SUBJECTS — Biography; World/WWII;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage; Rebellion;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Respect; Caring.
AGE: 15; MPAA Rating — R for language, some sexuality and actuality violence;
Drama; 1993; 195 minutes; B & W/Color. Available from Amazon.com.
This film depicts the heroism of Oskar Schindler, a German war profiteer, drinker, womanizer, and gambler, who, because of his fundamental decency and great courage, saved more than 1,100 Jews from death in the Holocaust. The film is based on the historical novel by Thomas Keneally, in which only the dialogue and certain details are fictional. Mr. Keneally based the book on events reported to him by the “Schindlerjuden”, people whose lives had been saved by Schindler and who were eyewitnesses to Schindler’s heroic actions.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 1993 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Spielberg), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score; 1993 British Academy Awards: Best Film, Best Director (Spielberg), Best Supporting Actor (Fiennes) Best Adapted Screenplay; 1994 Golden Globe Awards: Best Film-Drama, Best Director (Spielberg), Best Screenplay; 1993 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: Best Film, Best Cinematography; 1993 National Board of Review Awards: Best Film; 1993 New York Film Critics Awards: Best Film, Best Supporting Actor (Fiennes) Best Cinematography; 1993 Writers Guild of America: Best Adapted Screenplay; 1993 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Neeson), Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor (Fiennes); 1994 Golden Globe Award (Nominations): Best Actor-Drama (Neeson), Best Supporting Actor (Fiennes), Best Original Score; 1994 MTV Awards: Best Film, Breakthrough Performance (Fiennes). This film is ranked #9 on the American Film Institute’s List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006). This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film.
Featured Actors: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Embeth Davidtz, Caroline Goodail, Jonathan Sagalle, Mark Ivanir.
Director: Steven Spielberg.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Studies of World War II and the Holocaust are made vivid by personalizing the events about which students read. This film draws viewers into the reality and horror of genocide and better prepares them for clarity about the several cases of ethnic cleansing that have occurred in more recent times.
Student interest will be piqued, and they will develop strong and long-lasting memories of what they are taught about the Holocaust. Through research and writing assignments, students will gain insight into significant world events, their potential to have lasting effects on society, as well as the ability to communicate those ideas with clarity and impact.
Oskar Schindler (1908 — 1974) was an ethnic German born in the village of Zwittau in Sudetenland, a portion of Czechoslovakia with many German inhabitants. He was known in the village by the name “Gauner,” which meant swindler or sharper. A Jewish woman who lived in the town and whose life Schindler later saved, said, “As a Zwittau citizen I never would have considered him capable of all these wonderful deeds.”
Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party. He arrived in Cracow, Poland, just after the collapse of the Polish Army and at the beginning of the German occupation. His first effort, as shown in the film, was to capitalize on the misfortune of the Jews who had recently been forbidden to engage in business. As an added inducement for them to “invest” in his new business, Schindler offered to employ the investors or their relatives in his factory. For years, relations between Schindler and his Jewish workers were circumspect. But as the lot of the Jews in Poland worsened, the workers at Schindler’s factory noticed that they were somehow protected. Word of this spread through the Jewish community.
Schindler spent his evenings entertaining the SS and German Army officers. His apparent political reliability and his engaging personality made him popular among the Nazi elite. During the day, Schindler would entertain officials and visitors to the factory, pouring them drinks, telling them that he knew how to get work out of the Jews and that he wanted more brought into his factory. In this way, he managed to bring into the plant and save from the gas chamber intellectuals, artists, and the families and relatives of his workers.
Schindler’s acts of kindness and bravado saved lives on a daily basis. It was very dangerous to intercede for Jews in Nazi Germany, but Schindler did so repeatedly. Often he would say “Stop killing my good workers. We’ve got a war to win.” One woman, Rena Finder, who was forced into slave labor at the age of ten, recalled that she was about to be shot by an SS guard for breaking a machine used to make bullet casings. Schindler saved her life, telling the guard: “You idiot, this little girl could not break that machine.”
