The film explores the theme of good versus evil, using as its main protagonist a "good German", a popular characterization in American cinema. While Goeth is characterized as an almost completely dark and evil person, Schindler gradually evolves from Nazi supporter to rescuer and hero. Thus a second theme of redemption is introduced as Schindler, a disreputable schemer on the edges of respectability, becomes a father figure responsible for saving the lives of over a thousand people.
The girl in red
While the film is shot primarily in black and white, a red coat is used to distinguish a little girl in the scene depicting the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto. Later in the film, Schindler sees her dead body, recognizable only by the red coat she is still wearing. Spielberg said the scene was intended to symbolise how members of the highest levels of government in the United States knew the Holocaust was occurring, yet did nothing to stop it. "It was as obvious as a little girl wearing a red coat, walking down the street, and yet nothing was done to bomb the German rail lines. Nothing was being done to slow down ... the annihilation of European Jewry," he said. "So that was my message in letting that scene be in color." Andy Patrizio of IGN notes that the point at which Schindler sees the girl's dead body is the point at which he changes, no longer seeing "the ash and soot of burning corpses piling up on his car as just an annoyance." Professor André H. Caron of the Université de Montréal wonders if the red symbolises "innocence, hope or the red blood of the Jewish people being sacrificed in the horror of the Holocaust."
The girl was portrayed by Oliwia Dąbrowska, three years old at the time of filming. Spielberg asked Dąbrowska not to watch the film until she was eighteen, but she watched it when she was eleven, and was "horrified." Upon seeing the film again as an adult, she was proud of the role she played. Although it was unintentional, the character is similar to Roma Ligocka, who was known in the Kraków Ghetto for her red coat. Ligocka, unlike her fictional counterpart, survived the Holocaust. After the film was released, she wrote and published her own story, The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir (2002, in translation). According to a 2014 interview of family members, the girl in red was inspired by Kraków resident Genya Gitel Chil.
The opening scene features a family observing the Shabbat. Spielberg said that "to start the film with the candles being lit ... would be a rich bookend, to start the film with a normal Shabbat service before the juggernaut against the Jews begins." When the color fades out in the film's opening moments, it gives way to a world in which smoke comes to symbolize bodies being burnt at Auschwitz. Only at the end, when Schindler allows his workers to hold Shabbat services, do the images of candle fire regain their warmth. For Spielberg, they represent "just a glint of color, and a glimmer of hope." Sara Horowitz, director of the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, sees the candles as a symbol for the Jews of Europe, killed and then burned in the crematoria. The two scenes bracket the Nazi era, marking its beginning and end. She points out that normally the woman of the house lights the Sabbath candles and intones the Kiddush. In the film it is men who perform these rituals, demonstrating not only the subservient role of women, but also the subservient position of Jewish men in relation to Aryan men, especially Goeth and Schindler.
To Spielberg, the black and white presentation of the film came to represent the Holocaust itself: "The Holocaust was life without light. For me the symbol of life is color. That's why a film about the Holocaust has to be in black-and-white." Robert Gellately notes the film in its entirety can be seen as a metaphor for the Holocaust, with early sporadic violence increasing into a crescendo of death and destruction. He also notes a parallel between the situation of the Jews in the film and the debate in Nazi Germany between making use of the Jews for slave labor or exterminating them outright. Water is seen as giving deliverance by Alan Mintz, Holocaust Studies professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He notes its presence in the scene where Schindler arranges for a Holocaust train loaded with victims awaiting transport to be hosed down, and the scene in Auschwitz, where the women are given an actual shower instead of receiving the expected gassing.