In 1940s Poland, the German conquerers have issued new anti-Jewish directives. All Jews must leave the countryside and concentrate in the major cities. They are crammed into the "Jewish Quarter" of town, in this case Krakow. They are relieved that the Nazis have not killed them, but life is very hard in the Ghetto.
Enter Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a scam artist from the German part of Czechoslovakia. He arrives in Krakow, intent on making his fortune as part of the "new order." He spreads money freely among the SS and Nazi hierarchy, and eventually makes contact with Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), a Jewish businessman. Stern agrees to raise money for Schindler to buy a cookware factory in exchange for product to trade on the black market. Schindler is "Director", but Stern actually runs the operation.
Things go well for Schindler until the Nazis decide to remove all Jews to concentration camps. A new one is built not far from Krakow, and the Jews are forcibly removed there. Schindler quickly realizes that his slave-labor force is at risk, and comes to an accommodation with the camp commander, the sociopathic SS officer Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes). Schindler is allowed to continue using people on a "list," and these will not be send off to the death camps. An equilibrium is again reached, though conditions in the camp are even worse than in the Krakow Ghetto.
As the war progresses, the SS becomes increasing frantic in its efforts to implement the "final solution." Goeth begins sending increasing numbers of people to Auschwitz, and Schindler's people are again at risk. Stern reminds his boss that the List is all that stands between them and extermination. Schindler even has to rescue Stern and a trainload of his workers from the gas chambers at one point.
Realizing that Poland is too dangerous, Schindler buys a munitions factory in his native Czechoslovakia and moves "his" people there. Several hundred Jews are saved by his actions, though the bribes and other expenses required to do this bankrupt Schindler, who was wealthy at the height of the war. In the end, Schindler is ruined, but the people on his List are saved.