In 1943 the Cracow ghetto was ordered closed and many of the Jews were sent to the death camps. Those people able to work were moved to the forced labor camp at Plaszow, just outside the city. The conditions in Plaszow were terrible. Many workers died and there were frequent transfers to nearby Auschwitz, a death camp. In the Spring of 1943, Schindler moved into an active phase of his anti-fascist efforts, conspiring directly with his accountant/manager Itzhak Stern and other employees to save Jews from extermination and to outwit Nazi officials. He bribed Amon Goeth, the commander of Plaszow, to allow him to set up a sub-camp for his workers at the factory, “to save time getting to the job.” It was then easier to smuggle food and medicine into the factory. When Plaszow was slated to be shut down and its prisoners transferred to the death camps, Schindler took the chief of the war equipment command for all of Poland out drinking and convinced him that Plaszow’s workshops were well suited for serious war production. This idea survived the General’s hangover. Plaszow was converted to a war-essential concentration camp and the inmates were no longer slated to be transferred to Auschwitz for extermination.
But still, Stern had doubts about Schindler. These ended in late 1943. In August, Schindler hosted visitors sent to him by the underground organization that the Joint Distribution Committee (an American Jewish welfare organization) operated in occupied Europe. Schindler told Stern to speak frankly and the men asked for a full report on anti-Semitic persecutions in Plaszow. Stern thought this was a foolish risk and resisted, but finally Schindler ordered him to write the report. Stern wrote everything he could remember, mentioning the names of the living and the dead. When the underground brought him answering letters from America and Palestine, any doubts that Stern had about the integrity and judgment of Schindler were answered.
Schindler, aided by his wife, Emilie, provided extra food and brought in medicine, all purchased on the black market. They allowed religious celebrations in the factory. The SS guards were given regular bribes to keep them from reporting what was happening.
When the tide turned on the Eastern Front and the German forces were in full retreat, Schindler convinced the authorities to permit him to move the factory and the camp to his home area of Sudetenland.
After the war, Schindler’s talents of bonhomie and lobbying government officials were not as helpful in business as they had been during the war. His business ventures were not successful. The Schindlerjuden gave him money to buy a farm in Argentina but it failed in 1957. Schindler and his wife then separated and he returned to Europe, living part of the year in Germany and part of the year in Israel. The Schindlerjuden and the State of Israel then supported Schindler. In the later years of his life, Schindler was honored as a “Righteous Gentile” by the Israelis and was the subject of veneration in that country.
Schindler had married his wife, Emilie in 1928. He was tall, handsome and had an eye for women. He was not faithful in his marriage. The film omits the role that Emilie Schindler played in Schindler’s conversion to anti-fascism and in helping to care for the Schindlerjuden. Emilie fully supported what her husband did for his workers. She cooked and cared for the sick. She earned praise and a reputation of her own. She has written a book about her life with Schindler, entitled, Where Light and Shadow Meet.
Itzhak Stern was the head accountant for a large Jewish owned export-import firm located in Cracow, a large Polish city near the Czech border. After the occupation of Poland, the Germans “Aryanized” businesses by seizing ownership, installing a German Trustee, making the former owner into an employee hired to manage the business, and replacing many Jewish workers with “Aryan” workers. The German Trustee of the business in which Stern worked, however, acted strangely. He left the discharged workers on the social insurance registry which enabled them to maintain their workers’ identity cards. This protected them, for a while, from deportation. He also secretly gave the former workers money to buy food. After the end of the war, Stern learned that the “German” Trustee was actually a Jew who was masquerading as an “Aryan.” It was this man who first introduced Stern to Schindler saying “You know, Stern, you can have confidence in my friend Schindler.” However, it took years for Stern to fully trust Schindler. It was difficult to sort through Schindler’s greed, high living, close association with Nazi officials, and membership in the Nazi party, to see the real man. These were the very traits that permitted Schindler to survive detection by the Nazis.
1. At the beginning of the war, Schindler was a greedy high living war profiteer anxious to make money from the misfortune of the Jews. What made him change?
Since what made him change is the mystery of Oskar Schindler, answers will depend upon each student’s personal perspective. It seems that he began to change when he first witnessed the soldiers slaughtering a large group of Jews. Apparently, mass killings were beyond Oskar Schindler’s limit, and he had the courage and the love of cheating the system that brought out the hero in him.
2. What role does the concept of “alien” or “other” play in the psychology of the perpetrators of the Holocaust and other atrocities and mass killings?
People cannot engage in genocide if they acknowledge the humanity of their victims. The concept of alien, that the victims are somehow different and less human is essential for genocide to occur.
3. Define the concept of the “good German.” Identify the “good Germans” in the film. Explain the psychology of compartmentalization.
“Good Germans” did what they were told and didn’t question the orders given to them by their leaders — even if it meant to kill, maim, or rob another human being. There are “good Germans” in every country. People who put patriotism as their highest virtue, are for their country, right or wrong, and who do not question the instructions they receive from their leaders. Hitler could not have pursued the “Final Solution” without the cooperation of “good Germans”.
