Overview

Schindler’s List is a 1993 epic drama film directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg and scripted by Steven Zaillian. It is based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, an Australian novelist.

Storyline

Oskar Schindler is a vainglorious and greedy German businessman who becomes unlikely humanitarian amid the barbaric Nazi reign when he feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. A testament for the good in all of us. Written by Harald Mayr

Interesting facts

  • Tim Roth was considered for the role of Amon Goeth.
  • Billy Wilder contributed to the first draft of the screenplay. Wilder had many relatives who died in the Holocaust, and tried to convince Steven Spielberg to let him direct the film. Spielberg was already prepared to shoot the film in Poland, and turned it down.
  • Steven Spielberg’s first R-rated film.
  • As a producer, Steven Spielberg shopped directing duties on this film to numerous colleagues, because he was afraid he couldn’t do the story justice. He was turned down by Martin Scorsese (who was interested but ultimately felt it was a subject that should be done by a Jewish director), Roman Polanski (who didn’t feel he was yet ready to tackle the Holocaust after surviving it in childhood), and Billy Wilder (who wanted to make this as his last film). Apparently, it was Wilder who convinced Spielberg to direct it himself.
  • Director Steven Spielberg was able to get permission to film inside Auschwitz, but chose not to out of respect for the victims, so the scenes of the death camp were actually filmed outside the gates on a set constructed in a mirror image of the real location on the other side.
  • The film, as shown in most countries, had the song “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” – Jerusalem of Gold – at the end. When the film was shown in Israel, audiences laughed at this, as this song was written after the 1967 war as a pop song. They then re-dubbed the song “Eli Eli,” which was written by Hannah Sennesh during World War Two over the end. However, some criticized this decision as a misinterpretation of the scene, since the song serves as a lead-in to a scene that takes place in modern-day Israel (long after the release of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”) not during the Holocaust.
  • In October 1980, author Thomas Keneally was on his way back to Australia after a book signing when he stopped en route to the airport to buy a new briefcase in a Beverly Hills luggage shop owned by Leopold Pfefferberg – who had been one of the 1200 saved by Oskar Schindler. In the 50 minutes Keneally spent waiting for his credit card payment to clear, Pfefferberg persuaded him to go to the back room where the shopkeeper kept two cabinets filled with documents he had collected. Pfefferberg – who had told his story to every writer and producer who ever came into his store – eventually wore down Keneally’s reluctance, and the writer chose to make the story into his next book.
  • To gather costumes for 20,000 extras, the costume designer took out advertisements seeking clothes. As economic conditions were poor in Poland, many people were eager to sell clothing they still owned from the 1930s and ’40s.
  • The most expensive black & white film ever made to date. The previous record was held for over 30 years by another film about World War II, The Longest Day.
  • According to the art directors, no green paint or clothing were used on the set because the color would not show up well on black and white film. Special attention was paid to how much lighting or paint was used in order to appear correctly on film regardless of how unrealistic it seemed in real life.
  • Stellan Skarsgård was considered for the role of Oskar Schindler. The role went to Liam Neeson. Neeson was originally set to play Father Frank Merrin in Exorcist: The Beginning, but dropped out and was replaced with Skarsgård.
  • Harrison Ford was offered the title role but declined, saying that some people would not be able to look past him as a star to see the importance of the film.
  • The line “God forbid you ever get a taste for Jewish skirt. There is no future in it,” was spoken by Scherner, but in the original script was supposed to be spoken by Goeth. This is why in the next scene where Goeth says “When I said they didn’t have a future I didn’t mean tomorrow” doesn’t really make any sense since he didn’t say the line.
  • The original missing list of Schindler’s Jews was found in a suitcase together with his written legacy hidden in the attic of Schindler’s flat in Hildesheim in 1999. Oskar Schindler stayed there during the last few months before his death in 1974.
  • In the epilogue, all actors accompany the original Schindlerjuden they portray in the movie in pairs.
  • Swiss actor Bruno Ganz was sought to play the role of Oskar Schindler, but turned it down. Ganz later appeared in an important WWII movie, that of Adolf Hitler in Downfall.
  • About 40% of the film was shot using a handheld camera.
  • When we see the Jews marching across the bridge into the ghetto, this is not the direction they would have walked in real life. There was a large modern radio tower exists in direct view when walking in the correct historical direction across the bridge into the Krakow ghetto.
  • Without adjusting for inflation, this is the highest-grossing black-and-white film of all time (taking in $96 million domestically and $321 million worldwide).
  • There is a Jewish tradition that when one visits a grave, one leaves a small stone on the marker as a sign of respect. This is why the cast and the Schindlerjuden cover Oskar Schindler’s grave with stones at the end of the movie.
