Emergent Ethical Leadership in ‘Schindler’s List’

Topics: Schutzstaffel, Nazi Germany, The Holocaust Pages: 5 (1887 words) Published: July 29, 2008
Emergent Ethical Leadership in ‘Schindler’s List’
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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. 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...
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