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 sending them to work in his factory, thereby providing them an escape from the concentration camps. The movie is heralded as one of the best movies about the Holocaust and is remembered for its searing images of Jews in the German camps.
The film goes out of its way to depict Schindler in a positive light, portraying him as desperate to help the Jews, scribbling their names frantically in an attempt to save as many as possible; however, the Oskar Schindler of history was far less heroic than Spielberg's iteration.
Like with many biopics, the worst truths were omitted, 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.
Schindler Aided The Third Reich's Invasion Of Poland
In 1939, Hitler began plotting the invasion of Poland, an action which would eventually kickstart WWII. Key to the invasion was Germany's tactic of disguising their soldiers in Polish uniforms — an impossible feat were it not for the assistance of Oskar Schindler. According to his wife, Emilie, Schindler procured and distributed the disguises.
At this time, Schindler was a notable member of Hitler's party, and in fact, spied on Czechoslovakians for Germany in the 1930s.
Schindler's List Was Actually Nine Separate Lists Penned By A Jewish Man
In Schindler's List, the frantic composition of the eponymous series of names — Jewish people Schindler planned to save by sending them to his factory rather than concentration camps — is a primary point of focus. This depiction, however, strays considerably from history. According to a Forbes review of Schindler's biography:
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 famed list was actually comprised of nine different lists made over the course of several years, compiled largely by a Jewish man named Marcel Goldberg, a reportedly corrupt member of the security police. Schindler allegedly suggested names for the lists, but was largely unaware of which people he was saving.
Schindler Was In Prison When The List Was Written
Contrary to Spielberg's film, Schindler was in prison for bribery while Marcel Goldberg wrote the first four lists.
Schindler Never Saw The Girl In The Red Coat
In the film, the girl in the red coat is the catalyst for Schindler's moral transformation, but historically, this moment never happened. While he did witness a similar scene about a year later, and while that particular girl did exist, she wasn't part of the roundup Schindler witnessed in the movie. He eventually did undergo such a transformation, though it was much slower than depicted onscreen.
Schindler's Personal Reputation Was Unsavory
While Oskar Schindler was undoubtedly a hero to those he saved from concentration camps, his peers reported him to be narcissistic, self-absorbed, and greedy. In his widow Emilie Schindler's memoir, he is characterized as an adulterous womanizer, and he reportedly had two children out of wedlock whom he largely ignored.
Schindler's allegiance to Hitler's party was alleged to be inconsistent and was only acted upon when such a tie served his ends. Even decades after his passing, Schindler's legacy is still heavily divisive.
Prior To WWII, Schindler Exploited Jews For Cheap Labor
At the beginning of WWII, Schindler forced Jews to work in his factory, preferring their labor over that of Polish workers because impoverished Jews would work for less, if not for free. Spielberg's film does touch on this element of Schindler's past, albeit briefly.