Schindler’s List

Important Quotations Explained

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.