A remarkable work by any
standard Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg is a searing historical and
biographical drama about a German Nazi industrialist who saved 1,100 Polish
Jews from Nazi extermination camps during World War II.
Spielberg cast the Northern
Irish actor Liam Neeson in the role of Oskar Schindler. The Anglo-Indian actor
Ben Kingsley, was cast in the role of Schindler’s Jewish accountant and business
manager, Izhak Stern and proved to be an admirable choice in spite of his not
being Jewish. The British actor, Ralph Fiennes, fitted the part of Amon Goethe,
the Plaszow commandant. Spielberg noted after his screen test that he could
turn on a positively sexual evil at will.
Spielberg won his first
Academy Award for best director for this film. In addition, the film achieved
six other Oscars. The film Schindler’s List is based on the novel, ‘Schindler’s
Ark’ written by Thomas Kenneally which first appeared in 1982.The book is
essentially a true story, the account of a wealthy member of the Nazi party who
systematically saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust. The author, Kenneally
chose to put it in the form of a novel in order to postulate on the obscurity
residing in the story. For writing the novel, Thomas Kenneally travelled
extensively visiting the sites and interviewed nearly fifty of the survivors
who owed their lives to Oskar Schindler.
How it is written and what is portrayed?
Analysing the first draft of the script which loosely tells us
about the movie with just the basic details
camera angles and
other technical aspects, we can see that the film opens with a close-up shot of
a pair of hand lighting a candle for the Sabbath.
In the background the sound
of a Hebrew prayer can be heard. It is a short scene shot in colour.But in the
shooting script which stands closer to the movie; we can view another opening
scene which establishes certain curiosities among the viewers.
The first draft of the
script directly throws us into the ambience of a Sabbath. The opening scene of
the film is one among the few colour shots in Schindler’s list. The
colour in this scene draws a stark contrast with the bleak black and white
picturisation of the film. The
prayer and candlelight are direful; setting a gloomy tone from the outset of
the film. The usage of black and white in the following scene increases the
documentary feel of the film. It separates the film from the colour scene at the opening and pushes it back in time.
In the scene after the
meeting between the one-armed man and Oskar Schindler, the scene cuts to lines
of Jews leaving Schindler’s factory.
The camera focuses on the
one-armed man who is singing happily with a young girl. As the group trudges
through high snow banks, the officer decides to make them stop and shovel snow.
The camera cuts to the one-armed man who is struggling to shovel. The SS pull
him aside, despite his protests at being an essential worker for Oskar
Schindler.The SS carry the man to the side and shoots him in the head. The
camera cuts to Schindler in an office, fuming about losing a day’s work and
losing an “essential worker”. Whereas in the script this scene is only vaguely
described with the sound of a shot being heard and the face of the one-armed machinist
falls into frame.
The Ghetto Liquidation scene
contains a notable scene. The scene cuts to a pharmacist putting together vials
of poison. He brings it to the hospital and the nurses feed each of the
invalids a vial. When the soldiers arrive even though the patients are found
still they shoot on the dead patients. This scene which is entirely omitted in
the script is clear depiction of the intimidating vicious nature of Nazis.
Although the infamous symbol
of Schindler’s List; the red coat girl is only briefly mentioned in the script
it is more vividly depicted on screen. During the Ghetto liquidation scenes a
little girl is discernable, because her coat is the only
colour in the
shot.Schindler observes her as she makes her way through the crowd. He seemed
especially struck by her; to him she represents the innocence of the people
being brutally killed. The colour of her coat symbolizes liveliness and diligence. Even
though she is young, she endeavours to get away and hide. Additionally her red coat is
symbolic of the red flag that the Jews waved at the Allied powers for
Yet another scene where the script
differs from what is shown on screen is, when Amon Goeth, the Plaszow
commandant amuses himself in the morning by picking off inmates from his balcony.
The camera moves down to the ground where the Jewish policemen are calling roll.