  • In reality it was not Itzhak Stern who helped Oskar Schindler put the list together, but Marcel Goldberg. Many survivors who speak of Goldberg do so with disdain, as he was unscrupulous in deciding who ended up on the list, reportedly accepting bribes from some Survivors, taking names off the list to add theirs instead.
  • In real life, Oskar Schindler was not arrested for kissing the Jewish girl at his birthday party. He was arrested three times for dealings in the black market.
  • The film’s tagline “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire” is a quotation from the Talmud.
  • Sidney Lumet was originally attached to direct but felt that he had already covered off the subject of the Holocaust with his film The Pawnbroker.
  • The only film released in the last quarter century to make it onto the American Film Institute’s top ten list of best American movies of all time.
  • Ranked #3 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time (2006).
  • [June 2008] Ranked #3 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Epic”.
  • In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #8 Greatest Movie of All Time.
  • The song being played when Schindler enters the night club and meets all of the Nazi officials is called “Por Una Cabeza”. The same song is played as the tango in the films True Lies and Scent of a Woman.
  • During filming, Ben Kingsley, who played Itzhak Stern, kept a picture of Anne Frank, the young girl who died in a concentration camp and whose personal diary was published after the Holocaust, in his coat pocket. Some years later, Kingsley played Otto Frank, Anne’s father, in the telefilm “Anne Frank: The Whole Story.”
  • During the liquidation scene, one man stops to remove something from the door post of his residence. What he removes is a Mezuzah, a case containing a passage from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), which Jews traditionally affix to the door frames of their houses as a constant reminder of God’s presence.
  • Ralph Fiennes put on 13kg by drinking Guinness for his role. Steven Spielberg cast him because of his “evil sexuality”.
  • Claire Danes was originally considered by Steven Spielberg for a role, but she turned it down because he couldn’t provide her with tutoring on the set. The part she was considered for is unknown.
  • Martin Scorsese turned down the chance to direct the film in the 1980s, as he felt he couldn’t do as good a job as a Jewish director. He agreed to swap films with Steven Spielberg, taking over Cape Fear instead.
  • Steven Spielberg began work on this film in Poland while Jurassic Park was in post-production. He worked on that film via satellite, with assistance from George Lucas.
  • The Krakow ghetto “liquidation” scene was only a page of action in the script, but Steven Spielberg turned it into 20 pages and 20 minutes of screen action “based on living witness testimony”. For example, the scene in which the young man escapes capture by German soldiers by telling them he was ordered to clear the luggage from the street was taken directly from a survivor’s story.
  • The person who places the flower on top of the stones in the closing credits is Liam Neeson and not Steven Spielberg, as some people think.
  • Steven Spielberg was not paid for this film. He refused to accept a salary citing that it would be “blood money”.
  • Steven Spielberg offered the job of director to Roman Polanski. Polanski turned it down because the subject was too personal. He had lived in the Krakow ghetto until the age of 8, when he escaped on the day of the liquidation. His mother later died at Auschwitz concentration camp. Polanski would later direct his own film about the Holocaust, The Pianist.
  • Steven Spielberg watched Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg six times before the shooting.
  • It is said that, during the filming, the atmosphere was so grim and depressing that Steven Spielberg asked his friend Robin Williams if he could film some comedy sketches.
  • At his insistence, all royalties and residuals from this film that would normally have gone to director Steven Spielberg instead are given to the Shoah Foundation, which records and preserves written and videotaped testimonies from survivors of genocide worldwide, including the Holocaust.
  • Steven Spielberg initially intended to make the film in Polish and German with English subtitles, but rethought the idea because he felt he wouldn’t be able to accurately assess performances in unfamiliar languages.
  • Steven Spielberg gave Liam Neeson home movies of his mentor Steve Ross – the late chairman of Time Warner – to help him develop his portrayal of Schindler.
  • After the book’s author Thomas Keneally wrote a miniseries-length script, Kurt Luedtke was hired by Steven Spielberg to write the screenplay, but he gave up after four years’ work.
  • When Steven Spielberg returned to Cal State Long Beach to earn his BA 34 years after dropping out, his film professor accepted this movie in place of the short student film normally required to pass the class. This movie had already won Spielberg Golden Globes and Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture.
  • At Steven Spielberg’s request, Aaron Sorkin did a “dialogue wash” on the excessively wordy script.
  • Steven Spielberg’s resolve to make the film became complete when studio executives asked him why he didn’t simply make a donation of some sort rather than wasting everyone’s time and money on a depressing film.
