Last week, Branko Lustig, the double-Academy Award-winning producer of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000), passed away. A Holocaust survivor, he was also a driving force behind the awe-inspiring USC Shoah Foundation, whose mission is “to develop empathy, understanding and respect through testimony.” (The organization has recorded tens of thousands of audiovisual oral histories with Holocaust survivors and many others.) As they explain in their remembrance of him:
Shortly after [Schindler’s List‘s] 1993 release, Lustig — who witnessed horrific atrocities at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and other concentration and labor camps — led the drive to implement Steven Spielberg’s vision of collecting 50,000 Holocaust testimonies for what was then called Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
“Branko was an essential guide throughout the production of Schindler’s List and the subsequent establishment of Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation,” said Stephen Smith, USC Shoah Foundation’s Finci-Viterbi Executive Director. “He helped set the tone for the organization so his fellow survivors – witnesses from around the world – would feel comfortable to come forward to share their stories.”
I met Lustig at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis many, many years ago. He signed my copy of (Thomas Keneally’s novel) Schindler’s List (1982), and left me struck by his kindness in the brief few moments that we talked. I was, after all, just a dopey teenager with a tunnel-vision interest in “the movies,” and no sense that I would later become far more interested in the kind of work Lustig was doing with the USC Shoah Foundation. He didn’t have to be quite as warm and generous as he was, which make his warmth and generosity that much more impressive in retrospect.
I’m sad to note his passing.