Good and evil in Schindler’s List

The essay below was written as an exercise in class and is not for NCEA but it does have interesting ideas. Have a look.

Schindler’s List examines man’s capacity for good and his capacity for evil. Discuss.

In the film Schindler’s List, through the characters of Oskar Schindler, Itzhak Stern and the Amon Goeth, director Steven Spielberg examines man’s capacity for good and his capacity for evil. There are strong comparisons between the three characters. Goeth is portrayed as being inherently evil, while Stern appears inherently good. Schindler however, is a character who, throughout the film is placed under pressure, and must decide whether he will do good or evil.

In the film Goeth embodies mans capacity to be evil. Throughout the film we see that Goeth, though given the opportunities to redeem himself, cannot resist the pull to harm, hurt and destroy other humans, he cannot resist the pull to evil. One of the strongest examples of this is where Schindler attempts to appeal to Goeth’s better nature. Schindler encourages Goeth to try pardoning someone, to let a Jew go free where he’d normally just kill them. Schindler explains to Goeth that real power is when one has every opportunity and reason to kill but chooses not to. Goeth gets his opportunity to try out pardoning someone when he comes across a young Jewish boy cleaning his bathtub. The boy has been unable to remove the soap scum. Obviously terrified the young boy stands rigidly before Goeth, awaiting almost certain death. The viewer can see that Goeth is weighing up in his mind whether to kill the boy or not. He pardons him. As the boy walks stiffly out of the house, back down to camp, Goeth leans on his bathroom sink, watching his reflection muttering ‘I pardon you’ to himself. We then flash back to the Jewish boy, just about back at camp, and as we watch a gun fires, and the boy collapses, dead.

Goeths true nature can be seen in this one action. All throughout the film Goeth murders innocent people, at random; shooting women and children off his balcony as he pleases. But in this scene the viewer is horrified to see that Goeth cannot do good. He pardons the boy, but this doesn’t sit right with Goeth. His desire to kill, overwhelms the opportunity he has to do good. He tries and fails to be merciful, and the viewer can see his cold hearted, murderous nature wins over him. Every man has this capacity, to do evil when we have the opportunity to do good. In the unfortunate case of Amon Goeth, he was a man who let his capacity to commit evil develop into a desire to do evil.

Itzhak Stern is the representative of man’s capacity for good. He is a stark contrast to both Goeth and Schindler as throughout the film. Consistently Stern puts himself on the line for the sake of the wellbeing of his fellow Jews; he, unlike Schindler, never gives in to selfishness, and acts only for the benefit of his people. We see this selflessness, when he is given power over Schindler’s company and is able to recruit whoever he wants. Stern hires Jews who are likely to be killed because they are deemed to be too old, too young or too sick to work. Stern knows what the fate of these people will be, and does all he can to protect them. In this way huge numbers of Jews were saved, as the healthy ones were sent to work at labour camps while Stern hired the others for work at Schindler’s factory. Stern goes to incredible lengths to secure the fate of his people. We see him making fake work passes for those who would otherwise be exterminated because of age, health, or working background. This shows him putting in extra work and effort to save the Jews destined for the concentration camps. Stern has opportunity to benefit himself in his job of running Schindler’s factory, he is able to make false statements in the accounting books to take money or make side deals for personal benefit. Instead he works overtime, ensuring the wellbeing of current workers and creating papers for new workers. Stern is the ultimate opposite of Goeth, who in every thought and action is thinking of himself. Stern is pure and selfless.

Oskar Schindler is the character who must choose between good and evil. He is, by nature, a businessman, whose aim in life is to acquire as many material possessions as possible. To begin with, he sees the Nazi treatment of the Jews only as a money making scheme for himself. He meets with Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern in an attempt to set up a company with him. It doesn’t really bother him that Stern is a Jew, because he is someone who can help him financially. We see his initial indifference towards Stern in his first meeting with him. Stern introduces himself and tells Schindler that ‘by law, I must tell you that I am a Jew’. ‘Well, I am a German, so there we are’ is Schindler’s reply. Schindler is initially portrayed as someone who is not necessarily evil, but indifferent. He ignores the plight of the Jews. But as the film progresses, and his involvement with the Jews increases, he can no longer remain indifferent. Circumstances force him to choose how he reacts to the ‘Jewish problem’. Schindler has a capacity for good, and a capacity for evil, as do all men. But when placed under pressure, he chooses to use his capacity for good. When his Jewish workers are to be taken to Auschwitz, a death camp in Poland where they will almost certainly be killed, Schindler chooses to do good. And we see that he does in fact have incredible capacity for good, because in saving his Jewish friends, he has to risk his life, and to give up all that he owns. The things that were originally so important to him no longer hold such a significant place in his life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s