They move the residents into the streets.  In the process quite a few residents are killed.  Soldiers are sent up to kill the very ill patients in the infirmary.  The doctor and nurse there give the patients poison before the Germans reach them.  In the street Men and women are separated.  From atop a hill Schindler and his mistress watch the whole thing taking place in the ghetto.  After awhile, the mistress suggests that they leave.  She is obviously troubled by what she has been watching. 

In the liquidation Schindler loses nearly all his workers.  He is very disappointed and angry.  Meanwhile, Amon Goeth is using the Jewish residents as so many targets in a turkey shoot.    He randomly and arbitrarily picks out Jewish targets and shoots them dead with a high powered rifle with a scope. 

Goeth explains to Schindler that they want private companies to be placed within the ghetto.  Schindler tells Goeth that everyday he has been losing a lot of money because of what happened to his workers.  "It's bad business."  Goeth chuckles over Schindler's remarks and says:  "What you want is your own sub-camp."  But this would cost a lot of money.  In other words, he is asking for Schindler to give him money for his workers.  Then Goeth has the nerve to grab Schindler's key man:  Stern.  When Stern sees Schindler he tells him not to let things fall apart:  "I've worked to hard." 

Goeth is a bit of a sadist.  He seems to enjoy having the power of life and death over people, especially death.  He tests a rabbi who works in one of the camp's metal factories.  When the rabbi produces a hinge very quickly, Goeth demands to know why his bin is not full of finished hinges.  He takes the rabbi to an outside court.  He pulls out his pistol, but the weapon just will not fire.  A couple of soldiers try to help him get the weapon to work without any luck.  So Goeth grabs a second pistol that he carries with him.  And this one misfires.  He gets so frustrated that he hits the rabbi over the head with the butt of the pistol and leaves.  Later Schindler learns about this from Stern.  So he gives Stern a gold cigarette lighter; Stern gives it to the German in charge of the rabbi; and the rabbi remains at his work station. 

A young woman named Elsa Krause wants to speak to Schindler.  He comes out from his office to look at her, but then returns to his office.  The message to the receptionist is that he will not see her.  She repeats this a number of times and the same thing happens.  So one day she borrows some nicer and sexier clothes, puts them on and gets in to see Schindler who now sees her as attractive.  She says that her real name is Perlman and asks him to save her mother and father who will certainly be killed by the Germans.  He tells her he cannot do it and then goes over to ball out Stern for sending her to him.  Schindler says:  "It's dangerous to me."  (But later Schindler gets the resources to bribe the guards to get the young woman's parents into his factory.) 

Over at Goeth's house, Schindler talks with Helen Hirsch about her employer.  She says that Goeth beat her the very first day.  She adds:  "One day he will shoot me."  But Schindler tells her that he won't kill her because he enjoys being with her too much.  This cheers up Helen a bit.  Then Schindler talks with Goeth.  He tries to convince the man to be kindlier; to be "Amon the Good".   And for awhile the talk seems to have some impact as he pardons a few people.  But then after pardoning a young boy for not being able to get the grit off the bathtub and letting the boy return to his residency, he changes his mind and with his high-powered rifle shoots and kills the lad. 

While Schindler enjoys himself in a night club with some German officers, Goeth goes into the basement to speak with Helen.  He starts by being nice to her and saying that there is nothing wrong with a German man having feelings for a Jewish woman.  But then he argues the other way saying:  "No, you're a Jewish bitch!"  He then starts slapping her. 

Hungarians are arriving at the labor camp and Goeth has to make room for them.  So he schedules a "selection" to take place.  He will weed out the infirm and sickly and have them killed.  The women prick their fingers and smear the blood on their cheeks to make them look healthier.  The men and women are forced to get naked and run past "doctors" who make the decision as to healthy and sickly.  Goeth arranges for a lot of children to be loaded onto trucks to be taken to be killed.  When the parents see this they start charging over to the trucks.  A few children are running all over the barracks trying to find hiding places.  Some of them even have to hide inside the cesspools of the latrines.

Oskar gets thrown in jail for awhile.  He kissed a Jewish girl and a Jewish woman who wished him happy birthday on behalf of his workers in full sight of German officers and because he insisted on hosing down the railroad cattle cars to provide some relief and drink for the people inside.  Goeth comes to Schindler's defense.  He tells his superior that Schindler likes all women and always gets carried away and goes too far.  That's just him.  Schindler is brought in and scolded for liking Jewish women. 

Schindler is out of jail.  Like snow falling from the sky, there falls a thick layer of  the ashes from the incinerators handling the bodies of dead human beings. 

