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It was clear from the premiere, heck from the announcement that the film was being made, that Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was going to be a big player on Oscar night. It is a marvelous, gripping, unsettling look at the Holocaust. Here are 15 things to know about this epic masterpiece from the master filmmaker…
1. Steven Spielberg was not paid for this film. He refused to accept a salary, citing that it would be “blood money.” Makes sense.
2. Spielberg offered the job of director to Roman Polanski. Polanski turned it down because the subject to him 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.
3. 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.
4. When Spielberg first showed ‘John Williams’ a cut of the film, Williams was so moved he had to take a walk outside for several minutes to collect himself. Upon his return, Williams told Spielberg he deserved a better composer. Spielberg replied, “I know, but they’re all dead.”
5. 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.”
6. During the scene in which the last of the Krakow Jews are taken from their homes to be relocated to the ghetto, 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.
7. 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).
8. 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.
9. Liam Neeson admitted in a 60 Minutes interview that he was disappointed in his performance in this film. He stated “I didn’t own the part. I didn’t see enough of me in there.”
10. Dustin Hoffman stated in a 1994 interview with Larry King that he had spoken to Steven Spielberg about playing Itzhak Stern but their communications became confused, and Spielberg mistakenly believed that Hoffman turned down the role.
11. Though Oskar Schindler did in fact have a Jewish accountant named Itzhak Stern, his role is expanded in the movie, where he serves as a composite of several accountants Schindler had working for him.
12. This was family-friendly Steven Spielberg’s first R-rated film.
13. 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.