Oliwia Dabrowska was about 3 years old when she became an indelible part of cinema history in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning classic Schindler’s List. As the little girl in the red coat walking through the Krakow Ghetto untouched as its residents are being “liquidated” by German troops, she was not only the only color in the otherwise black-and-white film, she also symbolized much of the film’s complicated dance between hope and hopelessness, violence and compassion, guilt and innocence.
Schindler’s List was, of course, the story of a Nazi party member who helped thousands of Jews escape death, a situation not dissimilar to current news stories about Ukrainian civilians being assassinated en masse by Russian troops. And like the hero of that film Dabrowska, now 32 and living in Poland, is taking action to help civilians attempting to flee the war.
On March 9, the former actress shared an artist’s rendering of her iconic scene in the film with her coat color changed from red to blue to represent Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag, which she also shared as part of the post.
“She was always the symbol of hope,” wrote Dabrowska. “Let her be it again.”
In the days that followed, Dabrowska went to the Polish-Ukrainian border to help refugees there. She took to social media to ask for aid on their behalf.
“We need your help here at the Polish-Ukrainian border,” she wrote. “Every little bit helps: we need material and financial donations, you can also volunteer to help out in person. The situation is dramatic; I’m also a volunteer here, at the border, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes…”
Among those sights was the fallout from bombing by the Russian military.
“Today Russia bombed Yavoriv,” she wrote. “Only 20 kilometers from Poland. So close! I’m scared, but that only motivates me more to help refugees.”
She encountered a Ukrainian mother with her two kids fleeing the war who needed transport to a distant city near the German border.
“Usually we transport refugees in our area, but this time we couldn’t just say ‘no’. They were desperate to get to their sister. Those kids…my God, I can barely hold back my tears,” she wrote.
“I can’t tell you everything I saw there, because I don’t have rigth [sic] words in my mind…Nobody, who have never seen this, can’t imagine this nightmare in eyes of those people.”
On Wednesday, Dabrowska gave her first update in some time, posting a photo of herself and saying she and her mother were making progress in getting first aid kits to Ukrainian soldiers, setting up a mechanism for donations and “actively helping the refugees, physically or online.”
On the film’s 25th anniversary in 2018, Spielberg outlined how he saw the scene as a call to action against such atrocities, a call which Dabrowska is now heeding.
He told NBC News:
In the book, Oscar Schindler — Thomas Keneally’s book — could’t get over the fact that a little girl was walking during the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto — everyone was being put on trucks or shot in the street. One little girl in a red coat was being ignored by the SS. The SS were taking everybody, but somehow were ignoring this 6-year-old child walking down the street wearing the brightest color. And yet she wasn’t being seen. And to me that meant that the people — Roosevelt and Eisenhower and probably Stalin and Churchill — knew about the Holocaust. It was a well-kept secret, and [they] did nothing to stop it…For me, it was like a glaring red flag that, anybody who was watching, they could have seen.
You can watch the scene below.
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