Just as one woman tells another that the worst is over, Goeth grabs his rifle
on his balcony. He scans the ground for someone to kill, pauses on a girl tying
her shoe and shoots her in the head .Here in the script there is only a vague
mention of a distant figure being shot. Additionally, in the film it is portrayed
that Goeth grabs his gun to shoot again and this time finds a woman sitting
idle on a staircase.Jews shriek and run in terror as they do their work, Goeth
places the gun behind his neck and stretches. This added violence in the screen
depicts the extent of suffering and the uncertain life that the Jews led in
Nazi extermination camps.
Often in the script there
are scenes of Schindler engaging in discussions with Izhak Stern. They both
share a tacit understanding on what they are doing. In one such scene, Izhak
Stern emphasizes on Goeth’s barbaric nature of killing people and describes an
incident substantiating his remark.
You have to understand, Goeth’s
under enormous pressure. You have
to think of it in his situation.
He’s got this whole place to run,
he’s responsible for everything
that goes on here, all these people
– he’s got a lot of things to worry
about. And he’s got the war. Which
brings out the worst in people.
Never the good, always the bad.
Always the bad. But in normal
circumstances, he wouldn’t be like
this. He’d be all right. There’d be
just the good aspects of him. Which
is a wonderful crook. A man who
loves good food, good wine, the ladies, making
– killing –
I’ll admit it’s a weakness. I don’t
think he enjoys it.
STERN:Bejski told me the other day, somebody
escaped from a work detail outside the wire.Goeth lined up everybody from the missing
man’s barracks. He shot the man to the left of Bejski the man right of him. He
walked down the line shooting every other man with the pistol. He killed
narrated by Izhak Stern which is entirely absent from the script describes the
extreme violent nature of Amon Goeth.He
seems to enjoy killing for the sake of killing. His way of killing resembles
hunting and this dehumanises the Jews by likening them to animals that are
being hunted. This scene throws light on Goeth’s inhumane approach to Jews.
aware that Goeth has an affection for his Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch. To clarify
its extent Schindler meets Helen in the wine cellar inquiring Helen about her
experience working as Goeth’s maid.
first day here, he beat me…because I threw out the bones from dinner. He came
down to the basement at midnight and he asked me where they were for his dogs,
you understand. I said to him, I don’t know how I say this. I never could say
it now—I said to him, “why are you beating me?” He said “The reason I beat you
now is because you ask why I beat you”
skipped portion from the script, this may be considered as one of the most
important part describing Goeth’s barbaric nature which has a deep impact
especially because it is narrated by a woman, who had been a witness and also a
victim of Goeth’s cold-blooded attitude. It is also evident Goeth tortures
people who are inferior to him like Helen, just to relieve his frustration.
Narrating her sufferings to Schindler, Helen is certain that one day Goeth will
shoot her ,but Schindler reassures her that is is unlikely to happen as Goeth
values her and likes her too much to kill her. This scene helps to mark the
changes that occurred in Schindler and reveals his increased empathy for the
In the movie
there is a scene where a group of Jewish women discussing about the stories
they had heard about other camps. One of them shares a story about gas
chambers. The other women dismiss it as impossibility, but look uneasy as they
attempt to sleep. The extent of terror Holocaust caused in the minds of Jews is
brought forth in this scene. The Jewish women display denial of their fate. They
do not want to accept the worst of their circumstance and denies believing that
mass extermination is possible despite their fear that it might be.
Moving on, we
are introduced with the ultimate horrifying scene in the film. In this scene
the dead bodies of the Jews killed in the Plaszow and Krakow ghetto liquidation
are being incinerated. It is depicted that a Nazi officer looks at the burning
pile of dead bodies and screams. He fires several shots at the pile while other
officers laugh. This scene which is absent in the script; is depicted in the
film to convey the brutality of Nazis and the hatred Nazis had towards the Jews and even their dead
train scene is a must mentionable scene in the film. In this scene the train
with the women workers under Schindler arrives at the wrong location of Auschwitz.