4. What important point was Schindler trying to make when he talked to Amon Goeth about power and told him that refraining from imposing punishment showed greater power than imposing it?
Some students will decide that Schindler is explaining the true nature of power while others will assert that he was trying to talk Goeth out of punishing his victims.
Additional Discussion Questions.
5. At the beginning of the war Schindler was a greedy high living war profiteer anxious to make money from the misfortune of the Jews. By the end of the war, what was his attitude toward money? What made him change?
At the end of the war money meant nothing to Schindler if it could save the life of another person. What made him change is the mystery of Oskar Schindler. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. A person who cheats in business or despoils the environment to make money will turn around and make large donations to a charity. A person who is protective of the environment may be a tyrant in his personal relations. Mass killings were beyond Oskar Schindler’s limit and he had the courage and the love of cheating the system that brought out the hero in him.
6. There have been many atrocities committed throughout history. The Holocaust was not the first nor the last. Why is the Holocaust recalled with such horror?
There are several reasons: (1) The Holocaust was perpetrated by a technologically advanced country. Its achievements science, art, literature, music, poetry and medicine were renowned throughout the world. (2) The Holocaust was mechanized and rationalized, using all of the latest technologies. (3) The Holocaust was one of the largest, if not the largest, atrocities in history, causing the death not only of six million Jews, but five or six million other people including: Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political opponents of the Nazi regime. (4) Children constituted probably 1/4 of the number of Jews killed.
7. Has the Holocaust changed the actions of political leaders in the time since it occurred?
The Holocaust has helped world leaders understand that they cannot sit idly by and allow genocide to occur. However, it has not been enough to make them act to prevent all further genocides. There have been mass killings on several occasions since 1945, for example in Cambodia (1971-1975, see the movie The Killing Fields) and in Rwanda (1994, see Learning Guide to Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April). One of the occasions in which countries of the world have banded together to stop a genocide was in Kosovo (1998-1999). At that time the failure of the international community to stop the genocide in Rwanda was fresh in the minds of world leaders and, at least, President Clinton of the United States had vowed to learn from experience and moved to intervene.
8. Why didn’t the Allied Powers, who knew that mass killings were taking place, focus their firepower on the ovens and the killing operations?
No one knows the answer to this. It is one of the few black marks on the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt and the Allies during WWII.
9. Schindler was a gambler and an opportunist who liked living on the edge and outsmarting the SS. Does the fact that he may have had an emotional predilection for connivance and for cheating the authorities take away any of the glory of his accomplishments?
Answers will vary depending upon individual values. All answers should be argued carefully.
10. In this film, almost none of the Jewish characters that audience gets to know well are killed.
Given the strong identification of the audience with the characters in the film, it would have been devastating had any of them been killed.
11. Why is this film shot mostly in black and white? Color is used four times in the film. Why are certain scenes shot in color?
Color film for the more horrific events would have been too traumatic for the audience. Black and white gives the audience a sense that the Holocaust was something that had happened in the past and gave the audience a sense of distance from the horrors being shown. The few scenes shot in color served to personalize them.
[Questions 1 — 9 of the Discussion Questions section relate to Human Rights.]
1. Can you describe the personal relationship that developed between Itzhak Stern and Schindler?
From the film, it appeared to be one of partnership in their enterprise of protecting the workers in Schindler’s factories.
2. How does the idea that the victim is somehow regarded as “evil” affect all atrocities and mass killings?
This is another part of the concept of alien. People who are evil are outside the scope of consideration. There are very few, if any, people who are actually evil. There are people who do evil things, but almost everyone can be redeemed in one way or another and certainly, entire classes or groups of people are not evil.
3. Schindler’s wife, Emilie, who was very much his partner in his heroic efforts, said, “We only did what we had to do.” How do you reconcile this statement with the actions of most of the German people who lived during the Second World War and who permitted the Holocaust to occur without protest?
There is no way to reconcile them. The Schindler’s acted nobly and those Germans who just went along or turned a blind eye acted immorally. Teachers and parents note that there is a more detailed discussion of this in the Learning Guide to Judgment at Nuremberg.
4. Schindler was a gambler and an opportunist who liked living on the edge and outsmarting the SS. Does the fact that he may have had an emotional predilection for connivance and for cheating the authorities take away any of the glory of his accomplishments?
