Itzhak Stern, bright, proud, and determined, brings out the moral side of Schindler, and Stern’s attitude toward Schindler reflects Schindler’s change throughout the film. Stern recognizes immediately Schindler’s callousness and greed. Early on, he expresses disdain for Schindler and controlled outrage at his original offer to have Stern run the factory and secure Jewish investors. He refuses to drink with Schindler, making clear he does not approve of Schindler’s morals. But Stern’s attitude softens as Schindler becomes an active participant in saving the Schindlerjuden, and he eventually sees the good in his employer. He finally does have a drink with Schindler when the two say good-bye after they learn of the closing of the Plaszów labor camp and realize Stern will almost certainly be sent to his death. By accepting a drink, Stern demonstrates his respect for Schindler, and Schindler accepts the finality of Stern’s probable fate.
Stern, like Schindler, is an opportunist, and he is the brains behind the rescue of the Schindlerjuden. Stern is the one who discovers a way to channel his essentially forced labor for Schindler into a way to help his fellow Jews. Schindler does no work, leaving Stern to run the factory, and Stern immediately begins to give factory jobs to Jews who otherwise would be deemed “nonessential” and would most likely be killed. He forges documents to make teachers and intellectuals appear to be experienced machinists and factory workers. Stern’s motivation—to help his people—is abundantly clear. Ben Kingsley plays him as a proud man with a mission and a palpable desperation to help all those he can. These traits are absent from Schindler, the film’s protagonist and hero, until late in the film. Although Schindler ultimately makes the rescue possible by using his connections and monetary resources, Stern plays just as large a role by driving Schindler gently from behind the scenes. Stern sets the wheels in motion, making the factory a haven for the Kraków Jews before Schindler even notices what is occurring.