Chujowa Gorka, April 1944.  Department D orders Goeth to exhume and incinerate the bodies of more than 10,000 Jews killed at Plaszow and the Krakow Ghetto massacre.  Goeth tells Schindler that they are closing "us" down.  Schindler tells Stern that he will see to it that he receive preferential treatment.  He adds:  "I am going home"  After all, he explains, he has got more money than a man can spend in a lifetime.  A new mistress sleeps while Schindler puts his money in suit cases.  It's amazing how much money he has.  But then he goes to Goeth and tells him:  "I want my people."  He says he will go back to his home town in Czechoslovakia and set up a factory making artillery shells.  Goeth wants more money and sets a figure that Schindler has to pay for each and every worker he takes with him to Czechoslovakia.  It is at this time that Stern helps Oskar set up Schindler's list of Jewish workers to be taken to work in his new artillery shell factory.  He gets up to 600 names.  Then he demands more names and gets up to 850.  This makes Stern curious and he asks Shindler if he is "buying these people."  Yeah.  The list is life.  And for the last name he wants Helen Hirsch.  To get Helen Schindler has to offer Goeth a lot of money.  Goeth wants to take the woman with him to Vienna, but Schindler reminds him that this is impossible.  He finally agrees to play a game of cards, winner take Helen.

Zwittau-Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia.  Oskar Schindler's hometown.  Schindler waits as a trainload of Jewish men and boys arrives.  He walks them over to his factory.  The women will be coming shortly on a separate train.  But something goes horribly wrong.  The women are delivered to the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Schindler finds out that it was due to a paper work mistake.  The new women arrivals are sure they are going to be gassed and are so very relieved when the shower heads actually deliver water instead. 

Oskar has to work fast to get his women and girls out of Auschwitz.  He goes to the man in charge and offers him six or so diamonds.   After some protest the man accepts the diamonds. Schindler will get his females.  When the women get in line to get onto the train, some guards grab some of the women and girls and pull them aside.  Thank goodness Schindler is there, because he tells the guards that all these women are his to work in his munitions factory.  The soldiers let them go.  The women arrive safely. 

Schindler now speaks with the German guards.  He tells them that he does not want any workers shot by soldiers.  In fact, he wants no military interference with production at all.  So there will be no guards on the factory floor without Schindler's personal approval. 

In church Oskar sits behind his wife and whispers to her that no doorman or maitre d' will mistake her for anyone other than Mrs. Schindler.  He adds:  "I promise."  They get back together. 

Stern reports to Schindler that all of their shells fail the military tests.  All they make is bad shells.  But Schindler explains that he would be very upset if any of his shells were used to kill Allied forces. 

Schindler tells the rabbi to prepare for the Sabbath.  He adds:  "I've got some wine in my office."  The German soldiers are shocked to hear Jewish celebrations taking place.

For seven months Schindler's factory was a model of non-production.  He spent millions of reichmarks to sustain his workers and bribe Reich officials. 

2:41 a.m. on the radio Churchill speaks telling everyone that the Germans have unconditionally surrendered.  Schindler comes to the German officer in command and tells him it's time for the guards to come into the factory.  There Schindler speaks to everyone, saying that it has been six long years of murder.  "We have survived."  As a user of slave labor and as a munitions manufacturer he will have to flee very soon.  The German soldiers leave.  Schindler then asks for three minutes of silence in memoriam for the Jewish dead.

Schindler is about to leave.  Stern gives him a letter to take with him.  It is a letter signed by all the factory workers (just in case he is captured) saying how Schindler had helped them.  They also present him with a solid gold ring they made especially for him with an inscription from the Talmud. 

Some 1,100 people lived because of Schindler.  But Schindler is overwhelmed by feelings that he did not do enough; that he could have saved more if he had just worked a little harder.  Stern counters with:  "You did so much."  Nevertheless, Schindler breaks down crying and has to be helped into his car. 

In a while a Soviet officer comes to the factory.  He tells the workers that they have all been liberated by the Soviet Union.  The people start walking to the nearby town. 

Amon Goeth was hanged in Krakow for crimes against humanity.

Schindler went to live in Argentina.  His marriage failed along with a couple of his businesses.  In 1958 he was declared a righteous person by the council of the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  He died in 1974.  (He was born in 1908.)  He is buried in Israel at his request. 

There are less than 4,000 Jews left alive in Poland. 

Today there are 6,000 descendants of the Oskar Schindler Jews. 


Very good movie.  Interesting transformation of Schindler from a money/profit focused man to a great humanitarian trying to save at least some the lives of a persecuted people.  Of course, over time he saw more and more of that horrific side of the German death machine.  Working on this film review project, I have seen a lot of Holocaust films.  This one had some very novel techniques used by the Germans to persecute the Jews.  (I guess I haven't seen it all..)  Thank goodness the Germans had so much corruption in their ranks that many of them took money to look the other way.  Schindler exhausted his whole fortune in paying for Jewish lives and bribing German personnel.  Liam Neeson was terrific as Schindler. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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