Schindler’s List

2 February 2017

Emergent Ethical Leadership in ‘Schindler’s List’ Legal Environment for Managers The film “Schindler’s List” presents variations of ethical leaders ranging from Amon Goeth, who embodied pure evil, to the righteous humanitarian Itzak Stern. Imbedded between these two ethical extremes is Oskar Schindler. Schindler is an evolutionary example moving from an unethical war profiteer to that of a self-sacrificing leader, ultimately awarded the honor of a tree on Righteous Avenue. From the ashes of the Holocaust horror, Schindler emerged as an ultimately ethical leader that saved 1,200 Jews.

Schindler came to Poland as a member of the Nazi party, seeking exploitive ways to profit from the war. He was a womanizing philanderer that left his wife in Czechoslovakia while he went to Poland in the wake of the German invasion to find a way to profit from the war at the callous expense of others. Schindler used his flair for the dramatic, grand gestures, love of “the finer things” to create powerful contacts with the Gestapo and SS officials. At the opening of the film, Schindler positions himself for pictures with SS officials, in his attempt to develop rapport with Nazi leaders.

Schindler’s List Essay Example

He is not concerned with the suffrage of others, and focuses only on his personal profit and advancement. His initial approach to the unethical treatment of others extends beyond befriending the Nazi’s for personal gain when Schindler assumes residence in a forfeited Jewish home. Laying claim to an apartment, Schindler comments “It could not be better”; while the former Jewish owners are in the Krakow Ghetto commenting, “It could be worse…” Schindler’s unethical treatment of others seen in the first portion of the film includes his acquisition of the DEF enamelware factory.

When the company’s former accountant Itzak Stern points out Jewish investment is impossible due to Nazi law, Schindler reveals his plan to take advantage of the situation, suggesting the Jews secretly fund the company, and he pay them in enamelware (pots and pans). Schindler coldly rationalizes the arrangement as providing them “things they can really use to sell on the black market. Trade goods are the only things that mean anything in the ghetto”.

Schindler also exhibits unethical behavior when he staffs his factory with imprisoned Jews. When Stern explains how Third Reich slave labor principles work, Schindler advances his profitability by choosing to employ only Jews. His focus on profitability over humanity is apparent when he tells Stern to hire only Jews stating: “Poles cost more than Jews? Why should I hire Poles? ”. His focus is only on himself and his potential earnings, using people for his benefit, ignoring his negative influence/effect on the lives of others.

Externally acknowledged wealth and influence is the most important thing to Schindler in the beginning of the movie, and yet, as the movie progresses, Schindler’s self-focus begins to dissipate, replaced by a higher level of concern for others within more ethical boundaries. Schindler built his fortune through unethical behavior, but midpoint in the movie, inspired by Sterns commitment to humanity, Schindler begins to recognize the importance of others and change.

The emergence of Schindler’s ethical perspective begins when he meets a one armed worker, and questions Stern of the workers legitimacy as an “essential worker”. Schindler begins to question the “legitimacy” of his workers, and begins to understand the impact of his actions. When the worker is later shot by the SS, Schindler defends the worker to an inquisitive SS official. For the first time Schindler faces the reality that he is making decisions that affect the life of others, and feels remorse at the loss of an innocent life.

Another example of Schindler’s emergent ethics is his desperate measures to save Stern from the train bound for the concentration camps. At this point in his ethical development, Schindler saves Stern from the trains because “he cannot manage the plant without him”. His dismissive response to Sterns gratitude is a thin veneer for his true feelings of appreciation; but rather than admit it to Stern, he simply responds with “What if I had gotten here 5 minutes later, then where would I be? ” It is evident at this point in the film that Schindler is beginning to care for people more than profit.

He makes increasingly snide and off the cuff remarks easily construed as distaste for the Nazi regime, and specifically the unethical actions of Goeth. Upon their first meeting, Goeth asks Schindler about where he got his suit. Schindler responds in a direct, but dismissive manner saying he does not know, and the likelihood is the man who made the suit is probably dead. As the relationship with Goeth and Schindler intensifies, Schindler uses the friendship, and Goeth’s admiration to positively influence Goeth to use a more ethical and humane approach toward the Jews in the camp.

In one scene Goeth and Schindler debate the true meaning of power and justice, a definitive moment for both. Goeth defines power as the ability to kill at will, and Schindler defines power as not killing when we can. Schindler goes on to explain that the real power is in pardoning an individual you feel has “wronged “ you. The most meaningful moment in the scene is when Schindler turns to Goeth and says: “I pardon you”. Goeth temporarily chooses not to kill when he otherwise would have (i. e. a boy who damaged his saddle and a woman prisoner caught smoking “on the job”).

