Schindler's List

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.
Talmudic quote
"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 holds a 97% Fresh from Rotten Tomatoes; and was added to the National Film Registry in 2004. The film is based on the book Schindler's Ark by Australian author Thomas Keneally -- which in turn is based on the actions of a man named Oskar Schindler.

Schindler's wife allegedly 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 the factory. At the cost of any sort of financial security -- he was bankrupt by the time the war ended -- Schindler ended up saving over a thousand people from being killed in concentration camps.

Tropes used in Schindler's List include:
  • Aborted Declaration of Love: Amon to Helen in the basement before he catches himself and decides against it. Pretty classic example of Cannot Spit It Out.
  • 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: Amon for Helen. Unfortunately, due to their circumstances, a relationship between the two of them should never work anyway. Try telling that to the fanfiction writers though... There is also that weird little smile thing she does in the line when Amon is choosing her for his maid.
  • 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 Complete 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 (see "Samaritan Syndrome" below).
  • Ax Crazy: Amon Goeth.
  • Badass Boast: This storm is different. This is not the Romans. This storm is the SS - also rather weird to be said in Real Life during 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". This is Truth in Television (like most of the movie).
  • Bittersweet Ending: "I could have got more out..."
    • It goes further in real life. Schindler escaped arrest but his entire life was ruined. His later businesses 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.
  • Broken Ace: Goeth.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Oskar is quite popular with the ladies....
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Excluding the very beginning and end, the girl in red, the Blauschein stamp, and the Sabbath candle flames.
  • Domestic Abuse: Amon to Helen. A lot.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Schindler is having German soldiers hose down the Jews that have been stuffed into deathly-hot cattle cars, Goeth 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 Goeth 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.
  • 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 showers. 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.
  • For the Evulz: Goeth does not have any reason to do the horrible things that he does, other than the fact that he can. Goeth's truly inhuman nature was actually underplayed, because Spielberg thought people would have a hard time believing someone could actually be that pointlessly sadistic.
  • Friendly Enemy: Goeth never once suspects that Schindler is double-crossing him, in spite of overwhelming evidence. When Schindler is arrested at one point (for kissing a Jewish girl), Goeth went out of his way to speak on his behalf to get him released.
  • 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.
  • Guile Hero: Oskar Schindler.
  • Heel Face Turn:
    • 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 Complete 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.
  • 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.
  • Honor Before Reason: One of the best examples in history.
  • Hope Spot: Several.
    • 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.
  • Insane Admiral: Goeth is something of a cross between Psycho for Hire and Colonel Kilgore. He is happy about the war because it lets him do what he loves to do most: killing and torturing people who are at his mercy.
  • 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.
  • Ironic Echo: 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 he gives up and lets the guy go. 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.
    • Also, Amon bailing Oskar out of prison, because he thinks he'd want Oskar to do the same for him if he ever ahem, found himself in a similar position. And Amon explaining to Scherner about the "disease" which makes men fall for Jews. You get the impression he isn't just talking about Oskar.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The scene when the little girl with the red coat is introduced.
    • Later, when the Nazis use the children's song "Mamatschi" to lure children out of Plazsow onto trucks bound for extermination camps.
  • It Got Worse: Jews several times remark that "it can't get any worse!" This leads to an Ironic Echo Cut:

Schindler: (casing his new apartment, which used to be owned by an evicted Jew) It couldn't be better.
Cut to
Mrs. Nussbaum, the evicted Jew, now living in the ghetto: It could be worse.

  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Schindler is an unfaithful husband who drinks too much and has a bad temper. That does not stop him from being a hero.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Goeth does this fairly often. Especially with Helen - he hits her once, and when she falls down, he hits her again and then throws a shelf on her.
  • 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. As with Goeth's actions, this cruelty is actually downplayed compared to some real life cases where kids (and the entire community) watched as Jews were sent to ditches and shot.
  • 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.
  • Messianic Archetype: Oskar Schindler.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • 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.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Played straight with Oskar Schindler.
  • Oh Crap: Helen has a pretty major one of these when she realizes that Amon has come down into the basement.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: On the scene of the mass exhumation and burning of the massacre victims' corpses.
  • Only in It For the Money: Schindler could care less about Political ideology, seeking only immense wealth.
  • 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Like most Nazis, both in fiction and reality, Amon Goeth has an incredibly insular view of the people he persecutes to the point where he sees them as moving targets for his rifle. In the case of Joseph Mengele, who makes a small appearance during the Auschwitz scenes, he views the Schindler women as guinea pigs for his experiments.
  • 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.
  • Rage Within the Machine
  • 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. And yes, there is tons of evidence and were tons of witnesses for all of it.
  • 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.
  • Samaritan Syndrome: Causes a Heroic BSOD for Schindler towards the end.

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]

There are fewer than four thousand Jews left alive in Poland today. There are more than six thousand descendants of the Schindler Jews.
—From the epilogue