• Golden Globe Awards

Out of the Archives, 1993: Steven Spielberg on “Schindler’s List”

Steven Spielberg, nominated as Best Director at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards for West Side Story, won his first of three Golden Globes out of a record 18 nominations in 1994 for directing Schindler’s List. The 2009 recipient of the Cecil B. deMille award, spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 1993 about why he decided to film the true story of German industrialist Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson) who saved 1,300 Jews from Nazi concentration camps in World War II. Sadly, those reasons, Neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, are still with us today.
These are the world events that compelled Spielberg to make Schindler’s List in 1993: “Nothing, no movie, no book, not even a presidential influence is going to stop what’s happening in Bosnia right now, it’s going to take an entire world effort to pull all these sides apart. So, I had come to the end of my patience with the ethnic cleansing, that terrible word being used in Bosnia regarding certain atrocities and genocide, but I was at the end of my rope with the Holocaust deniers who in 1990 began to talk more. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, there were many more acts of violence from Neo-Nazi groups. So, I felt that this was the right time, even though it meant more work to overlap Jurassic Park with Schindler’s List, to have this picture come out now than wait another year, because things were happening. I don’t think any movie can save the world, but if this film could at least raise the consciousness level a little higher and people were able to find a very strong metaphor for what’s happening today in the world through the Holocaust, then this was the right time to make Schindler’s List.
The director had acquired the rights to Schindler’s Ark, the 1982 non-fiction novel by Thomas Kennelly, 10 years prior, but was not emotionally ready to direct this kind film at that time: “I’m not quite sure how it would have been 10 years ago, or even six years ago, but it would not have been the same movie, it probably would have been a much softer film, I wouldn’t have had the courage or the guts to do it this way. I had a feeling I’d never had before, it was the only time in my entire life that I took on a project where I didn’t care about all the things that I used to care about, such as audience attendance, box-office or whether it made any money. I wasn’t ready to not care in the early 80s or in the mid-80s, it took me having kids, being a dad to my five children now, who are going to someday ask me about the Holocaust and I’m going to have to tell them. I speak better on film than I do in words, and this is a better way to tell them about it, when they’re old enough to see the film.”
This is what a young Spielberg learned about the Holocaust from his parents, having been born in December 1946, after the end of World War II: “The Holocaust shaped me in the fact that my parents talked about it incessantly. We lost eight relatives in Eastern Europe in forced labor camps, and we don’t even know when, because they were in countries where the Germans weren’t keeping such good records. And because of that my parents talked about this all the time, as my grandparents did, so I was raised with a lot of candid expression of rage. My parents were never sad for the Jews, they never felt sorry for the victims of the Holocaust, they were outraged against the Nazis. I was raised with anger toward Hitler and the Nazis, and when you hear it over and over again as a youngster growing up, it becomes part of your reality. part of your world. So, in a sense this is something that I’ve known about for a long time, I just haven’t expressed it before. This movie has changed my life.”
The Jewish director made Schindler’s’ List for the younger generations, who don’t know about the Holocaust: “This movie isn’t for the people who have already been through the Shoah, it is meant for people who don’t know anything about it, especially the younger generation. Not many high school students in this country have heard about the Holocaust, 23% don’t think it’s possible that it ever happened, and 60% of all high school kids don’t know the meaning of the term Holocaust. There’s a great deal of ignorance in the world about something that was so prominent and heinous and there’s a lot of effort to avoid learning very much about it, because the truth in this instance is horribly deforming, and I can understand that. The only way this film will succeed is if the people who see it want to share it and bring other people into the theater, to physically sit them down to see the picture. I know I’m asking a lot from the audience to go through this, but it’s nothing compared to what really occurred.”
Spielberg felt no animosity against the Germans of today, despite his feelings he had when he would see the actors dressed in Nazi uniforms: “I did go into the production with a lot of anger and the anger did come out often when the German actors put on the Waffen-SS uniforms; when they were coming over asking me about how it was to make E.T. and how much they liked Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was having trouble talking to them in those uniforms and I was angry. But in terms of influencing the perception of the Germans today, I went into this movie not ever having in my heart any blame for the sins of the fathers being passed along to their sons and daughters. I was brought up in a home where my parents never taught us to blame a generation for a former generation.”
His feelings of anger dissipated toward the end of the shooting, when the German and Israeli actors came together for Passover: “Everybody who plays a Nazi in Schindler’s List is a German actor, except for one who was Polish, and we had an amazing experience in Poland, when all the German actors came to the Passover seder in Krakow. They put on yarmulkes, they sat there with prayer books, the Haggadahs, opened up before them, and the Israeli actors moved their chairs next to the German actors. It was never the same after that for me, it was all very good between us, some kind of closure happened that day and I wept, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It wasn’t unusual because these are actors, they are people like us, but there was something symbolic about what they did in attending the Passover seder that really made me want to go to Germany and talk about the picture in person there to young Germans.”