Servant-Leadership 101: Principle of Virtuous (Schindler’s List Movie Example)

The fourth principle in the Acronym Model of SERVANT-Leadership™ is Virtuous. This 8-minute lesson demonstrates this principle, through the example of Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson). Schindler was a German Industrialist in World War II and an imperfect man in many ways. However, he saved the lives of 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories and shielding them from death camps.

As the end neared for Nazi Germany, Oskar Schindler convinced the Nazi leader of a work camp (Amon Goeth) to sell the employees to Schindler. Goeth doesn’t understand it is Oskar’s plan to prevent their execution. In this scene, Schindler works with his right-hand partner, Itzhak Stern (played by Ben Kingsley), to create a list of as many people Schindler can afford to buy, so they may be spared from gas chambers.

War is hell. In this example, what would be considered illegal and sinful in other settings is suddenly virtuous. The evils you face are unlikely to compare to Nazi Germany. However, you will face threats to your virtues.

If you or your organization could use support developing leaders, let’s talk!

Universal Pictures
December 15, 1993

Questions for Further Development:

  • What virtues do you hold?
  • What is your higher calling?
  • How will you remain firm in your views of that higher calling, when subtle attacks come at you?

If you or your organization could use support developing leaders, let’s talk!

Full Video Transcript

OSKAR: How many? How many?
STERN: 850 give or take. Give or take what Stern? Give or take what?! Count them! How many?

OSKAR: That’s it. You can finish that page.

BEN: In the second world war, Hitler and the Nazis committed horrific atrocities and crimes against humanity especially targeting Jewish people. Oskar Schindler, played in this clip by Liam Neeson, a German industrialist, saved more than a thousand Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. As Germany plans to close the camp housing Schindler’s employees, he knows this means their certain death. That is, unless he can find a way to get them out…

AMON: You want these people? OSKAR: These people. My people – I want my people. AMON: Who are you, Moses? Come on. What is this? Where’s the money in this? Where’s the scam? OSKAR: It’s good business. AMON: Yeah, it’s good business in your opinion. Look you’ve got to move them, the equipment, everything to Czechoslovakia. Pay for all that and build another camp. It doesn’t make any sense. Look you’re not telling me something. OSKAR: It’s good for me. I know them. I’m familiar with them. I don’t have to train them. It’s good for you! I’ll compensate you. AMON: Yeah, that’s right. OSKAR: It’s good for the army . AMON: Yeah, of course. OSKAR: Do you know what I’m going to make? Artillery shells. AMON: Everyone’s making artillery shells! OSKAR: They need that. Everybody’s happy! AMON: Everyone’s happy, except me. I mean you’re probably scamming me somehow. If I’m making a hundred, you’ve got to be making three. And if you admit to making three, then it’s four, actually, but how?! OSKAR: I just told you! AMON: No, you did, but you didn’t.

AMON: Ah. Yeah. All right, don’t tell me. I’ll go along with it. It’s just irritating, I can’t work it out. OSKAR: Look, all you have to do is tell me what it’s worth to you? What’s a person worth – AMON: No, no, no, no! What’s one worth to you?!

[Typewriter clicks as names are said]

OSKAR: The investors. I want all of them. ITZHAK: Yes, sir. OSKAR: Uh, Fisher, Ishmael Fisher….

ITZHAK: Fisher

ITZHAK: One moment. One moment, sir I’m sorry sir! OSKAR: Come on Stern, Sherff – Sherff!

OSKAR: The children – all the children.

OSKAR: How many? ITZHAK: 400… 450.

OSKAR: More… more.

[More names are mentioned] OSKAR: How many? ITZHAK: 600. OSKAR: More.

OSKAR: You can do the same thing I’m doing. You might even make money at it. MADRITSCH: I don’t know. OSKAR: Come on Julius. I know about the extra food and clothes you give them, paid for out of your own pocket! If we make a combined approach, we could get more than four thousand out – mine and yours! We could relocate them in something like safety in Moravia.

MADRITSCH: I don’t know…

ITZHAK: How many cigarettes have you smoked tonight? OSKAR: Too many. ITSHAK: For every one you smoke – I smoke half!

MADRITSCH: I’ve done all I can. OSKAR:I won’t accept that. MADRITSCH: No Oskar, I can’t do any more. No.

OSKAR: How many? How many?! ITZHAK: 850, give or take what. OSKAR: Give or take what?! Count them! How many?!

OSKAR: That’s it. You can finish that page. ITZHAK: What did (Amon) Goeth say about this? You just told him how many people you needed… You’re not buying them…. You’re buying them?! You’re paying him for each of these names?!

OSKAR: If you were still working for me, I’d expect you to talk me out of it. It’s costing me a fortune… Finish the page and leave one space at the bottom.

ITZHAK: You… The list is an absolute good.

The list is life

All around its margins lies the gulf

BEN: In almost any other context, purchasing people would be a terrible sin. Here, instead, we find it a virtuous act of all that could possibly be good in light of the heinously evil alternative. The telling of Schindler’s story in this clip – in this movie, and that of the Jewish people he saved, makes it clear he’s not always a saint. Earlier in the documentary, they show him to be a womanizer and have many other sins. But his belief in a higher calling and purpose guides him to be the most virtuous leader he can be, in the end. Perhaps the most powerful scene in this movie occurs in the credits, when we watch, as hundreds of those he saved – and their descendants, walk past Oskar Schindler’s grave, to pay their respects and gratitude.

BEN: Look, you may not be facing off against the evils of the scale of Nazi Germany, in world war II, but make no mistake – you will face evils in your role as a leader. They will attack you and your principles in subtle and veiled ways. You must maintain your higher calling and purpose and remain on alert for deceitful attacks, if you want to be a great servant-leader. What virtues do you hold? What is your higher calling? And how will you remain firm in your views of that higher calling, when subtle attacks come at you from side, front, or back?


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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