Branko Lustig, 1932–2019
The Holocaust survivor who produced Schindler’s List
Branko Lustig was a 10-year-old prisoner at Auschwitz when Nazi guards ordered him to stand in the front row at a hanging. The young Croatian Jew watched as seven inmates were brought to the gallows and, moments before the bench was kicked out from under them, shouted in Yiddish, “Remember how we died! Tell the story about us!” Lustig would do just that. Years after his 1945 liberation, Lustig embarked on a career in film that eventually took him to Hollywood. There, in 1994, he shared the Best Picture Oscar for producing Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic, Schindler’s List. “I hope I fulfilled my obligation to the innocent victims of the Holocaust,” he said at the award ceremony.
Lustig was born in the city of Osijek “in what then was Yugoslavia and today is Croatia,” said The Washington Post. Most of his family was killed in World War II; his grandmother died in a gas chamber. When British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen, where he had been transferred from Auschwitz, “Lustig heard the sound of bagpipes and concluded he was dead.” The music, he recalled thinking, must have been “angels playing.”
He began work on Yugoslavian films in the 1950s, said The Hollywood Reporter. A job as a location manager on 1971’s Fiddler on the Roof “led to more international work,” including as assistant director on the Oscar-winning The Tin Drum and supervisor on the Holocaust drama Sophie’s Choice, another Oscar winner. But Lustig said his greatest achievement was the founding with Spielberg of the USC Shoah Foundation, which has recorded the testimony of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors. “It’s important that we not forget,” he said. “If you forget, [the Nazis] will have really beat you.”