20 Facts About Schindler’s List That Make The Movie An Even More Poignant Experience

Few films of the modern age of cinema are as poignant as the 1993 historical biopic Schindler’s List. With legendary director Steven Spielberg at the helm, the film captured the true pain and horror  of the Holocaust. Irish actor Liam Neeson played the role of Oskar Schindler in his mission to free the Jewish people from the hands of the Nazis – ultimately garnering scores of awards and plaudits ever since its release. However, despite its huge reputation, some stones remain unturned. And the facts will give you a greater appreciation for this challenging but necessary piece of artistic work.

20. Not about the money

Director Spielberg refused to make any earnings at all from Schindler’s List. The legendary filmmaker deemed the proceeds to be “blood money,” and he refused to pocket them but donated them to a Shoah foundation set up in remembrance of the Holocaust by none other than Spielberg himself.

19. Landing the job in peculiar fashion

One thing that makes this challenging motion picture even more poignant is just how close to reality it is. This was highlighted on various occasions during the making of the movie (as you’ll see later on). But one thing that really stands out is producer Branko Lustig’s reason for getting the job. The Croatian revealed the tattoo that had been stamped on his arm at Auschwitz, and Spielberg was so moved that he hired him.

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18. Some much-needed comic relief

Indeed, given the intense subject matter, it’s unsurprising that morale was low from time to time on set. To help ease the tension, Spielberg would get late great funnyman Robin Williams to call him to help lighten the mood. Speaking onstage at the Beacon Theater in 2018, Spielberg said, “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule, and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone, and I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

17. Haunting filming location

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To really hit home the movie’s mirroring of actual events, Spielberg was granted access to several historical locations from the World War II era. It has to be said, few of them were as chilling as the infamous Krakow ghetto. The area bore witness to various unspeakable tragedies against Jewish people during the Holocaust. Consequently, its recurring appearance in Schindler’s List proved all the more haunting.

16. Building bridges

They may have been in a deadly conflict with one another, but society has thankfully evolved since the 1940s. So too has the relationship between the Germans and the Jews. And this was exemplified on the set of Schindler’s List, as Spielberg revealed. He said of one incident during the shoot, “The most moving thing that happened for me was on Passover. We had Passover at the hotel, and all the young German actors who were playing Nazis came in with yarmulkes and Haggadah [Passover prayer books] and sat with the Israeli actors and took part in the Passover service. I wept like a baby.”

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15. From obscurity to stardom

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You may know him now as the star of films such as Taken and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, but actor Liam Neeson wasn’t anywhere near as well known when he landed the lead role in Schindler’s List. However, it turns out that that was one of the reasons that he was chosen for the movie. Yes, despite the likes of Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner being considered for the part of Oskar Schindler, Neeson landed it partly due to his anonymity with cinemagoers – ultimately making for a more convincing portrayal.

14. No fiction required

If you’ve seen the movie, then you’ll be well aware of the iconic “girl in the red coat.” Why? Because she’s the only person in the movie to display any color – the rest being in black and white. It turns out, however, that the character is actually based on a real person by the name of Roma Ligocka – an actual survivor from the Krakow ghetto. There’s also a very eye-opening fact concerning the actress who played her. More on that later…

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13. Showing the love

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The story of Schindler’s List is one that was very near and dear to the director’s heart. Consequently, he wore that same heart on his sleeve during the premiere of the harrowing film in Warsaw. To show his love for the Jewish contingent, Spielberg played some Eastern European Jewish tunes on the saxophone.

12. Fresh wounds

With a subject matter so heavy, it’s no wonder some people might find the movie to be too much to endure. Notorious filmmaker Roman Polanski claimed this to be the case when Spielberg approached him to direct the movie. Having lived through the Holocaust as a child, Polanski deemed the experience too traumatic to relive again.

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11. All too much to take

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Polanski maybe saved himself a lot of grief as most people who worked on the movie were deeply affected by it. Composer John Williams found the first viewing experience so powerful that he had to get up and walk out to regain his composure. Spielberg himself couldn’t hold back the tears after watching several of the scenes back again.

10. Refusing to sign on the dotted line

Not only did Spielberg refuse to make any money from Schindler’s List, it seems he doesn’t want the general public profiting from it either. Yes, that’s why the famous director refuses to autograph any promotional material that people bring to him.

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9. Treasured mementos

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British actor Sir Ben Kingsley appeared in the film in the form of Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern. And behind the scenes, he too also made sure to remember those who had perished at the hands of the Nazis. But did you know that he actually retained a picture of beloved Holocaust victim Anne Frank? Indeed, Kingsley, it would appear, wanted to be as close to the subject matter as possible – culminating in a fine performance from the seasoned veteran.

8. No expense spared

Taking on a project with the sheer scope of Schindler’s List was never going to be an easy feat. Nothing highlighted that more than the grand scale of the set design. Incredibly, the carbon-copy version of the concentration camp at Plaszow was up there with some of the biggest sets ever erected in Poland. Sadly, those victim tombstones you see leading up to the camp were based on actual plans of the real-life site.

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7. Doing it out of respect

It wasn’t just the star attractions who made selfless commitments for the movie, but also the extras who appeared in it. That’s because many of them refused to take any form of compensation but, instead, volunteered their services for the good of the cause. It goes to show that human empathy perhaps trumps monetary value in the end.

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6. Sale of the century

Unfortunately, despite the passing of time since WWII and the making of Schindler’s List, economic problems were still prevalent in the nation of Poland. In fact, citizens were willing to trade items in exchange for money – and the opportunity arose when advertisements for Schindler’s List began surfacing. The ads called for various costumes from the ’30s and ’40s to be used for the large ensemble of extras. And with wealth in short supply at the time, Polish citizens flocked to sell their clothes.

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5. Earning approval from the Vatican City

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You’ve certainly created something special in the world of cinema when even the Vatican City takes notice of the accomplishment – and Schindler’s List just happens to be one of those movies. It was chosen by the Vatican City in the “values” category as one of the greatest films of all time. And it would certainly be hard to argue against the value of this pivotal biopic.

4. Religious scripture

Just like the real world event itself, Schindler’s List portrayed the role that religion played during Hitler’s rise to power – or lack thereof. This was on full display on the promotional poster courtesy of the tagline, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” In fact, this line can be found in the Jewish book of law The Talmud. The tagline was a lovely nod to religious scripture, while also highlighting the heart of the movie.

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3. Remembering those no longer with us

As we’ve discussed, Spielberg exhibited great respect for the victims of the Holocaust. However, nothing that he did showed as much appreciation as the gesture he made when it came to filming at the infamous Auschwitz. Despite being given access to film inside the concentration camps, Spielberg deemed it to be lacking in compassion to do so.

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2. A portrayal all too real

Spielberg definitely went for gritty realism with the movie, and for those who actually lived through it, that almost proved too much to handle. An example came when Holocaust survivor Mila Pfefferberg laid eyes upon Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth. Indeed, Fiennes’ portrayal was so close to real thing that Pfefferberg couldn’t stop shaking upon meeting the actor on set.

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1. Terrifying viewing experience

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Remember the “girl in the red coat?” We told you that wouldn’t be the last you heard of her. No, that’s because the actress who played her watched her performance in the movie at the tender age of 11 – despite Spielberg advising her to wait until she was 18. Unsurprisingly, actress Oliwia Dabrowska was disturbed by it. The Guardian reported her as saying in 2013, “It was too horrible. I could not understand much, but I was sure that I didn’t want to watch ever again in my life.” Thankfully, with time, Dabrowska came to appreciate this important piece of cinema.

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