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Schindler’s List

Important Quotations Explained

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Key Facts

1.
Stern:   “. . . The Jews themselves receive nothing. Poles you pay wages. Generally they get a little more. Are you listening? . . . The Jewish worker’s salary, you pay it directly to the SS, not to the worker. He gets nothing.”
Schindler:   “But it’s less. It’s less than what I would pay a Pole. . . . Poles cost more. Why should I hire Poles?”

This exchange takes place as Stern helps Schindler set up the enamelwork factory. The men are talking about hiring workers, and Stern explains that the Jewish salaries are paid directly to the Reich Economic Office, not to the Jews. Stern, disdainful of Schindler, is trying to call Schindler’s attention to the Jewish situation. He is feeling Schindler out and presents the Jews as the cheapest labor option. The comment is also a dig at Schindler, since Schindler has not yet shown Stern that he is anything but an ignorant member of the Nazi Party. Stern’s speech also supplies the viewer with the kind of information a narrator would usually supply. If viewers have not realized the immense restrictions Jews endure, this quote serves to educate them.

Schindler’s response reveals the greedy, callous, solely self-interested character he exhibits in the first half of the film, before his transformation. He seems, especially to Stern, to be a complete egotist. Schindler shows no compassion whatsoever for the Jews. In fact, he is not even interested enough in their plight to care. He can see only the potential to line his pockets with more profit. Jewish workers are cheaper than Poles, so he doesn’t care where the money goes, as long as he pays less of it. Schindler cements himself as amoral—a characterization that sets up his conversion to a caring person later in the film. At this point, he shows no hint of the goodness to come, but Stern is anxious to exploit the opportunity Schindler is offering the Jews.

2.
Stern:   “The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.”

Stern makes this pronouncement as he and Schindler complete Schindler’s list. The two men have been working all night, adding as many names as possible—everyone Schindler can afford to buy. The list stands on its own as unadulterated good, unaffected by the mystery behind Schindler’s motives and any other mitigating factor. It represents the life of the Jewish race. Stern is perhaps stating the obvious when he says this, but symbolically, the list is the essence of life itself and stands in stark contrast to the Nazi death lists. The completed list stands as a testament not only to Schindler’s newfound kindness but also to the hard work of Stern, who now sees the results of his original desperate attempt to save his fellow Jews. Schindler dictates the lists, and Stern types. The names flow though Stern’s own hands. But in the end, it is Schindler who holds the lives of approximately 1,100 people in his grasp.

In the second half of the quotation, Stern mentions more than the life the list represents. He mentions the “gulf” that surrounds the list. The gulf is the millions of Jews who will not be saved but rather are left in a real-life purgatory, held prisoner, awaiting either freedom or death. The goodness of the list does not cancel out the evil that befalls the Holocaust victims, but even a small goodness is total goodness. Acknowledging all those who cannot be saved intensifies the impact of the good of the list, impressing upon the viewer the power of Schindler’s deed. The quote as a whole also signifies Stern’s final acceptance of Schindler’s goodness and an appreciation for the metamorphosis Schindler has undergone. Stern has seen the beginnings of change in Schindler and slowly gained respect for him as Schindler accepted his role as a savior. Until the list is actually made, however, and the plan to save lives becomes real, Stern does not fully give himself over to his faith in Schindler.

3.
Goeth:   “Is this the face of a rat? Are these the eyes of a rat? ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ I feel for you, Helen. No, I don’t think so. . . . You nearly talked me into it, didn’t you?”

This quote is part of a monologue that Goeth delivers to Helen in her basement room. She does not respond to him at any point, but he carries on a conversation as if she does. She just stands there, arms at her sides, shaking with fear. He tells her he wonders what it would be like to be with her, even though it is forbidden. Jews are vermin in his mind. But he does not see Helen that way: he chose her to be his maid and does not allow her to wear the Star of David because he does not want anyone to know she is Jewish, lest someone catch him admiring her. Although he seems as if he is trying to reach out to Helen, he is doing nothing but satisfying his own needs. He is not trying to be kind to Helen but rather trying to convince himself that it is permissible to be attracted to a Jewish woman.

These few sentences present Goeth’s inner conflict in stark fashion. Goeth almost gives in to his impulse to force himself on Helen and loathes himself for it. He changes his mind at the last instant and turns his self-loathing into aggression, blaming her for trying to seduce him although it is clear she has not. He then beats her savagely for this imagined transgression. His sudden changes in thought and his brutal response illustrate clearly how unpredictable and sociopathic he is.

4.
Hoss:   “I have a shipment coming in tomorrow. I’ll cut you three hundred units from it. New ones. It’s yours. These are fresh. The train comes, We turn it around. It’s yours.”
Schindler:   “Yes. I understand. I want these.”
Hoss:   “You shouldn’t get stuck on names. That’s right. It creates a lot of paperwork.”

This conversation takes place between Schindler and Rudolph Hoss, the commander at Auschwitz, in Hoss’s well-appointed office. The train on which the Schindlerjuden women are being transported has been diverted mistakenly to Auschwitz on the way to Schindler’s factory in Czechoslovakia. Schindler hears of this mishap and rushes to Auschwitz to try to save the women. He sits in Hoss’s office with a pouch of diamonds that he plans to use as a bribe to have the train redirected—the second time he has purchased the women’s freedom.

Hoss’s quotation summarizes perfectly the Nazi attitude toward Jews: they are less than human and do not deserve life or even the smallest acknowledgement of their humanity. The commander does not understand why Schindler wants these particular women and in his speech presents clearly the dehumanization of the Jews. Hoss calls the Jews “units,” never referring to them as human beings. They are just numbers or bodies to him, the source of needless paperwork. They have already been processed into Auschwitz, and Hoss sees no reason to do extra paperwork or to maneuver for those whom he knows will end up dead anyway. Moreover, Schindler’s attitude is a mystery to Hoss, who does not understand why Schindler wants specific Jews. When he tells Schindler that he “shouldn’t get stuck on names,” he is almost challenging Schindler to come up with an explanation for why these women are important enough to warrant extra paperwork when they are only Jews, objects that have no value. Schindler prevails, however, and the next day the women are put on a train to his factory.

5.
Stern:   “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

In one of the last scenes in the film, as Schindler prepares to flee from the Allies, the Schindlerjuden give Schindler a gold ring made from gold fillings, engraved with the above quotation from the Talmud, the book of Jewish law. After the Allied victory, Schindler is a hunted war criminal. When the workers hear he must flee, they make him the ring as a small token of their appreciation, knowing that there is no way to repay the gift of life. Stern presents the ring to Schindler, telling him the quotation is from the Talmud. The Jews want Schindler to know that by saving them, he has saved humanity.

The quotation supports the theme that one man can make a difference. If even one man shows humanity to another, he demonstrates the continuing existence of humanity in society—something utterly void in the actions of the Nazis during the Holocaust. For society to continue, selflessness and kindness must exist: as long as one good person exists, good still exists in the world. The Schindlerjuden want Schindler to have a constant reminder of the goodness in him and understand that he now needs their help. They give him, with the ring, a signed statement swearing to his good actions, hoping to help if the Allies capture him. These eight words—one of the tag lines for the film in its marketing—capture the sentiments of the entire film.

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