Shot in black and white, Spielberg’s cinematic rendering of Thomas Keneally’s novel Schindler’s Ark does a fine job of bringing the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler to life. Schindler is famous as a Holocaust rescuer, having saved over 1000 Jewish workers from his factory in German-occupied Poland in the Second World War. Where the film differs from the book is to emphasise the key empathic moments and episodes of Schindler’s awakening from being an indifferent exploiter of Jews to someone who risked his life to save them.
One key element is Schindler’s friendship with his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern, a relationship which, for Schindler, not only humanises Stern but helps him give a name and a story to all his Jewish workers. The second empathic moment is when he is out horse riding with one of his many girlfriends and he witnesses an SS ‘Aktion’ in June 1942 to clear the Krakow ghetto of Jews. It wasn’t just that the gross slaughter he saw sickened him and turned him against the Nazis. It was that he noticed a young girl dressed in a red cap and coat, somehow defying the rampaging guards (her red clothing is the only colour in the whole film). Somehow this girl became an empathic emblem for Schindler, a representative of the individuality and humanity of Krakow’s Jewish population, helping to scorch the horror of Nazi violence into his mind.