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 the Auschwitz concentration camp. After learning this, Spielberg immediately and repeatedly apologized for bringing up such a traumatic memory. Polanski would later direct his own film about the Holocaust, The Pianist (2002).
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 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.
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.
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.
When Steven 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."
At his insistence (citing that it would be "blood money"), 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.
When the film was to be shown in the Philippines, the censors decided to cut out certain scenes of nudity and violence. When Steven Spielberg learned of this he wanted to pull the film out unless it was shown as it is. So Philippine President Fidel Ramos intervened and overruled the censors and the film was shown without any cuts.
Months before he landed the title role, Liam Neeson had auditioned for Schindler but, assuming that he'd never get the part, accepted instead an offer to play opposite wife-to-be Natasha Richardson in a Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie" at New York's Criterion Center in 1993. After a performance one evening, Neeson was in his dressing when a knock on the the door announced the arrival of Steven Spielberg, wife Kate Capshaw and her mother. After Spielberg had introduced his wife and mother-in-law, Neeson hugged the older woman in a manner that stuck with Capshaw, who later commented to husband Steven, "That's just what Oskar Schindler would have done". Neeson received a call a week later from Spielberg with the offer of the lead role.
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 and neither were European actors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Anne Frank: The Whole Story (2001).
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.
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. He agreed to hand the project to Steven Spielberg, who was working on Cape Fear (1991), which Scorsese took over), 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.
The story features a character called Poldek Pfefferberg. Later, a Leopold Pfefferberg places a stone on Schindler's grave. Finally, a Leopold Page is credited as a consultant on the film. Despite the different names, these all refer to the same person. Poldek Pfefferberg changed his name to Leopold Page after the war when he moved to the United States.
As 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."
Spielberg had to make Jurassic Park (1993) before "Schindler's List" in terms of his projects for 1993. It was even written into his contract because had he made "Schindler's List" first, he would have been too drained to make "Jurassic Park".
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.
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.
When Schindler berates Itzhak Stern for sending too many force-labor camp workers to his factory, Stern 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 Oskar 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.
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.
The Amblin logo, showing the bike flying past the moon from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), a regular sight at the end of every Steven Spielberg film, isn't present here, perhaps because of the somber subject matter.
Contrary to popular belief, this was not the first film Steven Spielberg directed that received an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. That credit goes to his short film Amblin' (1968).
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 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 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.
When Steven Spielberg was dividing time between Schindler's List and Jurassic Park (1993), he was in contact with ILM four times a week via satellite. He described the extra workload as "a bipolar experience, with every ounce of intuition on Schindler's List and every ounce of craft on Jurassic Park (1993). He rented two satellite channels through a Polish television station (for $1.5 million a week), keeping them open at all times. He downloaded from Hollywood each day the visuals on one and the sound through the other. He then spent his evenings and weekends working on them with video equipment.
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 in direct view when walking in the correct historical direction across the bridge into the Krakow ghetto.
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 (1994) and Scent of a Woman (1992).
This film's 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."
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.
The film was banned in several Muslim-majority nations, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Lebanon and Egypt. The general excuse for the bans was that the film was unfair towards Germans (meaning Nazis) and overly sympathetic to Jews. Neo-Nazis in Western countries, including the U.S. and Canada, campaigned for the film to be banned there but were entirely ignored.
During the list scene, there was an exchange between Itzhak Stern and Oskar Schindler 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.
After one of Schindler's workers is killed by the SS, mention is made of the "SS Office of Budget and Construction" which was an agency set up in the late 1930s to coordinate construction (and later slave labor) projects in occupied territories. This office was merged with several others in 1941 to become the extremely powerful "SS Main Office of Economics and Administration", known as the WVHA, which ran all slave labor and concentration camps throughout Nazi Germany. Department W of the WVHA (which Schindler mentions at the end of the film) was in charge of labor projects and frequently came into conflict with Department D (Concentration Camps) whose SS personnel were often the ones who arbitrarily killed workers.
One of two films where Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson's characters pretend to be allies of each other while making separate schemes for themselves. In here, Neeson's character wants to save people from death while in Clash of the Titans (2010) Fiennes character wants to destroy people.
The first war film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since Platoon (1986), a gap of seven years. The first predominantly black-and-white war film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since The Longest Day (1962), a gap of thirty-one years. The first predominantly black-and-white World War II war film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since From Here to Eternity (1953), a gap of forty years. Other black-and-white World War II war films which have won the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar include Mrs. Miniver (1942); Casablanca (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). As such, "Schindler's List" is the fifth black-and-white World War II war film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar. The first World War II film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since Patton (1970), a gap of twenty-three years. The first World War II film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since John Boorman's Hope and Glory (1987), a gap of six years. The first predominantly black-and-white film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since The Apartment (1960), a gap of thirty-three years. The first war film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since Born on the Fourth of July (1989), a gap of four years. The first predominantly black-and-white film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since both The Elephant Man (1980) and Raging Bull (1980), a gap of thirteen years. The first Steven Spielberg war film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture since Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), a gap of twelve years. The first Spielberg war film since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), a gap of four years.
The Set Decorator on this film, who shared the Best Art Direction Academy Award with Allan Starski, is named Ewa Braun. Eva Braun was also the name of Adolf Hitler's mistress. Billy Crystal later said that he regretted not being the host of the Oscars that year because he heard the name on television and wanted to call host Whoopi Goldberg right away and point out the odd coincidence.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
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 ending of real life survivors visiting Oskar Schindler's grave was not in the script. Steven Spielberg had the idea in the middle of filming, Locating the survivors and arranging the gathering on short notice was a challenge.
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.
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 explains the epilogue where the cast and the Schindlerjuden cover Oskar Schindler's grave with stones.
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.
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.
During the Jewish ghetto liquidation scene, a Jewish boy being dragged by two Schutz-Staffel soldiers is shot and killed by a third SS man as the SS soldiers walk towards him. What follows is a heated exchange between the two SS soldiers. In the subtitles of the DVD version, it is possible to see exactly what is being said in the original German. The text translates as: "Just what did you think you were shooting at, are you crazy? With this rifle you could have shot me! You came that close to shooting me!" The second soldier then says something that includes "Entschuldigung", which is "apologies" in German. The NCO then responds with: "What do we call excuses here? You are certainly crazy!" Thus, the translation sheds light that the SS soldier was not concerned that the Jewish boy had just been murdered, but rather that the SS soldier was in the line of fire.
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 (1986) shot for shot. Herz wanted to sue but he couldn't come up with the money to fund it.