Reprinted courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

From the time Adolf Hitler became the dictator of Germany in January 1933, until the surrender of his Third Reich at the end of World War II in May 1945, Hitler's Nazi led government engaged in two wars. One was a declared war of military expansion against the nations of Europe, which began with the 1939 invasion of Poland and reached its peak in mid-1942, when German armies occupied much of the continent and had penetrated deep into the Soviet Union. The other was a war against the Jews of Europe, the persecution and mass murder, hidden at first from the rest of the world, that came to be known as the Holocaust.

Even when the tide of war turned against Germany in 1943, and became clearly hopeless with the mid-1944 Allied invasion of Europe, the mass killing of Jews continued with increased ferocity, eventually claiming six million lives. In addition, the Nazis also put to death an estimated five million Gypsies (or Roma), Slav peoples, homosexuals, mentally retarded people, and people with handicaps, all of whom were considered "inferior" to the pure "Aryan" race. The term "holocaust," however, which means "destruction by fire," refers specifically to the Nazis' systematic destruction of Jews. As Elie Wiesel puts it, "Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims."

Hitler's horrifying scheme was foreshadowed by his denunciation of "the Jewish conspiracy" in his 1923 book Mein Kampf and fueled by German economic hardships that tapped deep currents of anti-Semitism, but to carry it out required the active, deliberate involvement of hundreds of thousands of people, both within Germany and in the occupied countries. It also required the silent acquiescence of millions of people throughout Europe, people who saw what was happening and either did nothing to stand in the way or else took part by turning in neighbors or joining the rush to take over Jewish homes and possessions.

The first Nazi concentration camps were established early in Hitler's regime, at the German towns of Dachau (1933) and Buchenwald (1937), and used primarily as prisons and a source of forced labor. But the conquest of Poland in 1939 brought a new development, as that country's Jews were herded into ghettos at such cities as Krakow, Warsaw, and Lodz in a first step toward transporting them all to concentrations camps. By 1940, mass murder and "euthanasia" in special "gas vans" was in progress, and with the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Nazi Einsatzgruppen ("strike squads") began mass killings of Jews in captured territory, such as the machine-gunning of 33,000 Jews at the Babi Yar ravine near Kiev in September, 1941. Systematically, the ghettos in Poland and elsewhere were brutally liquidated, and the survivors sent to special extermination camps, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka. Then, in January 1942, at the infamous Wannsee Conference, the Nazi high command sanctioned the so-called "final solution," a plan for the total destruction of all European Jews in the extermination camps' gas chambers.

Nazi leaders tried to keep the mass killings secret, but word leaked out quite early in the scheme. The United States government, for example, had confirmed reports of atrocities by 1942. For the most part, however, the outside world paid little attention. American and British officials met to discuss the matter in Bermuda in 1943, but accomplished little. It was not until early in 1944 that the United States even established a special War Refugee Board (which eventually did help in the rescue of approximately 200,000 Jews).

In July 1944, the Red Army liberated the Majdanek concentration camp, and within the next sixth months all the Nazi extermination camps were liberated by Soviet or American troops, many of whom, although hardened by years of battle and death, were shocked by what they encountered there. Only then did the world begin to learn the full extent of what the Nazis had been doing over the past 12 years. The results: not counting millions of civilian deaths from "regular" military actions, some 12-14 million human beings were murdered by the Nazis, including six million Jews-more than two thirds of Europe's prewar Jewish population, and more than had been slain in anti-Semitic pogroms during the previous 18 centuries.



Hitler is appointed chancellor of Germany (as leader of largest political party) by President von Hindenburg, the head of the Government-decreed boycott of Jewish business. Concentration camp for "undesirables" established at Dachau. Jews banned from courts and government agencies. Jewish quota established for schools and colleges. Jews banned from college teaching posts. Jews banned from cultural enterprises (music, film, theater, etc.). Jews banned from journalism. Jewish food preparation rituals prohibited.


Marriage and extramarital relations between Jews and non-Jews prohibited. Jewish citizenship and civil rights revoked. Jews forbidden to display the German flag.


Jews required to report all financial interests and property.

Jews forbidden to practice law or medicine. Jews required to carry identification cards at all times. Jews required to assume the names "Israel" if male, "Sarah" if female. Jews required to turn in passports so they can be stamped to identify them as Jews. Jewish religious institutions placed under government control. Thousands of Jewish men arrested and sent to forced labor camps. Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938): Government-sanctioned night of anti-Jewish riots - synagogues burned, homes looted and businesses destroyed, Jews beaten, tortured, arrested or killed. Jewish newspapers and journals outlawed. Jewish children expelled from schools. Jews prohibited from public places - theatres, concerts, museums, etc. Jewish businesses closed and Jewish business activity prohibited. Jews taxed to pay for Kristallnacht property damage.


Administration of Jewish affairs placed under Gestapo control. Detailed procedures established for government resale and reuse of confiscated Jewish property. Conquest of Poland: Jews systematically rounded-up and relocated to urban ghettos; Jewish businesses, homes, and property confiscated; Jews required to wear the Star of David; many Jews moved from ghettos to forced labor camps.


