Schindler's List is an American 1993 biographical film about Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally. It stars Liam Neeson as Schindler, Ralph Fiennes as Schutzstaffel (SS) officer Amon Göth, and Ben Kingsley as Schindler's accountant Itzhak Stern. The film was both a box office success and recipient of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Score. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked the film eighth on its list of the 100 best American films of all time.
The film begins with the relocation of Polish Jews from surrounding areas to the Krakow ghetto shortly after the beginning of World War II. Meanwhile, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), an unsuccessful businessman, arrives in the city from the Sudetenland in hopes of making his fortune as a war profiteer. Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party, lavishes bribes upon the Wehrmacht and SS officials in charge of procurement. Sponsored by the military, Schindler acquires a factory for the production of army mess kits. Not knowing much about how to properly run such an enterprise, he gains a close collaborator in Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), an official of Krakow's Judenrat (Jewish Council) who has contacts with the Jewish business community and the black marketers inside the Ghetto. They lend him the money for the factory in return for a small share of products produced. Opening the factory, Schindler pleases the Nazis and enjoys his new-found wealth and status as "Herr Direktor," while Stern handles all administration. Stern suggests Schindler hire Jews instead of Poles because they cost less (the workers themselves get nothing; the wages are paid to the State). Workers in Schindler's factory are allowed outside the ghetto though, and Stern falsifies documents to ensure that as many people as possible are deemed "essential" to the German war effort, which saves them from being transported to concentration camps, or even being killed.
Then, however, Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes) arrives in Krakow to initiate construction of the new Płaszów concentration camp. Operation Reinhard in Kraków begins, with hundreds of troops emptying the cramped rooms and murdering anyone who protests, appears uncooperative, elderly or infirm. In many cases, these murders occur for no reason at all. Schindler watches the massacre from the hills overlooking the area, and is profoundly affected. He nevertheless is careful to befriend Göth and, through Stern's attention to bribery, he continues to enjoy the SS's support and protection. During this time, Schindler bribes Göth into allowing him to build a sub-camp for his workers. Originally, his intentions are to continue making money, but as time passes, he begins ordering Stern to save as many lives as possible. Ultimately, an order arrives from Berlin commanding Göth to exhume and destroy the remains of every Jew murdered in the Krakow Ghetto, dismantle Płaszów, and to ship the remaining Jews to Auschwitz.
At first, Schindler prepares to leave Krakow with his ill-gotten fortune. Then however, he prevails upon Göth to let him keep "his" workers, so that he can move them to a factory in his old home of Zwittau-Brinnlitz, in Moravia, away from the "final solution", now fully underway in occupied Poland. Göth acquiesces, but charges a massive bribe for each worker. Schindler and Stern assemble a list of workers who are to be kept off the trains to Auschwitz.
"Schindler's List" comprises these "skilled" inmates, and for many of those in Płaszów camp, being included means the difference between life and death. Almost all of the people on Schindler's list arrive safely at the new site, with the exception of the train carrying the Jewish women, which is accidentally redirected to Auschwitz. There, the horrified women are directed to what they believe to be the gas chambers; but weep with joy when water falls from the showers. The day after, the women are shown waiting in line for work. In the meantime, Schindler had rushed immediately to Auschwitz to solve the problem. Intending to rescue all the women, he bribes the camp commander, Rudolf Höß with a cache of diamonds in exchange for releasing the women to Brinnlitz. However, a last minute problem arises just when all the women are boarding the train. Several SS officers attempt to hold back the children and prevent them from leaving. Schindler, however, insists that he needs their hands to polish the narrow insides of artillery shells. As a result, the children are released. Once the women arrive in Zwittau-Brinnlitz, Schindler institutes firm controls on the SS guards assigned to the factory, forbidding them to shoot or torture anyone. He also permits the Jews to observe the Sabbath. In order to keep his factory workers alive, he spends much of his fortune bribing Nazi officials. Later, he surprises his wife while she is in the village church during mass, and tells her that she will now be the only woman in his life, a concession he had refused to grant previously. She goes with him to the factory to assist him. He runs out of money just as the Wehrmacht surrenders, ending the war in Europe.
As a Nazi Party member and a self-described "profiteer of slave labor", Schindler must flee the advancing Red Army. Although the SS guards have been ordered to "liquidate" the Jews of Brinnlitz, Schindler persuades them to return to their families as men and not as murderers. In the aftermath, he packs a car in the night, and bids farewell to his workers. They give him a letter explaining he is not a criminal to them, together with a ring secretly made from a worker's gold dental bridge and engraved with the Talmudic quotation, "He who saves the life of one man, saves the world entire." Schindler is touched but deeply ashamed, feeling he could have done more to save many more lives. Weeping, he considers how many more lives he could have saved as he leaves with his wife during the night.
