Viewing: Oskar Schindler and the Making of a Rescuer | Facing History & Ourselves
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Viewing: Oskar Schindler and the Making of a Rescuer

Students consider how Schindler's evolution from collaborator to rescuer adds to their thinking about the importance of individual choices.


At a Glance



English — US


  • History


  • The Holocaust



In this lesson, students begin to probe some of the deeper themes of Schindler’s List. One of the key themes of the film is the capacity of the individual to make powerful change, evinced in the words that appear on the screen in the film’s closing scene: “There are fewer than four thousand Jews left alive in Poland today. There are more than six thousand descendants of the Schindler Jews.” While the film was made in 1996 and there are more Jews living in Poland today, Schindler’s enduring impact as a rescuer is unquestionable.

But, as students initially explored in the lesson Establishing the Historical Context for Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler did not immediately become a rescuer at the outbreak of the war. Steven Spielberg believes that Schindler was in the “Oskar Schindler business” at the beginning. In Spielberg’s view, Schindler changed as a result of “getting to know his workers as people, not just as metal polishers or lathe operators . . . ” In this lesson, students will consider how Schindler developed into a rescuer of over 1,100 Jews and what that evolution might mean for the small choices each of us makes in our own lives.

What can Oskar Schindler’s evolution from a Nazi collaborator into a rescuer teach us about our individual choices today?

  • 4 activities
  • 2 readings
  • 2 videos
  • 1 extension

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

The following are key vocabulary terms used in this lesson that you might want to define for students in advance of class:

  • Resistance
  • Rescuer
  • Perpetrator
  • Bystander

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Lesson Plans


  • Ask students to reflect silently in their journals on the following prompt: Based on his study of rescuers during the Holocaust, Professor Ervin Staub writes that “Goodness, like evil, often begins in small steps. Heroes evolve; they aren’t born.” How does Staub’s idea of a hero fit with your own? Does a hero possess certain qualities, or is a hero defined by his or her actions?
  • Have students share their answers, first in a Think, Pair, Share activity and then as a class.
  • The short video Facing History Scholar Reflections: Bystanders and Resisters (05:11) helps students situate the actions of Oskar Schindler within the broader range of choices people made during the Holocaust.
  • Share the 3-2-1 analysis prompts below with students, and then show the video. Students will listen for information that addresses the prompts and then respond to them after viewing the video. Identify three acts of rescue or resistance you learned about from watching the video. Identify two debates among scholars that Bookbinder mentions about the choices groups made in response to the Holocaust. Think of one question the video raises for you about perpetrators, rescuers, or resisters.
  • Review the possible answers to the first two 3-2-1 prompts, and then ask students to share some of the questions they wrote in response to the third prompt.
  • To further students’ understanding of Oskar Schindler’s role as a rescuer, play Rena Finder’s Reflections on Oskar Schindler (06:34). Finder is a Holocaust survivor who worked at Schindler’s factory plant in Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia. After students have watched, discuss the following questions, either in pairs or in small groups:

    • According to Rena, what were the small things Schindler did that made a big difference? 
    • How did the film trace Schindler's transformation?  How does Rena’s testimony support the story told in the film?
    • Return to the Staub quote you considered at the opening of class. How does Oskar Schindler fit this definition? Would you call Schindler a “hero”?

Reconvene the class and debrief students’ answers.

  • Ask students to return to the quotation from Ervin Staub that they responded to at the beginning of the lesson. Have them respond independently to each of the following questions:

    • What does Staub mean when he says that both goodness and evil begin in small steps? Do you agree?
    • What have you learned about Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and the story of Oskar Schindler that either supports or refutes Staub’s ideas about “small steps”?
    • If Staub is correct, what might that mean about the importance of the choices we make on a daily basis?
    • Why is it sometimes easy to overlook the significance of the small steps taken by making everyday choices?
  • Hold a brief discussion using the Fishbowl teaching strategy to debrief students’ answers to these questions. Students can “tap” each other to indicate when they would like to enter the conversation.


Chapters 8 and 9 of Holocaust and Human Behavior include a variety of additional resources about Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Among these are examples of both spiritual (the reading Voices from the Warsaw Ghetto) and armed resistance (the reading The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) in the Warsaw ghetto. Facing History also offers the unit Resistance during the Holocaust: An Exploration of the Jewish Partisans. All of these resources can help deepen students’ understanding of resistance by those who were targeted by the Nazis.

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