Schindler's List

Schindler's List Themes


Throughout the film, Jewish characters deny the absolute horror of their situation. We first see this during a scene in the ghetto, when a group of Jews is standing around talking about how the ghetto can actually protect them and allow them to act upon their Jewish identity. Soon after, the ghetto is liquidated. Another instance in which we see denial is in the discussion of the gas chambers. One woman tells the women around her that the Nazis are putting Jews in gas chambers and killing vast numbers of people all at once. The women around her dismiss this as an impossibility, but from their terrified reactions in the shower at Auschwitz, we know that they were simply denying something they actually believed. Furthermore, Oskar Schindler engages in denial for much of the film. He denies Goeth's evil toward Stern and the true effects of his recruitment of Jews for his original factory.

The Power of One

The most obvious example of this theme is Schindler's list and his effort to save over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust. The ring that is presented to him states this theme, and the end of the film, when the survivors place stones on his grave, shows the lasting impact he had on these people's lives. Stern has an invaluable effect on Schindler. He inspires in him a conscience and the will to save Jews. Schindler has a minor effect on Goeth by encouraging him to pardon people. Goeth pardons a Jewish boy after listening to Schindler's ideas on power. This theme is important because it stands in stark contrast to the dehumanization of the Jews. It shows the value of each and every life.


Loyalty is most prominently seen in the strong family ties that exist among the Jewish workers. Chaja and Danka Dresner are a prime example of this loyalty. Chaja, during the liquidation of the ghetto, sacrifices her own safety for her daughter and lets Danka have the last space in the hideout. Danka shows her loyalty soon after by running out to find her mother, giving up her supposed safe space in the hide out. The two Dresners consistently watch out for each other throughout the film. Schindler shows loyalty to his workers by ensuring that the same ones with whom he has been working are the ones put on his list. He also bribes Rudolph Hoss, the commander of Auschwitz, to let him have the exact Jewish women from his list, because he made a promise to these women to keep them from Auschwitz.

Cinematic Realism

As a Docu-Drama, Schindler's List makes distinct efforts to portray events realistically. One of the ways this is achieved is through black and white film. The black and white film contrasts with the color film in the beginning and end of the movie and pushes the viewer into the past. The end of the movie, set in the present and in color, acts in a similar manner to the present-day interviews in documentaries. Furthermore, its nonfiction aspect - the presence of the real survivors - instills a sense of realism in the viewer. Finally, the use of handheld cameras throughout the movie to create a sense of homemade intimacy provides heightened cinematic realism.


The film explores the growing virtue in Oskar Schindler. Itzhak Stern acts as a human form of Schindler's conscience. The friendlier Schindler becomes with Stern, the more he acts as a savior to the Jews. Schindler's moral growth is also seen in other aspects of his life. At the same time that he completes his list and buys Jewish workers to save them from probable death, he tells his wife that he is ready to be faithful to her. He stops his hedonistic behavior and focuses on his work. He also stops working to exploit the workers and make money. He announces that he does not want a single shell produced in his factory to ever be fired. He does not want to be responsible for any deaths. Schindler's transformation from moral depravity to a man of virtue is central to the plot of the film.


The theme of dehumanization in the film is in regard to the Jewish people. The Nazis during World War II put forth an idea that Jewish people were vermin and sub-human. We see this belief reflected multiple times in the film. Goeth, in both his random shooting from his balcony and in his monologue to Helen in which he references the vermin stereotype, exhibits behavior that indicates his dehumanization of the Jews. Rudolph Hoss, the commander of Auschwitz, treats Jews as commodities by offering 300 different Jews to Schindler. Even the list itself is a symbol of dehumanization. The people on the list have been reduced to names on a sheet of paper, movable objects that can be bought and sold at will.


There are multiple kinds of power witnessed in the film. Amon Goeth is representative of power by fear. He prides himself on his ability to kill and the fear it instills in those around him. Oskar Schindler is representative of the power of respect. He tells Goeth that true power comes from the ability to kill, but the willpower not to do so. He inspires awe in the Jews he saves, who present him with a ring and honor his memory in years to come. Itzhak Stern is representative of the power of resilience. He continues to forge documents despite Schindler's anger. He continues his steady, hard work despite Goeth's requirement that he remain at Plaszow instead of moving to Schindler's sub-camp. His continued close work with Schindler has the power to change a greedy man to a selfless one.