Viewing: Analyzing the Art of Schindler’s List | Facing History & Ourselves
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Viewing: Analyzing the Art of Schindler’s List

Students analyze the film as a work of art and consider how Spielberg’s artistic choices foster emotional engagement with Holocaust history.


At a Glance



English — US


  • History


  • The Holocaust



In a previous lesson, students considered how Oskar Schindler’s evolution from a Nazi collaborator into a rescuer of over 1,100 Jews adds to their thinking about the importance of individual choices. In this lesson, students will analyze Schindler’s List as a work of art, exploring how the film helps to convey what the poet Sonia Weitz defines as the “other world” of the Holocaust. 1 They will consider how Spielberg’s character depictions and artistic choices highlight Jewish resilience, humanity, and survival and foster an emotional engagement with the history of the Holocaust. In the process, they will contemplate what we can learn from film and other works of art that more purely historical accounts of the Holocaust might not capture.

  • How does the film Schindler’s List humanize and personalize the history of the Holocaust?
  • 3 activities
  • 1 handout

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

You might want to take time to jog students’ memory about the major characters in the film. One approach is writing the characters’ names on the board and asking volunteers to share important details about each character. You can use the following list of characters as a starting point:

  • Oskar Schindler
  • Itzhak Stern
  • Amon Goeth
  • Helen Hirsch
  • Chaja and Danka Dresner

To prepare for the Stations activity, we recommend that you set up desk groups or tables in advance. Each station will focus on one of five sets of discussion questions that cover a different aspect of Steven Spielberg’s artistic choices in the film (e.g., characterization, lighting, philosophy on filmmaking). You can find the materials for each station in the handout Analyzing Schindler’s List. In order to keep group size manageable (we recommend four to six students per group), you may need to create multiple stations for each set of questions. The goal is for each group to have the opportunity to complete all five sets of questions.

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Lesson Plans


  • Because this lesson asks students to recall details about the film, it is a good idea to ask students to revisit their journal entries from after watching the film (see lesson Watching Schindler’s List):
    • What do you remember most about the film? What images or scenes stand out?
    • Which characters stand out in your mind? What qualities make those characters memorable?
    • List what you learned from the film, questions that the film raised but did not answer, and at least one way that the film relates to the world today.
  • Ask students to silently review their answers and add any new information or ideas that are surfacing from the previous lesson.
  • Break the class into small groups of four to six students. Tell students that they will be participating in small-group discussions in a Stations activity. At each station, they will discuss a different aspect of Steven Spielberg’s artistic choices (e.g., characterization, lighting, philosophy on filmmaking). Explain to students that they will have five minutes at each station to discuss the questions on the corresponding handout Analyzing Schindler’s List and that they should be prepared to share their answers in a whole-group discussion once the activity is over.
  • While students are completing the activity, circulate around the room to get a sense of what issues or themes are arising, correct any misunderstandings, and ask follow-up questions to deepen students’ conversations.

Once students have completed all stations, bring the class back together and ask volunteers to share what they discussed at each station. Then ask students to reflect on the following quote from Steven Spielberg, first in their journals and then as a class:

  • "I think we found a door to allow people to talk about the consequences of hatred in all its forms in a more open way,” Spielberg says. “Films have that capacity to move people to explore and understand the most tragic and horrific events in history, and at the same time to highlight the resiliency of the human spirit.

    • What does Spielberg mean when he compares the film to a “door” that allows people to talk about the consequences of hatred? What, according to Spielberg, is unique about film as a medium? Do you agree with him?

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