The Schindler Jews, having slept outside the factory gates through the night, are awakened by sunlight the next morning. A Soviet dragoon arrives and announces to the Jews that they have been liberated by the Red Army. The Jews walk to a nearby town in search of food. As they walk abreast, the frame changes to another of the Schindler Jews in the present day at the grave of Oskar Schindler in Jerusalem. The film ends by showing a procession of now-elderly Jews who worked in Schindler's factory, each of whom reverently sets a stone on his grave. The actors portraying the major characters walk hand-in-hand with the people they portrayed, and also place stones on Schindler's grave as they pass. The audience learns that at the time of the film's release, there are fewer than 4,000 Jews left alive in Poland, while there are more than 6,000 descendants of the Schindler Jews. In the final scene, Liam Neeson (though his face is not visible) places a pair of roses on the grave and stands contemplatively over it.
* Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, a Nazi womanizer and businessman who saves the lives of over 1,000 Jews by employing them in his factory. * Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, Schindler's accountant and business partner. * Ralph Fiennes as Amon Göth, the main antagonist in the film, Göth is a Nazi officer who is sent to run the Płaszów concentration camp and befriends Schindler. * Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch, a young Jewish woman who is taken by Göth to work as a maid in his home, who is soon lusted after by him. * Caroline Goodall as Emilie Schindler, Schindler's wife. * Jonathan Sagall as Rabbi Lewartow, a Jewish Rabbi who acquires skills as a welder in Schindler's camp.
* Malgoscha Gebel as Wiktoria Klonowska * Shmuel Levy as Wilek Chilowicz * Mark Ivanir as Marcel Goldberg * Béatrice Macola as Ingrid * Andrzej Seweryn as Julian Scherner * Friedrich von Thun as Rolf Czurda * Krzysztof Luft as Herman Toffel * Harry Nehring as Leo John * Norbert Weisser as Albert Hujar * Adi Nitzan as Mila Pfefferberg * Michael Schneider as Juda Dresner * Miri Fabian as Chaja Dresner * Anna Mucha as Danka Dresner * Albert Misak as Mordecai Wulkan * Hans-Michael Rehberg as Rudolf Hoess * Daniel Del Ponte as Dr. Josef Mengele
Poldek Pfefferberg was one of the Schindlerjuden, and made it his life's mission to tell the story of his savior. Pfefferberg attempted to produce a biopic of Oskar Schindler with MGM in 1963, with Howard Koch writing, but the deal fell through. In 1982, Thomas Keneally published Schindler's Ark, which he wrote after he met Pfefferberg. MCA president Sid Sheinberg sent director Steven Spielberg a New York Times review of the book. Spielberg was astounded by the story of Oskar Schindler, jokingly asking if it was true. Spielberg "was drawn to the paradoxical nature of [Schindler]... It was about a Nazi saving Jews... What would drive a man like this to suddenly take everything he had earned and put it in all the service of saving these lives?" Spielberg expressed enough interest for Universal Studios to buy the rights to the novel, and in early 1983 Spielberg met with Pfefferberg. Pfefferberg asked Spielberg, "Please, when are you starting?" Spielberg replied, "Ten years from now."
Spielberg was unsure of his own maturity in making a film about the Holocaust, and the project remained "on [his] guilty conscience". Spielberg attempted to pass off the project to director Roman Polanski, but Polanski turned down the project, finding the subject matter too sensitive because his mother was gassed at Auschwitz, and from his own personal experiences in (and his eventual survival of) the Kraków Ghetto. Polanski would go on to direct his own Holocaust film, The Pianist in 2002. Spielberg also offered the film to Sydney Pollack. Martin Scorsese was attached to direct Schindler's List in 1988. However, Spielberg was unsure of letting Scorsese direct Schindler's List, as "I'd given away a chance to do something for my children and family about the Holocaust." Spielberg offered him the chance to direct the Cape Fear remake instead. Billy Wilder also expressed interest in directing the film, "as a memorial to most of [his] family, who went to Auschwitz." Spielberg finally decided to direct the film, after hearing of the Bosnian genocide and various Holocaust deniers. Spielberg stated that with the rise of neo-nazism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people were once again tolerating intolerance, as they did in the 1930s. In addition, Spielberg, who suffered Antisemitism as a child, was accepting his Jewish heritage while raising his children. Sid Sheinberg greenlit the film on one condition: that Spielberg make Jurassic Park first. Spielberg later said, "He knew that once I had directed Schindler I wouldn't be able to do Jurassic Park".
