Oliwia Dąbrowska was just three years old when she was cast as the most iconic role in Steven Spielberg’s heartbreaking Holocaust movie, ‘Schindler’s List’. Although Liam Neeson excelled as the titular Oskar Schindler – so much so he was nominated for his little gold namesake – and Ralph Fiennes made a movie monster for the ages in SS Second Lieutenant Amon Goeth, it was Dąbrowska who stuck in the memory.
She says nothing throughout the movie and does nothing exceptional other than catch the eye of Neeson’s factory owner as guilt begins to overcome him. You’ll know her from her one distinctive item of clothing: her vibrant red coat, the only splash of colour in the otherwise black, white and grim picture. It’s spotted by Schindler, first as the Płaszów ghetto is liquidised by Goeth, then again, heartbreakingly, on a pile of bodies on their way to be burnt. It’s a devastatingly effective scene.
Though she didn’t know it, Oliwia Dąbrowska was playing the pivotal role in Spielberg’s epic; a movie which he claims he “had to make” and for which he received no salary, which he likened to “blood money”. As the girl in red, credited as 'Red Genia’, she symbolised both hope and despair. But Dąbrowska had no idea the impact her role would have on the movie, let alone the cinematic landscape it’d help shape.
Now 25, Oliwia Dąbrowska still lives in her native city of Krakow, Poland, where 'Schindler’s List’ was filmed in 1992. She still acts as a hobby, but she does actually have one other movie credit to her name: 1996’s Polish political thriller 'Street Games’. Dąbrowska has a degree in Library Science and hopes to one day go into publishing. Her connection to 'Schindler’s List’, however, has not been forgotten, and in 2013, on the movie’s 20th anniversary, she told the press that she had initially been angry at her role in the movie.
“I was ashamed of being in the movie and angry with my mother and father when they told anyone about the part,” Dąbrowska said. “I kept it secret for a long, long time, though at high school people got to know on the internet. People said: 'It must be so important to you, you must know so much about the Holocaust.’ I was frustrated by it all.”
Steven Spielberg allegedly told her she shouldn’t watch the movie until she turned 18, but Dąbrowska caught a screening of the film aged 11, and it left her “horrified” as a result. “I could not understand much but I was sure that I didn’t want to watch it ever again in my life,” she said.
Dąbrowska’s position on the movie has now mellowed with time. “I had been part of something I could be proud of,” she states. That trauma that she suffered from first learning of her part in the movie led to her educating herself about concentration camps, and she now acknowledges the role she has played in informing others of the horrors of war. “Spielberg was right,” Dąbrowska says. “I had to grow up to watch the film.”
Image Credits: Rex Features/Yahoo Movies/Facebook