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Reflections on Why 'Schindler’s List' Is One of the Most Important Films in History

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‘Schindler’s List’ is an important film in society because it emphasizes marginalization, genocide, and individualization. There are many symbols that appear throughout the film. Some of these include the girl and red and the hand that lights the candle in the beginning scene. The use of symbolism helps create meaning and emotion and contributes to the overall theme.

Directed by popular film director and producer Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List debuted in 1993 as an American film depicting the historical events of the Holocaust. The film’s main character, Oscar Schindler, is a businessman born in the Sudetenland who established factories for the purpose of employing Jews to protect them from Nazi forces. He is described as a ‘good German’, a well-known portrayal across American films. Unlike the other Nazis, he is someone who understands that what his nation is doing isn’t right. Although he began as a member and supporter of the Nazi party itself, his ideals gradually changed over time. The film takes place mainly in Krakow, Poland in the mid-1900s. It was approached as a documentary and shot in black in white. According to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, the purpose of this was to create a sense of timelessness.

After the Polish Army loses to German Army at the beginning of World War II, over 100,000 Polish Jews from encompassing regions were sent to the Krakow Ghetto. Oscar Schindler who arrives from Czechoslovakia hopes to use the Jew work force to manufacture enamelware for the German military. Sponsored by the military, he acquires a factory where he works with Itzhak Stern, a member of the local Judenrat (Jewish Council), to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

Somewhere in the film, Oscar Schindler witnesses the mass killing of Jews by the Schutzstaffel, a major Nazi paramilitary organization led by Amon Goeth whose troops are ordered to liquidate the Krakow ghetto and purge the confined rooms and shoot any individual who fights back, is uncooperative, old, or infirmed, or for no reason at all. Amidst the horror and panic a little blonde girl, overlooked by the German troops, wanders around aimlessly. Schindler spots her from the top of a nearby hill. He eventually loses sight of her when she enters a building and hides under a bed. Since the girl seems unfazed by her surroundings, the viewer can infer that the mass slaughter of Jews is a part of her daily life. All around her people are running while suitcases are being thrown out of windows. Gunshots can be heard as bodies drop to the floor. At one point a group of Jews are lined up and shot. The girl wears a red coat not only compelling Schindler’s attention, but also drawing the audiences’ attention from the rest of the people who appear as black and white in the wide shot. Schindler who is now drawn to the little girl sympathizes with her and is touched by her pain. All things considered, it is remarkable that a film has the power to redirect people’s attention toward a specific character.

In this scene, the little girl symbolizes the innocence of the 6,000,000 Jews who were exploited and killed by the Nazi party under Adolf Hitler. It is also the turning point that drives Schindler to pledge that he would do all that he can to destroy the Nazi Regime. Her red coat has a deeper social meaning as it is a representation of the flag that the Jews waved in order to get the Allied Powers’ attention. The color can also be seen as a symbol of the blood and suffering of the Jewish people. The girl’s unawareness of what is going on around her mirrors the inaction of the Allied powers in sparing the Jews. Spielberg states that he wanted to bring the color red in to show the bloodstain that America, Russia, and England did nothing about even though they all knew that the Holocaust was happening. The girl is an essential component of the film that is needed to create a sense of empathy and connection for the audience. It also is the main turning point of the film because it changes Schindler’s whole perspective on his thoughts and ideas about the Nazis. At the end, as the Nazis are exhuming the bodies of innocent Jews who were killed during the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto to destroy evidence, the girl in red appears to be dead. Wheelbarrows loaded with decomposing bodies are dumped into pits to be cremated. In one of the wheelbarrows, Oskar sees the same girl he saw months ago, this time she is covered in ashes and gunshot wounds. After the camera zooms in on her dead body, it cuts to Schindler. The expression on his face can only be described as one of shock as he covers his mouth with a handkerchief. He is devastated by the fact that he could do nothing in his power to save her. The girl’s death is used to individualize the horrors of the Holocaust. It convinces the audience that the death of one is more emotionally impactful than the statistics of mass murder. This is important because it can be compared to real life, that it is easy to avoid doing anything about mass tragedies until our attention can be centered around one individual’s story. For example, the death of a 3-year-old Syrian boy named Alan Kurdi was brought to attention by global media and sparked up charities around the world to collect donations and help aid the victims of the refugee crisis. It was not until his death that the world realized that there was an issue that needed to be solved.

