The film opens with a Sabbath ceremony and it's all in color. A hand lights a candle, and while the flame stays in color, the rest of the world fades to black and white. That's Spielberg's way of moving us from a time before Nazism sucked the color out of the world and into the darkness of Nazi Germany.
But there's more than that.
For the Jewish people, lighting the candle represents their relationship with God in observing the commandment to keep the Sabbath. The lighting of the candle in the first scene means that Spielberg wants to start out with a strong affirmation of the Jewish faith. He wants to let us know that this is a Jewish story, not a Nazi story.
As the brief scene concludes, the candle goes out, which it's supposed to do. That is one loaded image, because Jewish life in Europe is about to be extinguished, just like that candle.
And speaking of God, maybe that flame going out is Spielberg's way of answering the FAQ: Where was God during the Holocaust?
Devout people of all faiths asked that question. Wading into this discussion is way above Shmoop's pay grade, but we think Spielberg is hinting at it here with the transition scene from the candle blessings to the trains deporting Jews from their homes. It's the beginning of the end for them.
Late in the film, another candle is lit for a Sabbath ceremony in the factory. And like that first candle, it contains a subtle amount of color. Not only does that link the past and the present, but it represents the small flicker of Jewish life that's been kept alive to keep burning. The Nazis killed most of the Jews of Europe, but not all of them.