No. He knowingly risked his life to save the lives of others.
5. Is there a mystery to profound human goodness or to abject evil, or can everything be explained by human psychology?
There is no one right answer to this question. It is excellent for debate and discussion.
6. There was a theme that ran through most of Schindler’s actions: his delight in women; his interest in good times and high living; his friendliness with everyone (including the Nazis); and his protection of the Jews who came to work in his factory? Can you describe what this was?
Schindler cared for people. Sometimes his caring was too much, as when he hurt his wife by having affairs with other women. Sometimes it allowed him to appreciate the company and become friends with people that he later realized were war criminals. And finally, it drove him to heroism, as told in this story.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
1. Elie Wiesel, a student of the Holocaust, has said that “indifference” is the greatest sin and punishment of the Holocaust. Can you explain what he meant by this? How does this concept relate to the scene in which Schindler arranges to have the condemned Jews in the overheated box cars hosed down with water? Why does this act amuse the Commandant and other SS officials as they sit in the shade and sip their iced drinks?
There is no one correct answer to this question and reasonable minds can differ. Indifference is a great sin because it allows evil to triumph but the indifferent person does not realize he is perpetrating evil and therefore has no motivation to change his attitude. In the scene with the people in the box cars, Schindler was not indifferent to the plight of the people in the box cars but the German officers were.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
1. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who spent the rest of his life hunting down Nazis, said that indifference is the greatest sin and punishment of the Holocaust. Write an essay about the role of indifference in perpetrating genocide. Highlight your essay by referring to scenes from Schindler’s List that show indifference.
2. Write an analytical essay in which you compare and contrast the characters Schindler and Goeth in terms of the concept that both good and evil can reside in any one individual. Research the psychology of good and evil and then, in your essay, apply what you learn to action and dialogue from the film involving these two men. Be sure to refer to specific scenes.
3. Research the events that have occurred since World War II that can be seen as genocide and pick two to concentrate on. Write an informative essay in which you include a general history of the cultures involved in these two instances of genocide, describe the conflicts that resulted in the attempted genocide, and any efforts taken by governments around the world to resolve the problems and prevent the genocide. Conclude your essay with an idea about whether or not the lessons learned from the horrors of the Holocaust have been learned by human societies.
4. Research the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect,” now adopted by the United Nations and trace its development.
5. Pick three major religions and discover how the existence of events such as the Holocaust are explained in their theology. This can be done through reading and research or through interviews with religious leaders.
See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
BRIDGES TO READING
Books recommended for readers ten years and older include: Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death by Sharon Linnea, Jewish Publications Society, 1993; Walls: Resisting the Third Reich: One Woman’s Story, by Hiltgunt Zassenhaus and Katherine Paterson, Beacon, 1993 (this book is about the experience of Ms. Zassenhaus, a translator for Scandinavian political prisoners, who smuggled food and medicine to them and later won a Nobel Peace Prize). Books recommended for older children include: Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip P. Hallie, HarperTorch Books, 1985 (this book is the story of Andre Trocme, a Huguenot minister and the Village of Le Chambon; Trocme and his parishioners saved thousands of Jewish lives during WWII, turning Le Chambon into a massive refugee hiding camp and way station to safety in Switzerland ); Return to Auschwitz by Kitty Hart, Athenium, 1982 (tells of the experience of a young woman and her mother who survived Auschwitz); Childhood by Jonah Oberski (tells of the experiences of a young child in Bergen-Belson), Gizelle, Save the Children by Gizelle Hirsch; and Women at War by Kevin Sim, (consisting of stories of five women who defied the Nazis and lived).
Sudeten German; Schindlerjuden; ghetto; forced labor camp; concentration camp; SS; Final Solution; Sabbath; Auschwitz; genocide; crimes against humanity.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- For an early and independent account of Schindler’s work in WWII see “The Real Oskar Schindler” by Herbert Steinhouse, published in Saturday Night, April 1994. There are a host of websites providing information on the Holocaust and the Nuremberg trials.
- An excellent source for information about the Holocaust is A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust.
- The Museum of Tolerance has an extensive site at Resources for Teachers.
- See also Screenplay for “Schindler’s List”.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- “The Real Oskar Schindler” by Herbert Steinhouse, published in Saturday Night, April 1994;
- Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally;
- “To A Nazi With Love”: Schindler’s List Debuts in Boston Spilling Holocaust Survivors’ Memories”, Bob Hohler and Brian McGrory, Boston Globe, Dec. 16, 1993.