Invasion of Russia: Jews systematically executed as villages come under German control. Gas chambers for mass execution constructed near Polish ghettos - Auschwitz Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Majdanek, and Treblinka.


Wannsee Conference completes planning for the "Final solution." Jews rounded up for mass execution in Nazi gas chambers in Germany and German controlled countries: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania.

Pre-Screening Instructional Objectives

Schindler's Listis at times a historically complex movie. Experience indicates that students find the movie more engaging and comprehensible in they understand the historical context of the film.


Students should understand and be able to use the following:

  • Anti-Semitism
  • Death Camp
  • Germany (identify on map and describe role in war)
  • Ghetto
  • Holocaust
  • Jews
  • Krakow
  • Nazi
  • Nazism
  • Nuremberg Laws
  • Poland (identify on map and describe role in war)
  • World War II


Students should understand the key events leading to World War II.

  • Nazi Seizure of Power
  • Invasion of Poland
  • Beginning of World War II
  • Death Camps Open
  • End of War

Post-Screening Instructional Objectives


  • Understands the central events of the Holocaust
  • Analyzes the moral and political significance of Schindler's List
  • Recognizes the central role of prejudice in creating the Holocaust
  • Understands the significance of the Holocaust to their own lives and the world today
  • Understands key theories on the causes of "rescuer" behavior



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Berenbaum, Michael, ed (1990). A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis.New York: New York University Press.

Bielenberg, Christabel, (1968). Christabel.New York: Penguin.

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Cholawski, Shalom (1980). Soldiers from the Ghetto: The First Uprising against the Nazis. San Diego: S.S. Barnes.

Dawidowicz, Lucy S (1986).The War Against the Jews. New York: Bantam Books.

Dumbach, Annette E., and Jud Newborn (1986), Shattering the German Night: The Story of the White Rose. Boston: Little, Brown.

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Fogelman, Eva (1994). Conscience and Courage.Doubleday. New York.

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Friedman, Philip (1978). Their Brothers' Keepers. New York: Holocaust Library.

Gies, Miep (1988). Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Gilbert, Martin (1991). Atlas of the Holocaust. New York: William Morrow and Company.

(1981). Auschwitz and the Allies. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

(1985). The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

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Hallie, Philip P. (1979). Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There. New York: Harper and Row.

Hanser, Richard (1979). A Noble Treason: The Revolt of the Munich Students against Hitler. New York: Putnam.

Hellman, Peter (1980). Avenue of the Righteous. New York: Atheneum.

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Iranek-Osmecki, Kazimierz (1971). He Who Saves One Life. New York: Crown.

Keneally, Thomas (1983). Schindler's List. New York: Penguin Books.

Laqueur, Walter (1980). The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth about Hitler's "Final Solution." Boston: Little, Brown.

Laqueur, Walter, and Richard Breitman, (1986). Breaking the Silence. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Leuner, Heinz David (1966). When Compassion Was a Crime: Germany's Silent Heroes: 1933-45. London: Oswald Wolff.

Levin, Nora (1968). The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry 1933-1945. New York: Shocken Books.

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Oliner, Samuel P., and Oliner, Pearl M. (1988). The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. New York: Free Press.

Pankiewicz, Tadeusz (1987), The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy, trans. by Henry Tilles. New York.

Peleg-Marianska, Miriam, and Mordecai Peleg (1991). Witnesses: Life in Occupied Krakow. London: Routledge.

Procter, Robert (1988). Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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(1986). When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ten Boom, Corrie (1971). With John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The Hiding Place. New York: Bantam.

Wasserstein, Bernard (1988). Britain and the Jews of Europe: 1939-1945. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Wells, Leon Weliczker (1987). Who Speaks for the Vanquished?: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Wiesel, Elie (1988). The Night Trilogy. New York: Noonday Press.

Wiesenthal, Simon (1989). Justice Not Vengeance. New York: Wiedenfeld.

Wundheiler, Luitgard N. (1985-86). "Oskar Schindler's Moral Development During the Holocaust." Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 13 (1 and 2), 333-356.

Wyman, David (1984). The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust: 1941-1945. New York: Random House.

(1968) America and the Refugee Crisis.

Yahil, Leni (1969). The Rescue of Danish Jewry: Test of a Democracy. Translated by M. Gradel. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.


Ansen, David. "Spielberg's Obsession." Newsweek (December 20, 1993).

Chesnoff, Richard Z. "The Other Schindlers." U.S. News and World Report (March 21, 1994).

Gleick, Elizabeth. "Requiem for a Hero." People Weekly (March 21, 1994).

Margolick, David. "Schindler's Jews Find Deliberance Again." New York Times (February 13, 1994).

Neill, Michael. "An Angel Looks Homeward." People Weekly (December 13, 1993).

Podesta, Don. "A Widow's Memories of a Flawed Saint," Washington Post (December 5, 1993).

Wexler, Annette, "A Real Life Story of 'Schindler's List.'" New York Times (December 1993).


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