The girl in the red coat has grown up to be a woman in a yellow vest, but for many people, Oliwia Dabrowska is still a symbol of hope. The actress who made her film debut at the age of four in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is now a 32-year-old copywriter in Poland, but she has spent the last few weeks on the Ukrainian border aiding refugees.
“I can’t tell you everything I saw there, because I don’t have right words in my mind,” she wrote in a plea for financial assistance. “Nobody, who have never seen this, can’t imagine this nightmare in eyes of those people.”
Her first border post came on March 13th after “Russia bombed Yavoriv [Ukraine]. Only 20 kilometers from Poland. So close! I’m scared, but that only motivates me more to help refugees.” She was especially moved by young children, adding, “Those kids… my God, I can barely hold back my tears.”
On April 5th, she revealed a foreign currency account that she said is “ready to receive donations for the Ukrainian refugees.” She continued, “I have named this charity event #HopeForUkraine, because the thing we need the most at the moment is hope.”
In Spielberg’s masterpiece, Dabrowska wasn’t just the only splash of color in a black and white world, she was a symbol — of the next generation, as well as all the Jewish blood that the Nazis would spill.
“It was as obvious as a little girl wearing a red coat, walking down the street, and yet nothing was done to bomb the German rail lines,” Spielberg is quoted as saying in Richard Schickel’s Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective. “Nothing was being done to slow down… the annihilation of European Jewry. So that was my message in letting that scene be in color.”
Her character’s death is an important moment for Nazi party member Oskar Schindler, who risks more and more to protect Jewish people in Kraków, Poland. The movie was based on a true story, and went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
As Dabrowska told The Times in 2013, she struggled with the film’s legacy. Despite a promise to Spielberg that she would wait to watch it until she reached 18, she instead viewed it at 11, an experience that she said left her “horrified,” and “traumatized for years.” Later, she said, she realized she “had been part of something I could be proud of. Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watch the film.”
Now, she’s calling for collective action while rejecting the idea of individual heroism. “Please remember though, that it is not my sole achievement but the cooperation and combined effort of a group of people that I am a part of — even though I do coordinate some actions, I’m just a cog in the machine and I’m pleased there’s so many of us!” Check out her full statements, as well as details about how to donate, in her Instagram posts below.
The human toll of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine continues to grow, and there’s mounting evidence that Russian soldiers are committing heinous war crimes. So far, the US and NATO have ruled out direct military intervention out of fear it could escalate to nuclear war. President Biden recently pledged an additional $800 million in Ukrainian aid, bringing the total US investment to well over $1 billion.
The entertainment industry has also been trying to help: Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher raised $35 million, Metallica’s foundation recently donated $500,00, and Benedict Cumberbatch is planning to personally host refugees. On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared on the Grammys broadcast to ask for more aid, contrasting a night of music with “the silence of ruined cities and killed people.”