Their hair is chopped off and they are then ushered into an enclosed room. The
women who had heard stories about the gas chambers panic as soon as the door is
shut. They scream in terror until the pipes overhead begin to release water. In
relief they realise that they are not in a gas chamber but in a shower. This
scene is so well emotionally manipulated by Spielberg. The tension that the
audience undergoes is due to their preconceived notion that it might be a gas
chamber. There is an element of surprise and relief in the audience at the
moment of realisation that it is actually only water. Spielberg skilfully
handles the scene by compiling tragedy and horror thus succeeding in both
entertainment purpose and also in communicating to the audience as to what extent
of nightmarish torture the Jews had been subjected to.
scene of the climax depicts a ring being presented to Schindler as a token of
gratitude from the ‘Schindler Jews’. The inscription in the ring which
translates as “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire” conveys the
entire essence of the film. It is a representation of the massive respect and indebtness
Schindler’s workers had for him.
climax scene is a part entirely omitted in the script. The climax is hot
entirely in colour.
The survivors, accompanied by the actors
who played them in the film, walk by Schindler’s grave and place stones on it.
At the end of the procession, the camera shows the stone-covered grave of
the actors into the real- life survivors at the end in order to elevate
cinematic realism and stick to the genre of docu-drama. By doing so he directly
yokes the actors to their counterparts and inculcates a sense of truth in the
mind of the viewers. The transition to colour also brings the viewer into the
present time and emphasises the historical documentary like quality of the
remains an extremely tragic event in the Jewish history. The trauma of the
Holocaust was experienced by a whole race of people. Accounts of Holocaust
experience often portray survivors as suffering from painful recollections,
anxiety, numbing and emotional disconnections disturbed memory together with
duality of consciousness and doubling of identity. War trauma is concerned with
the responses of people to their war experiences. War experiences can
fundamentally change one’s identity. Being involved in killing, being captured,
witnessing and being part of battle and subjected to torture can lead to
breakdown in one’s belief system and can have a major influence on one’s
The extent of
trauma and the impact caused due to it is evident throughout the film. The
trauma due to war brings forth changes
in the characters of the film.Amon Goeth who is rendered as sadistic and
ruthless at the beginning undergoes gradual transformation and begins to
alleviate his fiendish attitude towards Jews.
the heroic protagonist of the film also undergoes miraculous changes under war trauma.
At the beginning Schindler is only money-minded and is indifferent to the
Jewish situation which he perceives as a mere fateful outcome of war. The
horrors of war and the sufferings of Jews inflicts trauma upon Schindler and
thus he transforms from a man of apathy to one with empathy
Apart from the
characters in the film those who worked on the film had also been subjected to
trauma. Spielberg accounts his own traumatic experience while filming the film.
said Spielberg “was like waking up and going to hell. “Keeping him mentally
intact was the presence of his wife and children in Poland .On a couple of
desperate occasions he even telephoned his friend Robin Williams and persuaded
him to do twenty minutes of his most zany schtick so that he could have a laugh
for the first time in many weeks.”
The line producer, Branko Lustig, was an actual child survivor of Auschwitz
and has suffered severe trauma due to post war trauma.
person who underwent trauma is the girl who played the infamous ‘Girl in the
Red Coat’. The little girl’s role was enacted by Oliwia Dabrowska.
The girl in the red coat was based
on a real person. The actual girl in the red coat was named Roma Ligocka ; a
survivor of the Krakow ghetto; she was recognised amongst
the Jews living there by her red winter coat. Ligocka, now a painter who lives in Germany, later
wrote a biography which is about surviving the holocaust called The Girl in
the Red Coat.
When Oliwia was three
she had promised Spielberg that she wouldn’t watch the film until she was
eighteen years old. Breaking her word given to Spielberg she watched the movie
when she was eleven years old. Later she confessed that she regretted doing so,
she told the Daily mail that,
“I realized I had been part of
something I could be proud of. Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watch
Thus Schindler’s list
is a representation of only one story out of the millions that sprung up from
that dark time. Like all great movies, Schinlder’s List works not only on an
intellectual level but also evokes an emotional response in the minds of