the most moving image in Steven Spielberg's epic "Schindler's
List" is the little girl in the red coat, one of only four
color images in the three-hour black and white film. Our attention is
drawn to the little blonde tot, overlooked by
the German troops, who wanders alone amid the horror and panic. She is
wearing a red coat which draws the viewer to her even when she is but one
of a hundred people in a wide shot.
In his book Schindler´s Ark Thomas Keneally tells about Oscar
Schindler, on horseback, as he views the liquidation of the Cracow ghetto
from atop an adjacent hill. The child in red compells Schindler's
attention, and his mistress Ingrid comments that the child must be female,
because little girls get obsessed by color, especially a bright shade of
red like that. In the beginning the SS guard corrects her drift and nudges
her back into line. Schindler can not see why he does not bludgeon her
with his rifle butt, since at the other end of Krakusa Street mercy has
last Schindler slithered from his horse, tripped, and found himself on his
knees hugging the trunk of a pine tree. The urge to throw up his excellent
breakfast was, he sensed, to be suppressed, for he suspected it meant that
all his cunning body was doing was making room to digest the horrors of
in the day, after he had absorbed a ration of brandy, Oscar understood ...
they permitted witnesses, such witnesses as the red toddler, because they
believed all the witnesses would perish too ... "
had previously rationalized to himself that the reports of atrocities were
just the isolated acts of individuals, but now realizes that if such
atrocities are occuring in full view of this little girl, the Nazis must
be acting with the full knowledge of their superiors, with the approval of
the highest authority.
Schindler identifies with the little girl in red, as she makes her way,
aimless and alone, past the madness and chaos in the street. A woman is
machine-gunned behind her. Schindler loses sight of the small figure as
she walks behind a building, but then he glimpses her again, walking by a
file of Jews being herded down a sidewalk. During the roundup, a Nazi
soldier fires at a single-file lineup of men, killing several with one
bullet. Stricken by the nightmare below, Schindler sees the little girl in
red entering one of the empty apartment buildings. There, she climbs the
stairs and crawls under a bed for cover in a ransacked room.
An individual victim, lost. Schindler´s soul is touched by the child, he
feels her pain, cries for her. The plight of the one little girl in red
touches him in a way the shear numbers make unreal, it is easy to get lost
in numbers. He transforms the faceless mass around him into one
real palpable human being. This one child is a symbol of all the 6.000.000
victims, exposed to ruthless slaughter. Each was an individual, who had
dreams, who had a life, who had a family ..
It was at that moment that Oscar Schindler vowed that he would do
everything within his power to destroy the Nazi Regime.
While the girl is strolling unscathed while murder and brutality happen
all around her, we see other stories forming or ending, but even in a
telephoto view the viewer cannot take his eyes off the little red-tinted
girl. She is the purity, the innocence, walking unnoticed through the
Nazis, and witnessing their every crime. But the Nazis don't worry - at
the end there will be no witnesses ..
We do not know what has happened to her until much later. The Nazis are
ordered to dig up all the Jewish corpses they have buried to incinerate
the evidence of the slaughter of the Cracow ghetto. As the decomposing
corpses are trundled in wagons to the fires Oscar Schindler catch a
glimpse of a red-tinted rag of a corpse.
The use of color to follow the little girl in her
red coat has by now achieved the stature of legendary. However, most
people do not know that this image is based upon a true story, told at the
trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the most feared and hated Nazi leaders of
World War II, responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews.
In the PBS documentary, The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, this image
loses none of its impact when the actual story is told by Assistant
Prosecutor, later Supreme Court Judge, Gavriel Bach in an interview which
appears in the program. When asked if there was any moment in the trial
that affected him more than any other, this is the moment he describes.
Bach was questioning Dr. Martin Földi, a survivor of Auschwitz, about the
selection process at the train station in the shadows of the infamous
"Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at Auschwitz. Földi described how he
and a son went to the right while a daughter and his wife went to the
left. His little daughter wore the red coat. When an SS officer sent the
son to join the mother and daughter, Földi describes his panic. How would
the boy, only twelve, find them among the thousands of people there? But
then he realized the red coat would be like a beacon for the boy to join
his mother and sister.
He then ends his testimony with the chilling phrase, "I never saw
While telling the story, thirty-five years after the incident, Judge Bach
wells up with emotion. As Dr. Földi recounted the incident, Bach became
frozen and unable to continue. All he could do was think about his own
daughter who he had by chance just bought a red coat.
He then adds that to this day he can be at the theater or a restaurant and
he will feel his heart beating faster when he sees a little girl in a red
Testimonies, edited by Joseph J. Preil, the survivor Aaron Schwartz
recalls Plaszow and the slaughter of the Cracow
I came to Plaszow the first day, they put me in a group where we were
digging a huge grave .. they brought in trucks, with children, from infant
to twelve years old. They were all killed .. when the children were
brought in, they were shot, right in that grave ..
A little girl, a beautiful blond girl, sat down in the grave, dressed in
an Eskimo white fur coat, was all bloody, and asked for a little bit of
water .. this child swallowed so much blood, because it was shot in the
neck. And then it started to vomit so terribly. And then it lay down and
it says, "Mother, turn me around, turn me around." ..
This child did not know what happened to it. It was shot, it was half-dead
after it was shot. And this child sat down in the grave, among all the
corpses, and asked for water .. it was still alive. There was no mother,
just children brought from the Cracow ghetto.
So this little girl lay down, and asked to be turned around. What happened
to it? I do not know. It was probably covered alive, with chlorine .. I am
sure, because they did not give another shot to that girl .."
Over one million children under the age of sixteen died in the Holocaust
- she was one of them ...