The relief is unfortunately only temporary, and Goeth returns to his sadistic ways when kills a boy for not removing the stains from his bathtub. When Stern identifies Goeth’s cruelty, Schindler rationalizes Goeth’s behavior to Stern as a direct bi-product of the war. Openly admitting and recognizing Goeth’s ethical failures, means must take ownership of his own shortcomings and unethical behaviors. Schindler is not yet prepared to face his own demons. As the movie progresses, Stern’s ethical influence on Schindler is more pronounced and evidenced through Schindler’s actions.

Even with his best attempts to deny his ethical emergence, Schindler begins to reveal his true stance through his actions. Scenes supporting his evolution include his birthday party where he kisses a Jewish worker, and when he insists on hosing down the train cars to provide relief to the people trapped inside. His action of hosing down the train initiates concern of his loyalty to the Nazi party, and he is soon after arrested for openly kissing the Jewish girl under the “race and resettlement act”, and yet Schindler continues his attempts to save individual workers.

In 1944, when the decision to move all concentration camp prisoners to Auschwitz, Schindler decides to leave Poland under the guise of having more money than any man can spend in a lifetime. After meeting with Stern, Schindler reconsiders, and initiates a plan to relocate his factory to Czechoslovakia, including all of his workers. Initially Goeth laughs and perceives the idea as preposterous, until Schindler offers to purchase the life of every one of his workers. He bribes the unethical Goeth to allow him to run a “sub-camp” is his home country as an attempt to save the “Schindlerjuden”.

This is the pivotal moment in the film, the moment Schindler truly emerges as an ethical leader for the workers he has come to know and care for. He chooses to spend millions “buying” his workers under the guise of making artillery shells for the war effort. He attempts to convince other business owners to do the same to no avail. The list of Schindler’s workers is recognition of their value as people, not property, a major step in the evolution of Schindler’s ethical spirit. Stern recognizes Schindler’s efforts at greatness saying: “The list is an absolute good, – it is life”.

Schindler reaches a pinnacle of greatness, when he recovers the female workers from Auschwitz and brings them to the factory for safety. He leads by lecturing the SS guards about how his organization runs, ultimately denying guards access to the working floor in order to further protect and ensures the safety of all his workers. Schindler’s did not intend to convert his factory into an ammunition plant that would ever make effective shells. He was rumored to have sabotaged the machines, and to purchase shells from other manufacturers to pass as his own, in his ultimate hope that there would be fewer ammunitions made, therefore fewer killed.

He reveals himself to Stern when he says, “Stern, if this factory ever produces a shell that can actually be fired, I shall be very unhappy”. In the 7 months he operated his factory, he spent millions bribing officials to maintain the life of his workers – going broke in the process. Oskar Schindler made unethical choices to amass a personal fortune. He lied, he cheated, he profited at the cost of others, and in the end, he saved lives. He was a rising ethical star that reached greatness through personal sacrifice and expense.

At the end of the movie, Schindler rose to ethical greatness by allowing workers to practice their faith openly, and to raise the personal standard and belief in them by treating each individual with respect. He openly admits to the 6 years of murder that they as a group survived. He grants proper credit to those responsible for their safety, takes full credit for his membership in the Nazi party, and to the guilt of being a war profiteer. Schindler offers a great gift to the factory guards as well.

He recognizes the orders to “eliminate the population of the factory”, and the offers them the chance to leave rather than “return to their families as murderers”. His respect for the workers is exemplified as he leads a three minute silence to honor the fallen Jews, and is rewarded by his employees with a gold ring inscribed with “He whoever saves one life, save the world entire”. His evolution from war profiteer to ethical leader in the face of great adversity is an amazing testament to all of the righteous gentiles that risked their lives during the Nazi regime.

Schindler makes his final ethical stance when he breaks down crying at the realization he could have saved more people. “I threw away so much… this car ten people right there… this ring, two more, at least on more person”. Stern reassures him that 1,200 people lived, and there will be generations to come thanks to the ethical gestures and decisions he made. “Oskar Schindler surfaced from the chaos of madness, spent millions bribing and paying off the SS, and eventually risked his life to rescue 1200 Jews in the shadow of Auschwitz.

He rose to the highest level of humanity, walked through the bloody mud of the Holocaust without soiling his soul, his compassion, his respect for human life -and gave his Jews a second chance at life. He miraculously managed to do it and pulled it off by using the very same talents that made him a war profiteer – his flair for presentation, bribery, and grand gestures. Oskar Schindler spent millions to protect and save his Jews, everything he possessed. He died penniless. But he earned the everlasting gratitude of his Schindler-Jews – and he saved our faith in humanity. – Louis Bulow Oskar Schindler

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