Thomas Keneally was initially hired to adapt his book in 1983, and he turned in a 220-page script. Keneally focused on Schindler's numerous relationships, and admitted he did not compress the story enough. Spielberg hired Kurt Luedtke, who wrote Out of Africa, to write the next draft. Luedtke gave up almost four years later, as he found Schindler's change of heart too unbelievable. During his time as director, Scorsese hired Steve Zaillian to write the script. When he was handed back the project, Spielberg found Zaillian's 115-page draft too short, and asked him to extend it to 195 pages. Spielberg wanted to focus on the Jews in the story, and extended the ghetto liquidation sequence, as Spielberg "felt very strongly that the sequence had to be almost unwatchable." Spielberg also felt Schindler's transition had to be ambiguous, and not "some kind of explosive catharsis that would turn this into The Great Escape.
Liam Neeson auditioned as Oskar Schindler very early on in the casting process, and was cast in December 1992, after Spielberg saw him perform in Anna Christie on Broadway. Warren Beatty participated in a script reading, but it was decided he could not disguise his accent and that he would also bring "movie star baggage". Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson also expressed interest in portraying Schindler. Neeson felt "[Schindler] enjoyed fookin' [sic] with the Nazis. In Keneally's book it says he was regarded as a kind of a buffoon by them... if the Nazis were New Yorkers, he was from Arkansas. They don't quite take him seriously, and he used that to full effect." To prepare for the role, Neeson was sent tapes of Time Warner CEO Steve Ross, who had a charisma Spielberg compared to Schindler.
Ralph Fiennes was cast as Amon Göth after Spielberg viewed his performances in A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Spielberg said of Fiennes' audition that "I saw sexual evil. It is all about subtlety: there were moments of kindness that would move across his eyes and then instantly run cold." Fiennes put on 28lbs to play the role and looked at newsreels and talked to Holocaust survivors who knew Göth. In portraying him, Fiennes said "I got close to his pain. Inside him is a fractured, miserable human being. I feel split about him, sorry for him. He's like some dirty, battered doll I was given and that I came to feel peculiarly attached to." Fiennes looked so much like Göth in costume that when Mila Pfefferberg, a survivor of the events, met Fiennes she trembled with fear.
Overall, there are 126 speaking parts in the film, and thirty thousand extras were hired during filming. Spielberg cast children of the Schindlerjuden for key Jewish speaking roles, and also hired Catholic Poles for the survivors. Often, German actors playing the SS would come to Spielberg and say, "Thank you for letting me resolve my [family] secrets by playing in your movie." Halfway during the shoot, Spielberg conceived the epilogue where 128 Schindlerjuden pay their respects to Schindler's grave in Jerusalem. The producers scrambled to find the real life people portrayed in the film.
Shooting for Schindler's List began on March 1, 1993 in Kraków (Cracow), Poland, and continued for seventy-one days. The crew shot at the real life locations, though the Płaszów camp had to be reconstructed in a pit adjacent to the original site, due to post-war changes to the original camp. The crew was also forbidden to enter Auschwitz, so they shot at a replica outside the camp. The Polish locals welcomed the filmmakers. There were some antisemitic incidents; anti-Semitic symbols scrawled on local billboards near shooting locations. An elderly woman mistook Fiennes for a Nazi and told him "the Germans were charming people. They didn't kill anybody who didn't deserve it", while Kingsley nearly entered a brawl with an elderly German-speaking businessman who insulted Israeli actor Michael Schneider. Nonetheless, Spielberg stated that at Passover, "all the German actors showed up. They put on yarmulkes and opened up Haggadas, and the Israeli actors moved right next to them and began explaining it to them. And this family of actors sat around and race and culture were just left behind." "I was hit in the face with my personal life. My upbringing. My Jewishness. The stories my grandparents told me about the Shoah. And Jewish life came pouring back into my heart. I cried all the time." —Steven Spielberg on his emotional state during the shoot.
Shooting Schindler's List was a deeply emotional time for Spielberg, as the subject matter forced him to confront elements of his childhood, such as the anti-semitism he faced. He was furious with himself when he did not "cry buckets" while visiting Auschwitz, and was one of many crew members who did not look on during shooting of the scene where aging Jews are forced to run naked being selected by Nazi doctors to go to Auschwitz. Several actresses broke down when filming the shower scene, including one who was born in a concentration camp. Kate Capshaw and Spielberg's five children accompanied Spielberg on set, and he later thanked his wife "for rescuing me ninety-two days in a row...when things just got too unbearable." Spielberg's parents and his rabbi also visited him on set. Robin Williams called Spielberg every two weeks to cheer him up with various jokes, because there was very little humour on set. Spielberg forwent a salary, calling it "blood money", and believed the film would flop.
Spielberg used German and Polish language in scenes to recreate the feeling of being present in the past, and used English to emphasize dramatic points. The director was interested in making the film entirely in German and Polish, but decided "there's too much safety in reading. It would have been an excuse to take their eyes off the screen and watch something else."
