Schindler's List | Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

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Schindler's List | Plot Summary

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After Poland falls to Nazi control following an invasion in September 1939, which begins World War II, Oskar Schindler, a young German entrepreneur, moves to the city of Cracow in southern Poland to make his fortune. Schindler is a member of the Nazi Party, but his alliance is one of convenience rather than principle. Driven by the desire to become a more successful businessman than his father, and gifted with an ability to make friends in high places, Schindler takes advantage of the Nazi policy of seizing Jewish-owned companies to acquire an established enamelware business. His firm, Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik (DEF), is soon fulfilling military contracts for munitions and field kitchenware as well as providing a means for Schindler to engage in trade on the black market.

Schindler employs a large number of Jewish workers in his factory, but he finds himself at odds with the party when he realizes his Jewish employees are missing work because they've been detained by party officials and forced to shovel snow. At first Schindler's complaint is economic; his factory cannot run if his workers aren't allowed to work. However, as the treatment of Jews grows increasingly brutal, Schindler finds himself more and more opposed to the regime's actions on moral grounds. His unease begins when he is ordered to pay the party rather than his Jewish workers for their labor. Having corralled the Polish Jews into a ghetto in Cracow, Nazi officials sort them according to their economic value. Those who are not employed in essential industries are shipped to a concentration camp. To obstruct this practice, Schindler leverages his position as an employer to offer jobs, and therefore safety, to as many Jews as possible. After witnessing unimaginable violence during a raid in the ghetto, Schindler's unease turns into moral outrage and disgust, and he is seized by the desire to save Jews from a system intent on destroying them.

The situation grows increasingly dire as the regime pursues the complete eradication of the Jewish people through its policies of concentration and extermination. Schindler begins working with a Zionist rescue organization to provide information about the situation in Poland to a world still ignorant of the horrors taking place there. In 1942 the Cracow ghetto is closed, and its residents are forced into concentration camps. Under the pretext of industrial productivity, Schindler establishes a subcamp at his factory to keep his workers out of Płaszów, a local forced labor camp presided over by the terrifying and cruel Amon Goeth. Unlike any of the other camps, conditions at DEF (known to its employees as "Emalia") are humane, and Schindler begins to acquire a unique reputation among the Jews as a savior.

As the Allied forces approach, the Nazi regime realizes its days are numbered and attempts a final mass liquidation of Jews in the gas chambers and crematoria of camps such as Auschwitz. When Schindler receives orders that his camp is to be disbanded and his workers sent to their deaths, he convinces party officials to let him open his own camp in Moravia, across the border in Czechoslovakia, and take his workers with him, under the pretext that his factory's production of munitions, essential to the war effort, shouldn't be disrupted. Schindler makes a list of the workers he will take to Moravia and, using his own money, builds a labor camp in the small village of Brinnlitz.

In late 1944 the 1,100 Jews on Schindler's list arrive at Brinnlitz, safe at last from the Nazi death machine. Brinnlitz is charged with producing munitions, but Schindler ensures that his factory produces no usable weapons, and he appeases the authorities, as usual, with bribes and liquor. In the final months prior to Germany's surrender, Schindler continues to work tirelessly to relocate Jews from Poland to Brinnlitz. When the war ends in May 1945, Schindler flees to Switzerland under the protection of a group of his loyal workers. Their testimony regarding his good deeds prevents him from being mistaken for a war criminal subject to imprisonment and trial.

Schindler's List Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Poland falls to Nazi control.

Rising Action

2 Oskar Schindler employs Jews at his factory in Cracow.

3 The Jews are ordered to move into a ghetto in Cracow.

4 The Nazis begin shipping Jews to labor camps.

5 Schindler resolves to do all he can to help the Jews.

6 Schindler turns his factory into a labor camp.

7 Schindler plans to move his workers to Czechoslovakia.

8 Schindler makes his list of names.


9 1,100 Jews from Schindler's list arrive in Czechoslovakia.

Falling Action

10 Schindler works to save more Jews from the Nazis.

11 Schindler and his workers prepare for the war's end.


12 The war ends, and Schindler's workers are free.

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