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.
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.
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).
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.
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 he told Spielberg he deserved a better composer. Spielberg replied, "I know, but they're all dead."
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.
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.
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.
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 room 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.
During production, the atmosphere was so grim and depressing that Steven Spielberg asked his friend Robin Williams if he could tell some jokes and do comedy sketches while Spielberg would watch episodes of Seinfeld (1989). Some of Williams' sketches, while played through the speaker phone to the cast and crew, ended up being part of dialogue material for his character in Aladdin (1992), the Genie.
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.
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.
Production designer Allan Starski's replica of the forced labor camp at Plaszow was one of the largest sets ever built in Poland. The set was constructed from the plans of the original camp. The production built 34 barracks and seven watchtowers and also re-created the road into the camp that was paved with Jewish tombstones.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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 nighttime 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.
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.
When Schindler berates Itzhak Stern for sending too many forced-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 Moshe Bejski, who eventually became Oskar Schindler's document forger and later an Israeli Supreme Court Judge from 1979-91. He is mentioned in the book. In the list he is #531 on the men's list and his occupation was a draftsman.
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 it was shown in Israel audiences laughed at this, as this song was written after the 1967 war as a pop song. The producers then re-dubbed the song "Eli Eli," which was written by Hannah Senesh 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.
The cufflinks Schindler is seen putting on in the opening scene have the logo of the Seabourn cruise line on them. Steven Spielberg was given them as a gift by his cousin, who had taken a Seabourn cruise.
When Steven Spielberg was dividing time between this film and Jurassic Park (1993), he was in contact with special-effects company Industrial Light & Magic (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'.". 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 nightclub and meets all of the Nazi officials is called "Por Una Cabeza". The same song is played as the tango in 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."
The film was banned in several Muslim-majority nations, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Lebanon and Egypt. The general excuse was that it was "unfair" towards Germans (meaning Nazis) and overly sympathetic to Jews. Neo-Nazis in Western countries, including the US and Canada, campaigned for the film to be banned there but were ignored.
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.
During the list scene, there was an exchange between Itzhak Stern and Oskar Schindler. Stern--"How many cigarettes do you smoke?" Schindler--"Too many". This 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.
Thomas Keneally (the author of the book "Schindler's List") has claimed in an interview that he was personally shown a six-hour-plus "rough cut" of the film by Steven Spielberg that he found far better than the final theatrical version. As of 2016, this rough-cut version has never been released in any authorized format.
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.
In a memorable scene when Poldek Pfefferberg (Jonathan Sagall) runs into a German patrol during the Ghetto clearing he is forced to improvise and snaps to attention and salutes the Germans with two fingers to his forehead (he explains that he was ordered to clear the road of rubble so the troops could run without hindrance). This two-finger salute is actually the correct way of saluting in the Polish military, though the Germans were obviously not impressed by it.
When SS Commandant Amon Goeth tries to shoot one of the laborers both of his pistols jam, which results in the laborer being spared. Goeth's first pistol is a Walther P38, a common sidearm for German soldiers during World War II (and seen frequently throughout this film). The second pistol that Goeth tries to use, but which also jams after pulling it out of his pocket, is a Czech CZ Vz-27 semi-automatic. These were produce by CZ before the war in Czechoslovakia, but during the German occupation were produced under German direction. These pistols were issued to German police, SS, and some army units during the war. The possible reason that both usually reliable pistols jammed is that many of the Walther P38s and CZ-27s were made by in factories by forced (i.e., slave) laborers who may have sabotaged them, a fairly common occurrence in those types of factories during the war.
This is the first war film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since Platoon (1986), the first predominantly black-and-white war film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since The Longest Day (1962) and 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. It is also 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), 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), the first predominantly black-and-white film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since The Apartment (1960), the first war film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar since Born on the Fourth of July (1989), 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). It is the first Steven Spielberg war film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture since Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); the first was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
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.
in a TV interview with Larry King on Larry King Live (1985), Dustin Hoffman claimed that he was originally offered the role of Isaac Stern by Steven Spielberg and accepted it, but was quoted in the media as declining the part, due to a mix-up in communication between his agent and Spielberg. However, he praised Ben Kingsley's performance of Isaac Stern as "a marvelous job".
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 Leopold Pfefferberg escapes capture by German soldiers by telling them he was ordered to clear the luggage from the street and saluting them was taken directly from his own account.
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, Australia. The 13-page list, after the restoration, is displayed in the library's museum.
During the Jewish ghetto liquidation scene, a Jewish boy being dragged by two SS soldiers is shot and killed by a third SS man as the other 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 he himself was in the line of fire.
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.
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 Zastihla me noc (1986) shot for shot. Herz wanted to sue but he couldn't come up with the money to fund it.