‘Schindler’s List’ producer speaks to Malibu Film Society

Academy Award-winning “Schindler’s List” producer Branko Lustig, veteran of the European and American film industry, was the guest of honor Saturday night at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue for a special 20th-anniversary screening of the film.

Approximately 60 attendees from both the Malibu Film Society and the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue were in attendance to hear from Lustig, whose film and television credits include “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Tin Drum,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Gladiator,” for which he won an Academy Award for Best Picture.

But it is 1993’s “Schindler’s List,” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Liam Neeson, for which he is perhaps most known. The film won seven Academy Awards in 1994, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Music.

The film is intensely personal to Lustig, a Croatian-born Jew who spent three years in the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps during World War II.

“I got into the film business because I wanted to memorize all these things that happened in the camps,” he said.

And memorize them he has. The youngest person in the camp, Branko was called “Benjamin” by his fellow prisoners. Many of his experiences were stark. He recalled seeing people hanging in a train station. Once, while the prisoners were assembled for roll call, a violist was playing and the German officer allowed them to put their caps on, turning the scene temporarily into “a giant synagogue without [a] roof,” he said.

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“There were two thousand people crying in the rain listening to a violin play…I will never forget,” Lustig recalled.

Lustig was 13 when Bergen- Belsen was liberated in 1945. Sick with typhoid, he postponed his bar mitzvah, returning to Auschwitz 65 years later in 2010 to celebrate the traditional Jewish ceremony marking the beginning of manhood.

The task of preserving the memory of the Holocaust grows more difficult by the year, he said. “In 1992, when production began, there were approximately 350,000- 400,000 survivors worldwide. We interviewed 50,000 of them” said Lustig. Approximately $300,000 was spent traveling the world searching for workers who were on Oskar Schindler’s famous list.

According to Lustig, the script for the movie was originally pitched ten years earlier, but due to a combination of issues, it was shelved for another decade. Today, there are only 70,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide.

MJCS Rabbi Judith HaLevy, introducing Lustig, asked for a showing of hands of those in attendance who knew of a survivor. About onethird raised their hands.

“Your offspring won’t know any,” HaLevy predicted.

MJCS Cantor Marcelo Gindlin then spoke, saying that many of the stories of the Holocaust were told (or sung) from generation to generation in Yiddish and through repetition. He sang one such song for the attendees. Many listened, nodded and expressed fluent understanding of the words as he performed.

Lustig concluded his remarks by announcing that he had sold his Southern California home and would be relocating back to Zagreb, Croatia, on May 8.

“I’ve made 53 years of movies, and I’m ready to go back,” he said.

On April 27th, the Malibu Film Society will present the 70th anniversary screening of “Casablanca” with an optional dinner of Moroccan cuisine by Tarte Catering and a special performance by jazz songstress Jacqui Hylton. For more information, visit www.malibufilmsociety.org.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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