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Additional symbols stood out to me, appearing throughout the film as major constituents. The most obvious is the list that Stern draws up for Schindler as he names the Jews who he wants to save and employ in his factories. Oskar knew that no matter what he did, he could never save all of them. After the film opens up, the Germans are seen recording the names of the Jews who arrive and listing them for possible annihilation. Schindler’s list is the exact opposite and represents a symbol of Jewish survival. Another symbol appears before this as the film opens with a Sabbath ceremony that is all in color. A hand lights the candle and the world fades to black and white leaving only the burning light in color. This is essential to the story because it explains a time before the Nazis transformed the world into darkness. To the Jews, the candle represents religious affiliation with God. The reason the film starts out like this is because Spielberg wanted to let people know that this is a story told from the Jewish perspective. As the scene ends the candle’s light is extinguished just like the Jews were in Europe. The last symbol that I established were the suitcases left behind after the Jews were liquidated from the ghetto and taken to the extermination camps. The suitcases represent the intentions of the Nazis to get rid of all evidence of the Jewish faith. Each suitcase represents a life of an individual who endured the pain of the Holocaust. Even later in the film, a worker is shown rummaging through their belongings like they are nothing. The fact that these things belonged to people who treasured them is very saddening. This encourages the audience to think about what matters most to them and how they would feel if it was taken away.

After the war came to an end, Schindler told his workers that they were free but that he must escape before he is chased down for being a war criminal. When he says farewell, they give him a ring as a token of appreciation. Engraved in it, the Talmudic expression: ‘Whoever saves one life saves the world entire’. This quote is important because it supports the most important message of the film, that one man can have a big impact on the world. After he is given the ring, Schindler starts crying, believing that he could have done more to save as many Jews as possible. At that point he and his wife flee the scene.

The following morning, a solitary Russian soldier liberates the camp. As they all stroll along toward a nearby town, the scene switches from black and white to color with the caption ‘The Schindler Jews today’ to imply that the darkest chapters of history are now over. As the scene went on, I noticed that many of them were accompanied by the actors who played them in the film. Each one places a rock on Schindler’s grave to represent their pleasure for him and his great deeds. The rock itself symbolizes permanence. The placing of rocks on a person’s grave is a Jewish tradition that supposedly prevents souls from leaving their burial spots. The person who plays Oscar Schindler, Liam Neeson, is the last one seen at the grave as he places a rose on his tombstone instead of a rock to show that he was proud to be able to portray such an important historical figure.

Although the film was released in 1993, it is still relevant in today’s society. Many forms marginalization still exist. For example, Hispanics in America are underrepresented in many high-tech jobs such as government positions. The US government creates strict voting laws that attempt to make it harder for Latinos to vote and get involved. Another example of marginalization is the unequal treatment of women. One of the biggest disparities between men and women is the income gap. Women, in general, earn significantly less than men for doing the same amount of work. Genocide is also a current problem. The Rohingya genocide, for example, is still going on today. It consists of a series of ongoing prosecutions by the Myanmar government forcing millions of Rohingyas to flee their home country to neighboring ones. There are also many heroes of our time. Nelson Mandela is an example of an individual who has made a big impact on the world. In 1994 he became the first African American president of South Africa who led the transition from apartheid to a multiracial democracy. He is proof that one person can make a difference.

Individuals like Oskar Schindler set an example for the world. They remind us why it is important to speak out for what is right. Schindler was both a hero and a Nazi. The whole time he knew that his actions would have serious consequences, but that didn’t stop him. Having spent all of his money to keep Jews safe, he was broken by the time his camp was liberated on May 9th 1945. From that time until his death, he spent most of his life trying to make up for the money he lost. In 1958 he left his wife Emilie and went back to Germany where he failed at several attempts to open up businesses and turned to the Schindler Jews for financial support. He later died in Frankfurt, Germany on October 9, 1974 from liver failure at age 66. He requested to be buried in Jerusalem being the only Nazi member to be honored in this way.

This film teaches a lesson that we, as American citizens, need to take action against the unfair treatment of minorities in our country. It explains that heroes do not always come from the best backgrounds. In this case, Schindler was a Nazi. Just like the others, he supported extreme beliefs and policies, but gradually changed his beliefs over time. He did not become a hero overnight. His effort to save Jews during the Holocaust through his own personal risk earned him the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’.

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Reflections on Why ‘Schindler’s List’ Is One of the Most Important Films in History. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from
“Reflections on Why ‘Schindler’s List’ Is One of the Most Important Films in History.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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Reflections on Why ‘Schindler’s List’ Is One of the Most Important Films in History [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2023 May 24]. Available from:
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