  • Juliette Binoche was offered a role, which she has described in interviews as a woman who was to be raped and then murdered, but she turned it down. She had already turned Steven Spielberg down once that same year, passing on the role of Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park to make Three Colors: Blue.
  • When Survivor Mila Pfefferberg was introduced to Ralph Fiennes on the set, she began shaking uncontrollably, as he reminded her too much of the real Amon Goeth.
  • Production designer Allan Starski’s replica of the forced labor camp at Plaszow was one of the largest sets ever built in Poland. The movie set was constructed from the plans of the original camp. The production built 34 barracks and seven watchtowers and also recreated the road into the camp that was paved with Jewish tombstones.
  • Both Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson offered their services, but Steven Spielberg decided to go with less familiar names, as the presence of a major star would be too distracting.
  • Violinist Itzhak Perlman performs John Williams’ haunting score on the soundtrack. Perlman is on record as saying that his contribution to the film is one of his proudest moments in an illustrious career.
  • Embeth Davidtz deliberately chose not to meet Helen Hirsch, the character she was playing in the film, until after shooting had been completed.
  • Sid Sheinberg brought “Schindler’s List” to Steven Spielberg’s attention when the novel was published in 1982 and purchased the rights, hoping that Spielberg would someday direct it. The movie’s enormous success finally came at around the same time that Sheinberg was leaving MCA/Universal.
  • The real Oskar Schindler was said to resemble George Sanders and Curd Jürgens.
  • As Oskar Schindler is given a tour of the camp, he passes a boy in prisoner’s clothing with his hands raised over his head and a sign hanging over him. It reads “jestem zlodziejem ziemniaków”, “I am a potato thief.”
  • Filming completed in 72 days, 4 days ahead of schedule. The same time was used for Steven Spielberg’s other movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and War of the Worlds.
  • When Oskar Schindler berates Itzhak Stern for sending too many force-labor camp workers to his factory, Stern (Ben Kingsley) reminds him about Amon Goeth shooting 25 men from Bejski’s camp. The Bejski that Stern refers to is none other than Moshe Bejski – who eventually became Schindler’s document forger and later the Israeli Supreme Court Judge from 1979 to 1991. He is mentioned in the book. In the list, he is #531 on the men’s list and occupation was a draftsman.
  • During the list scene, there was an exchange between Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) and Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) that goes as: Stern – “How many cigarettes do you smoke?” Schindler – “Too many”. This exchange was taken directly from a real-life exchange between Edward the Duke of Windsor and his physician (Edward was asked the exact question) weeks before his death in 1972.
  • A direct copy of the real list, which was among other things in Thomas Keneally collection, was found by the staff of the National Library in New South Wales, AU. The 13 page list, after the restoration, is displayed in the library’s museum.
  • Helen Hirsch is based on Helen Jonas (nee Sternlicht), whose story in shown in the documentary Inheritance.
  • One of two Best Picture Oscar winners to show a child jumping into the waste pond under a toilet. The other is Slumdog Millionaire.
  • During the night time raid on the Krakow ghetto by the SS, two officers see a man playing a piano and wonder if the music is Johann Sebastian Bach or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The piece is actually Bach’s “English Suite No.2 in A Minor” despite the one officer’s conclusion that it was Mozart.
  • Ironically, the set decorator on the film’s Polish crew is named Ewa Braun, which is almost the same name as Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s wife.
  • On Roger Ebert’s list of great movies.
  • “Schindler’s List” and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial are the two films Steven Spielberg would like to be remembered for.
  • Steven Spielberg waited 10 years to make the film because he felt he wasn’t ready to tackle the Holocaust in 1983 at the age of 37.
  • The film that finally netted Steven Spielberg the Oscar for best director, something that had eluded him in the past.
  • The Amblin logo, showing the bike flying past the moon from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a regular sight at the end of every Steven Spielberg film, isn’t present here, perhaps because of the somber subject matter.
  • Spielberg had to make Jurassic Park before “Schindler’s List”. It was even written into his contract because if he made “Schindler’s List” first, he would have been too drained to make “Jurassic Park”.
  • According to Czech filmmaker Juraj Herz, the scene where a group of women confuse a shower for a gas chamber was taken direct from his own The Night Overtake Me shot for shot. Herz wanted to sue but he couldn’t come up with the money to fund it.
  • Steven Spielberg refuses to autograph any materials related to this film.
  • This film’s closing epilogue states: “There are fewer than four thousand Jews left alive in Poland today. There are more than six thousand descendants of the Schindler Jews.” This film’s closing memorial / dedication states: “In memory of the more than six million Jews murdered.”

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