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Schindler’s List - Ethics and the HolocaustSchindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust


Schindler’s List (1993)


Famous for...

  • The true story of Oskar Schindler (1908-74), pictured right below, a Polish factory owner, who saved about 1,100 of his Jewish employees from death in Nazi concentration camps. The movie was filmed at Auschwitz. Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust
  • The girl in the red coat (later killed) – one of the few uses of colour in the film (the director, Steven Spielberg, made it black and white to reflect its sombre content). 


Based on...

Australian Thomas Keneally’s (pictured right) book, Schindler’s Ark.Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust



Steven Spielberg (pictured right below).

Spielberg (a Jew himself) wanted to:

  • honour the memory of the six million Jews killed.



Seven including Spielberg’s (pictured right) first ever Oscars for:

  • best film.
  • best director.

 Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust

Key characters

Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), businessman (pictured right).

Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), his Jewish accountant.

Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), evil Nazi.


The story

Oskar Schindler, is a:

  • German businessman in wartime Krakow, Poland.
  • Nazi sympathizer (to help win profitable war contracts).
  • lover of luxury and constantly unfaithful to his wife. Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust

In March, 1941, the Nussbaum family, along with thousands of other Jews, are forced into the small Krakow ghetto, leaving Schindler to move into the Nussbaums’ luxury apartment.

Helped by his Jewish accountant (Itzhak Stern, pictured right together) and Jewish investors, Schindler buys a cut price enamelware factory confiscated from its Jewish owners.

Much to Stern’s disgust, Schindler:

  • shows no remorse (towards the horrible treatment of Jews).
  • exploits Jews  with low wages.

Stern wants them because they are classified as “essential” and so are saved death in the concentration camps.Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust

Schindler begins to realize Stern’s rescue plan, when Stern is thanked by an elderly one armed man for:

  • giving him a job.
  • saving his life (the man is later shot dead by the Germans).

Soon after Schindler has to rescue Stern from a train full of Jews  bound for a concentration camp. Their belongings are piled high in a warehouse including family photos.

The sadistic killer, Amon Goeth (pictured right above), is put in charge of a forced labour camp near Plaszow, and the Jews from the Krakow ghetto are sent there after it is destroyed.


  • cruelly kills a Jewish engineer during the camp's construction.
  • shoots Jews in the camp from his luxurious villa. Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust
  • starts an affair with his Jewish maid (Helen Hirsch).


  • is deeply moved when he sees a little girl in a red coat (pictured right) walking through the ruined ghetto.
  • persuades Goeth to let him build his own small camp to house his factory workers.
  • actively helps Stern to save Jews (giving him gifts, so that Stern can bribe the Germans to send Jews to the factory).

In April, 1944, Goeth is ordered to;

  • send Jews to Auschwitz concentration camp.
  • evacuate his Plaszow camp. Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust
  • burn the bodies of 10,000 Jews killed in the camp (including the girl in the red coat).

Schindler bribes Goeth to save:

  • Schindler's workers.
  • Goeth's Jewish lover (Helen Hirsch, pictured right). 

Schindler puts their names on a list (Schindler’s List).

Schindler sends them to his factory in Czechoslovakia but the women are inadvertently sent to Auschwitz, forcing him to buy their safety again. He spends all his fortune saving Jews.

When the war ends, Schindler tells his 1,100 workers they are free. Stern gives him a gold ring.Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust

Schindler breaks down in tears (pictured right), saying he could have saved more lives.

He and his wife then flee from the advancing Russian army that arrives the next morning. Goeth is captured and hanged.

A picture of freed Jews dissolves into a colour scene of the real people Schindler saved, who pay homage at Schindler’s grave.

Finally Liam Neeson (who played Schindler) places a rose on the grave, followed by the simple but poignant statement:  

“In memory of the more than six million Jews murdered”.


Lessons for ethics


1. Evil existsSchindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust


  • randomly shoots Jews in his camp from his hilltop villa (pictured right).
  • personifies the evil of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust (which Steven Spielberg was determined for people not to forget).

The little girl in the red coat symbolizes the red flag the Jews flew during World War Two as a plea for help to Britain and America.

Schindler’s discovery of the girl in a pile of exhumed bodies represents the death of innocence.


2. Good can triumph over evilSchindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust

Schindler is transformed from an immoral hedonist into a compassionate and courageous hero by:

  • Stern’s example.
  • the girl in red’s horrible plight.

The marriage of two Jews in the Krakow camp shows the triumph of love and hope over evil.

 Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust

3. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Schindler feels he could have saved more Jews, but the Jewish inscription on the gold ring given to him says:

“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire”.

In other words, saving just one life is a priceless achievement.


4. One person can make a big differenceSchindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust

If like Schindler, you totally believe that something is right, you can do something wonderful.


5. Principle before profit

Initially Schindler is an immoral businessman:

  • prospering from exploiting the Jews.
  • sympathizing with the Nazis. Schindler’s List - Ethics and the Holocaust

But, with Stern’s encouragement, he;

  • realizes that people are more important than profit.
  • sells all his possessions to save Jewish lives.


6. Courage is cool

Schindler risked his own life to save many others.


Key quote on ethics

Whoever saves one life saves the world entire, Jewish inscription on the ring given to Schindler by his workers.


Key quote on leadership and management

Control is power, Goeth

Power is when we have every justification to kill and we don't, Schindler.


Key quotes on the Holocaust

I could have got one more person, but I didn’t, Schindler (on not saving more lives).

The list is life, Stern (to Schindler)


Key quote on success and finance

My father was fond of saying you need three things in life: a good doctor, a forgiving priest and a clever accountant, Schindler (to Stern)


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)



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