Spielberg decided not to plan the film with storyboards, and to shoot the film like a documentary, looking to the documentaries The Twisted Cross (1956) and Shoah (1985) for inspiration. Forty percent of the film was shot with handheld cameras, and the modest budget meant the film was shot quickly over seventy-two days. Spielberg felt that this gave the film "a spontaneity, an edge, and it also serves the subject." Spielberg said that he "got rid of the crane, got rid of the Steadicam, got rid of the zoom lenses, [and] got rid of everything that for me might be considered a safety net." Such a style made Spielberg feel like an artist, as he limited his tools for a film he felt didn't have to be commercially successful. This matured Spielberg, who felt that in the past he had always been paying tribute to directors such as Cecil B. DeMille or David Lean. On this film, his shooting style was purely his own. He proudly noted that in this film, there were no crane shots.
The decision to shoot the film mainly in black and white lent to the documentarian style of cinematography, which cinematographer Janusz Kaminski compared to German Expressionism and Italian neorealism. Kaminski said that he wanted to give a timeless sense to the film, so the audience would "not have a sense of when it was made." Spielberg was following suit with "[v]irtually everything I've seen on the Holocaust... which have largely been stark, black and white images." Universal chairman Tom Pollock asked Spielberg to shoot the film in a color negative, to allow color VHS copies of the film to be sold, but Spielberg did not want "to beautify events." Black and white did present challenges to the color-familiar crew. Allan Starski, the production designer, had to make the sets darker or lighter than the people in the scenes, so they would not blend. The costumes also had to be distinguished from skin tones or colors being used for the sets.
See also: Schindler's List (soundtrack)
John Williams composed the score for Schindler's List. The composer was amazed by the film, and felt it would be too challenging. He said to Spielberg, "You need a better composer than I am for this film." Spielberg replied, "I know. But they're all dead!" Williams played the main theme on piano, and following Spielberg's suggestion, he hired Itzhak Perlman to perform it on the violin. In the scene where children are transported away on trucks, while their screaming mothers give chase, the folk song "Oyf'n Pripetshok (Yiddish: אויפֿן פּריפּעטשיק)" is sung by a children's choir. The song was often sung by Spielberg's grandmother, Becky, to her grandchildren. The clarinet solos heard in the film were recorded by Klezmer virtuoso Giora Feidman.
The girl in the red coat
Schindler sees a little girl wearing a red coat. The red coat is one of the few instances of color in the black-and-white scenes of the film.
Though the film is primarily shot in black-and-white, red is used to distinguish a little girl in a coat. Later in the film, she is seen dead, recognizable only by the red coat she is still wearing. This character is based on Roma Ligocka, who was well known in the Warsaw Ghetto for her red coat. Ligocka in fact survived the Holocaust and, after the film was released, published a novel in 2000 entitled The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir.
According to Andy Patrizio of IGN, the girl in the red coat is used to indicate that Schindler has changed: "Spielberg put a twist on her [Ligocka's] story, turning her into one more pile on the cart of corpses to be incinerated. The look on Schindler's face is unmistakable. Minutes earlier, he saw the ash and soot of burning corpses piling up on his car as just an annoyance." Andre Caron wondered whether it was done "to symbolize innocence, hope or the red blood of the Jewish people being sacrificed in the horror of the Holocaust?" Spielberg himself has explained that he only followed the novel, and his interpretation was that
"America and Russia and England all knew about the Holocaust when it was happening, and yet we did nothing about it. We didn’t assign any of our forces to stopping the march toward death, the inexorable march toward death. It was a large bloodstain, primary red color on everyone’s radar, but no one did anything about it. And that’s why I wanted to bring the color red in."
The beginning features a family observing the Shabbat. Spielberg said, "to start the film with the candles being lit...would be a rich bookend, to start the film with a normal Shabbes service before the juggernaut against the Jews begins." When the color fades out in the film's opening moments, smoke symbolizes the horror of bodies being burnt at Auschwitz. Only at the end do the images of candle fire regain their warmth when Schindler holds a Shabbat service for his workers. For Spielberg, they represent "just a glint of color, and a glimmer of hope."
The film opened in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto on December 15, 1993. The film grossed $96.1 million in the United States and over $321.2 million worldwide. In Germany, over 5.8 million admission tickets were sold.
The film was released to DVD on March 9, 2004. The DVD was available in widescreen and fullscreen editions, both being a DVD-18 disc with the feature film on side A and the special features on side B. Also released for both formats was a limited edition gift set. The laserdisc gift set was a limited one, with only 10,000 copies manufactured. Besides the DVD, the set included the film's soundtrack, the original novel, and an exclusive photo booklet. Similar to the Laserdisc set, the DVD gift set included the widescreen version of the film, the original novel, the film's soundtrack on CD, a senitype, and a photo booklet titled Schindler's List: Images of the Steven Spielberg Film, all housed in a plexiglass case. The set has since been discontinued.