Schindler's List

Schindler's List Summary and Analysis of Scenes 19 to 23 : Schindler's Activism Begins


Scene 19 opens with a camera shot looking up toward Regina Perlman, who is pacing back and forth outside Schindler's factory. It cuts to her inside the factory, asking the doorman to speak with Oskar Schindler. Schindler appears at the top of the stairs, sees her, and refuses to come down. Perlman returns a different day wearing makeup and a sexier dress. Schindler then agrees to speak with her. She begs him to employ her parents, who are currently at Plaszow. Schindler yells at her for assuming he would do favors like that, and kicks her out.

The scene then cuts to Schindler storming into Stern's office and yelling, asking what he's supposed to do about Goeth killing everybody. He doesn't want his factory to be known as a haven instead of a valuable enterprise. Stern asks him if he is losing money; he says that he isn't, but that the danger of these actions concerns him. He tries to defend Goeth's actions to Stern, explaining that he is under pressure. Nevertheless, he gives Stern his watch to bribe Goldberg to transfer Perlman's parents. Perlman sees them enter Schindler's factory and is heartened.

The scene changes to a party at Goeth's villa and then to Helen Hirsch in the cellar. Schindler walks in and she nervously reports to him, before he quietly tells her that this is unnecessary. He gives her a chocolate bar and encourages her to talk to him. She tells Schindler of the horrible beatings that she receives from Goeth and admits that she is scared for her life. Schindler tells her that she need not worry because Goeth values her and likes her too much to kill her. The camera moves to a close up on the pair as Schindler gives Helen a comforting kiss on the forehead.

The camera cuts to Schindler and Goeth standing out on Goeth's balcony. Goeth is incredibly drunk and cannot stand straight. He notes that Schindler is never drunk and the two men approach the subject of power. Goeth tells Schindler that his power comes from the fear the Jews have of him. They know that he can kill at any point. Schindler disagrees. He says that this is not power; true power lies in awe and respect that comes from having the ability to kill, but the will not to.

The following day, Goeth takes Schindler's advice to heart. He first comes across a young boy who has put a nice horse's saddle on the ground. Instead of shooting him, he grimaces, pats his shoulder and tells him to go on. The scene cuts to Goeth entering his bathroom where a boy has been unable to remove the stains from his tub. Goeth asks him why he used soap instead of lye, but tells the boy that he is pardoned. He stands for a moment and catches his own reflection in the mirror. While the boy is running back to his quarters, Goeth steps onto his balcony and shoots him.

The camera cuts to a close up of Goeth's hand. Helen is buffing his fingernails. It pans upward to Goeth's face and he is admiring Helen as she works. He leans forward, moving his face closer to hers, before breathing in and leaning back.

Back in the ghetto, the Jews have gathered for a wedding. The camera gives an overhead shot of a woman performing the ceremony. It cuts to Goeth standing alone and drinking on his balcony. The scene changes to a female performer singing in front of Schindler and two Nazi officers. The voice over of her singing continues to play as Goeth walks down the stairs to Helen's basement room. She is bathing. He tells her that she is a wonderful housekeeper and that he would be happy to give her a reference after the war. He asks her if she is lonely, but she continues to stand silently. She begins to tremble as he moves closer to her. He tells her that they are both lonely. Goeth struggles with himself, moving closer to her and then away again. He asks what it would be like if he were to touch her in her loneliness. He wonders aloud what would be wrong with that. He continues, explaining that he understands that she is not a person in the strictest sense of the word, but her eyes are not those of a vermin. His thoughts make a sudden switch, however, and he yells at her for tricking him into being attracted to her. He proceeds to beat her. Shots from the wedding are inter-cut with shots of him beating her.

The film then cuts to Schindler's birthday party where he is kissing every woman present. Two Jewish workers appear and give him a cake. He kisses them both, and lingers on the older one for too long. The scene cuts to a group of Jewish women talking before bed. One of them tells a story she heard about gas chambers. The other women dismiss it as an impossibility, but look uneasy as they attempt to sleep.


This portion of the film works to emphasize the gradual changes that are occurring in Schindler, leading to his creation of the list. Schindler's interaction with Regina Perlman is representative of his outlook at this point in the film. He initially yells at her for assuming that he is running a haven for Jews instead of a business. However, he does transfer her parents. This indicates that Schindler feels he must maintain his image, but with the transfer of her parents, he begins to actively protect the Jews when he can. This small action spurs a series of others that ultimately result in the creation of the list. Furthermore, this action indicates to Stern that Schindler is at least somewhat ready to admit to what he is doing. Stern now feels more freedom to transfer people and more assurance that Schindler will not punish him nor them.

Schindler's increased empathy for the Jews plays out even further in his interaction with Helen in Goeth's cellar. He assumes his identity of compassionate director when he tells her she need not to worry for he is Oskar Schindler. By listening to her story, he exhibits a real desire to understand her plight, relate to her, and comfort her. The camerawork during this scene helps to convey a sense of intimacy between Schindler and Helen by providing frequent close ups of their faces. This scene helps to mark the change that has occurred in Schindler. The Schindler who listens to Helen's problems and comforts her is a far cry from the Schindler who yelled at Stern for almost getting sent to Auschwitz and jeopardizing his business.

The conversation between Goeth and Schindler about power is also a telling one. A clear difference is identified between the men: their ideas of power. Up until this point, it has been clear that Schindler is more compassionate and less cruel and violent than Goeth. However, both men have still appeared to have questionable morals. This conversation elucidates a giant moral difference: Schindler views respect as the ultimate power and goal. Goeth, on the other hand, views fear in that way. This difference is irreconcilable, and the viewer now understands that Schindler has moved morally beyond Goeth. Additionally, this conversation is another aspect of Schindler's activism, for he is attempting to convince Goeth to be less violent. This does, in fact, save the life of a Jewish boy the next day.

Goeth's conversation with Helen in the cellar contrasts with Schindler's. Unlike with Schindler, Helen trembles nervously and does not speak. She does not get comfortable and open up to Goeth like she did with Schindler. This indicates that Helen views the two men in entirely different lights, despite their mutual affiliation with the Nazi party. This again highlights a difference between the two men, painting Schindler as the more morally righteous. Goeth's monologue also touches on the theme of dehumanization, for he calls her sub-human and a vermin. He struggles internally because he has convinced himself that Jews are of a difference species, yet he cannot help but to be attracted to Helen.

The inter-cutting of the scenes of Goeth beating Helen and the Jewish wedding serves to compare the triumph of human spirit and the breaking of it. Instead of simply showing the wedding straight through, Spielberg inserts clips of Helen's beating to remind the viewers how remarkable a wedding is at a time that is so horrible.

The theme of denial is also present during this portion of the film. First, Schindler attempts to explain away Goeth's behavior to Stern. He wants to deny the absolute horror of the party he belongs to and the people he associates with. He wants to continue running his business as usual without taking into account moral concerns. However, his denial sounds hollow even to him, and he thus asks for the transfer of the Perlmans. The Jewish women at the end of this selection also display denial. They do not want to admit the worst of their situation and refuse to believe that mass extermination is possible, despite their fear that it might be.