This year marks the 20th anniversary of “Schindler’s List” dominating the Academy Awards. The Steven Spielberg film about a German Nazi party member who saved 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust has become a classic. Its award-winning musical score was even used recently, amid some controversy, in a routine by Russian figure skater Yulia Lipnitskaia at the Sochi Olympics.
The making of “Schindler’s List” though sparked controversy, with the World Jewish Congress and Auschwitz Museum Council initially concerned that Spielberg’s filming onsite at Auschwitz would mar the site’s dignity. The parties reached an amicable agreement, however, with Spielberg agreeing not to employ numerous extras nor erect a replica gas chamber at the site. He also assured Jewish leaders, in the words of a JTA report, that “only a ‘symbolic scene’ would be staged” at Auschwitz, “showing the arrival of Jewish prisoners at the Auschwitz train terminal.”
For the final scene, Spielberg brought together 125 of the survivors saved by Schindler, most of them in their 70s and 80s. Many had not seen one another since the end of the war, so the filming spurred a reunion. “Twenty-five of the survivors were flown to Israel at Spielberg’s expense, and the chance to appear in the film proved both exciting and heart-wrenching,” JTA reported.
As one survivor put it:
“There are no words to describe how I feel,” said Edith Wertheim, who now lives in Fort Lee, N.J. “In the filming at the cemetery, we stood by the grave of the man who risked everything and spent every penny he had to save our lives.” Wiping a tear from her cheek, she smiled sadly and said, “I’m sorry, but I get very sentimental. I cry all the time, ever since the war. Only my brother survived. Everyone else in my family perished.”