Who Was Oskar Schindler? Introduction to Teaching Schindler's List

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During the years immediately after World War II, Canadian journalist Herbert Steinhouse wrote an article, complete with photographs, about Oskar Schindler. The process of writing the piece included interviews with Schindler himself. At the time, no publications were interested in publishing the work, so it remained filed away and unread. It was not until the 1982 publication of Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark and, even more, the 1993 Academy Award-winning film Schindler’s List that Schindler’s life became a subject of populist interest. What do we know of his life prior to his success in the Krakow enamelware and munitions factory?  Prior to this lesson, which focuses on Oskar Schindler, students should have viewed Schindler’s List and become acquainted with the film’s historical background. (Note: Lesson 1 of this unit can be particularly helpful with the history involved.)

Part 1 of the lesson deals with Schindler as he is depicted in the movie. Students consider the nature of historical fiction and its characteristic blend of facts with imagination. They discuss character and motivation. They read a movie review from 1993, and they write about the impact of the character of Schindler (as depicted in the film) on themselves as audience members.

Part 2 leads students to research and report about various aspects of Schindler’s life and work. They create a timeline and make inferences about his character and motives.

Part 3 focuses on the great and intriguing question of why Schindler—such an unlikely hero—did what he did. Handout 4 presents an excerpt from a letter written by some of his Jewish workers to demonstrate his innocence of Nazi war crimes. Students then respond to a series of quotations attributed to him. They consider the conclusions reached by Canadian journalist Herbert Steinhouse during the years immediately after the war. They view eye-witness testimony from some of Schindler’s long-ago Jewish workers on the Website of the USC Shoah Foundation. A quotation from Leon Leyson, who as a very young teenager worked in the enamelware factory, serves as the springboard for the culminating essay assignment.

Download our complete Schindler's List at Journeys in Film.

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