Oskar Schindler, war profiteer, womanizer, and Nazi Party member, becomes the unlikely hero and savior of about 1,100 Polish Jews during the Holocaust. He is essentially a con artist and moderately successful businessman who recognizes the potential for profit in wartime. He buys a formerly Jewish-owned enamelware factory and uses bribery and ingratiation to procure military contracts to make war supplies. At the beginning of his quest to become rich, he is indifferent to the Jewish situation, which he sees as merely an unfortunate result of war. A playboy with a large ego, Schindler routinely cheats on his wife and joins the Nazi Party not for ideological reasons but because it will help him make more money. Although he purchases the factory after it has been confiscated from Jewish owners and is given an apartment appropriated from wealthy Jews, Schindler feels no remorse and does not consider the origins of his good fortune.
Schindler, initially concerned only with himself and the success of his moneymaking scheme, undergoes a change that prompts him to spend his fortune to save the lives of those he once exploited. His motive is never completely clear—and indeed, the real Schindler never revealed his motivations. However, the film does suggest that at least one of his incentives was obvious: Schindler simply could not sit by and watch people he knew be sent to death. His metamorphosis from a man of indifference to one of compassion takes place gradually over a number of scenes. His respect for his Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern, probably has a great deal to do with his transformation, as does his witnessing of the Kraków ghetto evacuation, when he sees the little girl in the red coat. However, Schindler’s motivations may also be less altruistic: it is possible that his own ego and narcissism led him to be a savior. He initially reacts angrily to the idea that his factory is a haven, but perhaps became enamored of the idea of being a hero. The needs of his ego may, in some capacity, have surpassed his material needs. The film does not propagate such a harsh stance, but Schindler’s boorish behavior makes this speculation plausible. Nevertheless, whatever the results of an analysis of Schindler’s motivations, the good effects of his choices are undeniable.