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Schindler's List | Symbols

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Dogs

In Schindler's List, dogs symbolize the personalities, positions, and intentions of their owners. For Christmas, Oskar Schindler buys his lover and secretary Victoria Klonowska a poodle. This ridiculous Parisian dog is procured at great difficulty on the black market. Schindler's wealth and black market connections permit him to give a frivolous present to a woman who is not his wife. Like Schindler himself, the poodle is both harmless and flamboyant. It symbolizes his affection for the beautiful, capable Klonowska.

In contrast, the dogs of SS officials are, like the men themselves, agents of violence and terror.

During the Aktion of June 1942, SS men use dogs as they sweep the ghetto. The dogs are even more effective than the guns of the SS at uprooting Jews in hiding: Jews flee their homes "yelling and gasping in terror of the Doberman pinschers." At Płaszów, Amon Goeth keeps a pack of dogs, which function as extensions of his own savagery. When prisoner Rebecca Tannenbaum comes to Goeth's villa to manicure his nails, one of his dogs "[leaps] at her, and holding her by the shoulders, [opens] its jaw on her breast." Goeth watches this attack, with its overtones of sexual violence, with amusement. Goeth beats Helen Hirsch on her first day as his maid because she accidentally discards the dinner bones he intended for his dogs. Goeth's dogs symbolize his complete disregard for Jewish lives.

Cattle Cars

The Nazis use cattle cars to transport groups of Jewish prisoners. Cattle cars are symbolic of the regime's progressive dehumanization of Jews. The practice of transporting Jews on cattle cars begins as early as 1939, with the transport of Jews from newly conquered territories into Cracow. At this point the practice merely seems odd, as "the cars were not as yet inhumanly crowded," and it is one of many topics of conversation at Oskar Schindler's Christmas celebration that year. In 1942 Schindler is shocked to arrive at the train depot and see that it is "full of strings of cattle cars, the station crowded with the ghetto's dispensable citizens standing in orderly lines." He has heard of this practice for some time, but the actual sight of it unnerves him. The Jews hope they may minimize the suffering in store for them by their "passive and orderly response." They believe that if they are reasonable, the Nazis will treat them reasonably in return. They do not yet realize the Nazis see Jews as nothing more than beasts of burden.

In the summer of 1944, while driving with Amon Goeth, Schindler is horrified to hear the "mourning from inside, the pleas for water" coming from a line of cattle cars. In the blistering heat, Jews have been packed into the metal cattle cars without water, and many of them have died. Completely unmoved by the suffering of their fellow human beings, Goeth and other SS officers watch Schindler's ministrations with amusement. That winter, as the end of the war draws near, cattle cars packed with Jews are simply abandoned in the freezing countryside. Since the Jews "lacked industrial value," they are nothing more than a burden to the system.

Lists

There are numerous lists mentioned throughout the text, including the list for which the book is named. The lists are always of Jewish names and are composed and held by individuals in positions of relative power. Such lists symbolize the fate of the Jews within a political climate that seeks to render them not only helpless but extinct. The lists name Jews and others who are:

  • seditious or rebellious
  • disposable
  • unfit for physical labor
  • executed

Out of all the lists in the text, the sole list that implies life rather than death is Oskar Schindler's list. Schindler has long promised salvation to his Jewish workers, and the list is the physical manifestation of that promise. It is a document that makes life possible: "Life on the list was a feasible matter, while life off it was unutterable." The 1,100 names on Schindler's list are Jews who are transported to safety out of Poland and into Schindler's new facility in Czechoslovakia, where they escape the murderous scramble that marked the last days of the Final Solution. Schindler's list is also the only list in the text that is partially composed by Jews. When it falls into the hands of Jewish clerk Marcel Goldberg at Płaszów, he accepts bribes from individuals in exchange for adding their names to the list. Given half a chance, these Jews insist on actively shaping their own destiny rather than passively submitting to a cruel fate.

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