Schindler’s List

Themes

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Triumph of the Human Spirit

In the face of overwhelming evil, the Jews in Schindler’s List exhibit an unbroken spirit and will to survive. Mrs. Nussbaum, trying to make the best of the situation just like all the other Jews forced into the ghetto, tells her husband their ghetto apartment could be worse. Schindler’s factory workers believe they may be safe in his factory and continue to hope for survival. The event that perhaps best illustrates this triumph of spirit is the wedding in the Plaszów labor camp. Even though the Jews in Plaszów live in constant fear of death, including random shootings from a hilltop villa by camp overseer Amon Goeth, two people manage to fall in love. With possibly no future to look forward to, they marry in the hope that they will survive. A woman in the barracks apologizes to God for performing the ceremony when she is not a rabbi, but explains that desperate times call for desperate measures, and that the union of the couple is ultimately what counts. The groom crushes a light bulb—an improvised substitution for the traditional wineglass—with his foot at the conclusion of the ceremony. Not only does the couple wed, but they stay true to Jewish traditions, which symbolizes hope for the survival of the Jewish race.

The Difference One Individual Can Make

The more than six thousand descendants of the Schindlerjuden might never have been born had one man not chosen to take a stand against evil. The Third Reich sanctioned and encouraged violence against the Jews and sought the ultimate destruction of the Jewish race, and millions of citizens of the Third Reich either stood idly by or actively supported this persecution. In Schindler’s List, as the Jews in Kraków are forced into the ghetto, a little girl on the street cries out, “Good-bye, Jews,” over and over again. She represents the open hostility often shown the Jews by their countrymen. After all, the little girl did not contain this hatred naturally—she learned it. Through her, Spielberg sends the message that the evil of the “final solution” infected entire communities. Although some people tried to help their Jewish friends and neighbors, far more refused to help, fearing reprisal, and some even turned on their Jewish neighbors. Any one of these people could have made a difference in the lives of Jews, but almost none did. Oskar Schindler risked his life and stood alone against the overwhelming evil of the Nazi Party. The powerful idea that one man can save the life of another underlies the entire film.

The Dangerous Ease of Denial

The Jews in Schindler’s List, even as they are forced into the ghetto and later into the labor camp, suffer from a denial of their true situation. This denial afflicted many European Jews who fell victim to the Holocaust. They leave their homes in the countryside and move to Kraków and later to the ghetto because the Nazis force them to. Once in the ghetto, however, they believe the bad times will pass. Their denial of their situation continues in the labor camp, even as killing surrounds them. A prime example of denial occurs in the scene when Mila Pfefferberg tells the other women in her barracks about the rumors she heard of the death camps like Auschwitz. She tells the women how Jews are being gassed to death en masse, their remains cremated. The women respond with an almost angry dismissal, saying something like that surely could not happen. However, the actors manage to convey the fact that deep down, the women suspect the truth. They have suffered enough horror already to know mass extermination is possible.