Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The girl in the red coat is the most obvious symbol in Schindler’s List, simply because her coat is the only color object, other than the Shabbat candles, presented in the main body of the film. To Schindler, she represents the innocence of the Jews being slaughtered. He sees her from high atop a hill and is riveted by her, almost to the exclusion of the surrounding violence. The moment Schindler catches sight of her marks the moment when he is forced to confront the horror of Jewish life during the Holocaust and his own hand in that horror. The little girl also has a greater social significance. Her red coat suggests the “red flag” the Jews waved at the Allied powers during World War II as a cry for help. The little girl walks through the violence of the evacuation as if she can’t see it, ignoring the carnage around her. Her oblivion mirrors the inaction of the Allied powers in helping to save the Jews. Schindler later spots her in a pile of exhumed dead bodies, and her death symbolizes the death of innocence.
The road through the Plaszów labor camp, paved with headstones torn up from Jewish cemeteries, is a replica of the actual road that existed there. The road adds to the historical accuracy of the film but also symbolizes the destruction of the Jewish race. The removal of the headstones from the cemeteries represents the enormity of the Holocaust. Unsatisfied with simply wiping out existing Jews, Goeth, by planning the road, denies acknowledgement of many Jews’ final resting places. By removing the grave markers, Goeth in effect erases the existence of the dead. Moreover, Goeth forces the Jews in the camp to build the road, rubbing in their faces the fact that they, too, will soon be erased. The message is clear: the Nazis view the Jews as not worth even grave markers and want only to erase them from history.
In one of the most jarring scenes in the film, Jews are loaded onto cattle cars as a recorded voice tells them to leave their luggage on the platform, as it will follow on a separate train. The luggage, however, will not follow them. Instead, Nazis bring it to a back room, where they dump out and sort the contents. This room holds huge piles of personal belongings, including photographs, shoes, hairbrushes, and clothing, all separated for processing. At a table sits a group of Jewish jewelers, forced to sort and determine the value of the gold, silver, and jewels belonging to those on the train. These piles symbolize the millions of lives that were lost—not just the physical lives but the very essence of the victims, who are stripped of their identity. One thousand hairbrushes represent one thousand victims and one thousand lives.