Steven Spielberg, 1993
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) makes a fortune out of the war.
Oskar Schindler makes friends among the Nazi regime. Those contacts will enable him to use a cheap Jewish workforce during the war for his enamel company to flourish.
The standard SS rate for skilled Jewish workers is seven marks a day, five for unskilled and women. This is what you pay to the Reich Economic Office. The Jews themselves receive nothing. Poles you pay wages. Generally, they get a little more.
He hires Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsey) as bookkeeper and negotiates with Lieutenant Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes) who runs Płaszów labour’s camp.
The miserable living conditions in the camp put Schindler’s business at risk. Schindler does everything he can to protect his interests. He can’t ignore what’s going on. He also knows the war takes a different turn. Schindler decides to spend his money so ‘his’ Jews are not getting deported – or worse. He manages to keep a thousand of them safe.
When the war ends, his crew offers him a golden ring as a present for everything he did.
It’s from the Talmud. It says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”
Before running away, Schindler apologizes to them and wishes he did more. Less than 4,000 Jews now live in Poland but in the world there are 6,000 Schindler Jews, survivors and descendants.
Schindler’s list is about business with purpose.
Schindler is a typical businessman. He adjusts to the situation : Nazis come to power. They will invest. They can be good clients. Money doesn’t smell. So he sympathizes with the Nazis not because he shares their ideology but because he can make money. He drinks cognac with the monsters. He has no ethos and it all works out because Schindler knows the rules of the game really well. And he’s good at it. He keeps people happy.
You could make things easier for me. I’d be grateful.
Business is life. People kept on trading even during war time. Jews were making deals with Germans even from the Ghetto. Schindler is in a good spot, so he makes the most of it. He’s never been a successful entrepreneur until the war. This is his chance.
In every business I tried, I can see now, it wasn’t me that failed. Something was missing. Even if I’d known what it was, there’s nothing I could have done about it because you can’t create this thing. And it makes all the difference in the world between success and failure.
Very quickly he understands that war is an opportunity but also a major threat to his business. If his employees get killed then he no longer has employees. He would run out of business. Those are the economical consequences of the war. As a businessman he understands his company is part of this world and suffers from what’s going on in the world.
He also sees what’s going on in the ghetto while everyone else, including his mistress, close their eyes. He understands the human consequences of the war. He develops a conscience. A company is made of people and has a role to play in society, aside from making profit.
Did Schindler’s agenda shift because of the war was going to end? Who knows. The fact is a lot of people after the war pretended they were on the good side. Schindler took his responsibilities. He’s been pleading guilty.
I am a member of the Nazi Party. I’m a munitions manufacturer. I’m a profiteer of slave labor. I am… a criminal.
Yet the fact is he took some risks to save a thousand Jews. He was humble enough to tell his crew they saved themselves. He’s not a hero and doesn’t want to be seen as a hero.
Many of you have come up to me and thanked me. Thank yourselves.
Schindler is an entrepreneur who revealed himself when it was so easy to just do business as usual. He showed character, generosity and determination. He turned a list of death into a list of life.
The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.
The world was about to collapse. Schindler has been brave enough to step up. He was a Nazi who saved some Jews. He cared for his employees more than profit. He proved there is a human way to do business.
What does it take to be a great boss? What is success? How do we value a company?
This publication reflects the views only of the author.