Weird History Schindler's List Ignored A Lot Of Awful Truths About Oskar Schindler To Tell Its Story  

Cleo Egnal
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Schindler's List was Steven Spielberg's 1993 Oscar-winning film about a heroic German man, Oskar Schindler, who saved thousands of Jews by writing their names on a list and having them sent to his factory to work, thereby escaping the concentration camps. The movie is heralded as one of the best movies about the atrocities of the Holocaust as well as the actions of one brave man (Schindler), and is remembered for its searing images of Jews in the camps.

The film goes out of its way to portray Schindler in a positive light, as a man desperate to help the Jews, scribbling their names frantically in an attempt to save as many as he can. However, the real-life Oskar Schindler was less than the hero the movie says he is, and was probably not that great of a guy.

Like with many biopics, the worst truths were omitted to make Schindler the hero the movie needed, even if that meant causing the movie to be historically inaccurate. The real truth behind Schindler's list, including the fact that Schindler didn't even compose the list himself, is less than heroic, but still paints a picture of a historical figure that has captivated audiences since the release of the film. Here's everything wrong with Schindler's List, and the truth behind the legendary figure.  

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Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Oskar Schindler Was A Card-Carrying Nazi Who Enthusiastically Helped The Invasion Of Poland

In April of 1939, Hitler began plotting the invasion of Poland, an action which would eventually kickstart World War II. The key to the invasion would be German soldiers who disguised themselves as Polish soldiers — a feat impossible without the help of Oskar Schindler. According to his wife, Emilie, it was Schindler who procured and distributed the disguises.

By this time, Schindler was a notable member of the Nazi Party, having had good relationships with Nazis after using their interests to avoid the death penalty in Czechoslovakia for spying (he was able to escape during the invasion of Poland). Many Jewish survivors recalled the swastika badge Schindler boasted on his coat collar, and Steven Spielberg doesn't shy away from this imagery in the movie. 

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Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

'Schindler's List' Wasn't Schindler's List At All, But Nine Separate Lists Created By A Jewish Man

In the movie Schindler's Lista big deal is made out of Schindler frantically composing his famous list comprised of names of Jewish people he wanted to save -- as many as he could. The list would be those eligible to work in his factory, as an alternative to concentration camps. However, this is far from the reality of Schindler's actual list. According to a review of Oskar Schindler's biography in Forbes,

"Oskar Schindler convinced German authorities his [enamelware] factory was vital and that he needed trained workers. But Schindler did not author or dictate the list of who would go on the transport."

The list was, in fact, actually comprised of nine different lists made over the course of a few years, compiled largely by a Jewish man named Marcel Goldberg, a reportedly corrupt member of the security police. Schindler allegedly suggested names names for the lists, but for the most part didn't know the people he was saving. It is unknown who wrote the final five lists. 

Schindler Was In Prison When The List Was Written

The most inaccurate part of the film is that Schindler wrote the list himself — a tidbit made impossible by the fact that Schindler was in prison while Marcel Goldberg wrote the first four lists. Schindler was in prison for bribery. In addition, Itzhak Stern, the man Schindler is depicted as dictating the list to in the movie, wasn't even working with Schindler (let alone helping him write down names) at the time Goldberg was composing the lists.

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Photo:  Schindler's List/Universal Pictures/Standard YouTube License

He Probably Didn't Have A Defining Moment Of Moral Clarity, As Depicted In The Film

Oskar Schindler stands on top of a hill, watching a girl in a red coat witness her fellow Jews rounded up, taken away to certain death, and even killed before her eyes. In this moment, he realizes that his purpose is larger than himself and having Jewish people work in his factories is about more than just making money — it's about saving lives. Except, this never happened.

The girl in the red coat is Schindler's defining moment of moral clarity in Schindler's List, and the most notable turn of character for the redeemed Nazi-turned-bleeding-heart. However, looking at it historically, it absolutely never happened. There was no way Schindler could have been on that particular hill at that particular time, although he was there and saw a similar scene about a year later. The girl was real, but she wasn't part of the roundup Schindler witnesses in the film. The myth of the girl in the red coat is a conflation of numerous stories that makes for marvelous cinematography and storytelling, but is largely an exaggeration, one of many included in the film in order to make Schindler more sympathetic. To Schindler's credit, a slight moral transformation did occur, just much slower than depicted on screen.