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Girl in red coat from ‘Schindler’s List’ helps refugee children on Ukraine border

Volunteering with people fleeing to Poland, Oliwia Dabrowska, now 32, says she sees echoes of her iconic character in the kids she meets; hopes she can inspire action in others

Oliwia Dabrowska on the Ukrainian border in 2022; and as a child in the film 'Schindler's List' (Instagram; screenshot)
Oliwia Dabrowska on the Ukrainian border in 2022; and as a child in the film 'Schindler's List' (Instagram; screenshot)

The Polish woman who played the standout part of the girl in the red coat in the film “Schindler’s List” has been helping Ukrainians fleeing to her country, and says she hopes her iconic role as an innocent victim of war will help draw further attention to the plight of modern-day refugees.

Oliwia Dabrowska, 32, participated in the famous scene in the middle of the Holocaust movie when she was three years old. In it, Oskar Schindler, watching the dissolution of the Krakow Ghetto, suddenly notices a small child walking down the street. Strikingly, the girl’s red coat is the only bit of color in the entire black and white film. Later in the movie, Schindler sees the girl’s body loaded onto a cart.

Dabrowska, who lives in Krakow, told The Washington Post on Friday that when the war in Ukraine started and refugees began streaming into the country, she felt she had to do something. She convinced her mother to go with her to volunteer at the border, and spent weeks helping to connect refugees with families who could host them, as well as driving them to various destinations across the country.

Over 5 million Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia invaded on February 24, the UN refugee agency said Friday. Nearly six out of 10 Ukrainian refugees — 2,867,241 so far — have crossed into Poland.

“I decided to change my fear [of the war] into action, into helping people,” she told The Post.

Dabrowska works as a copywriter and has not been involved in the film business since her stint in Steven Spielberg’s film, but she said seeing refugee children had awakened in her the image of her young self.

“There were and still are a lot of children,” she said, “and I saw this little girl in the red coat in every child.”

She added: “I remember every single person, every single story. And all of those stories are very, very tragic and horrible. And I don’t think I will forget them in my life — ever.”

To help raise money for aid efforts, Dabrowska has now embraced her famous role more publicly. She says the girl symbolizes hope, innocence and the ability to inspire people to do good — as she did in the film for Schindler, the Nazi party member who went on to save many hundreds of Jews by employing them in his factory.

“I thought that, because of this symbol, I could speak to more people, I could involve more people — people who don’t know me as me, but they know I played this little girl in the red coat,” she said.

“There is no more important thing than helping refugees,” Dabrowska said. “This is my biggest purpose now.”

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