Schindler's story went relatively unknown for several decades. It was only after emigrating to America that Leopold Pfefferberg (one of the Schindlerjuden) began talking to any author he could find about publishing the story. All were unreceptive. Thomas Keneally only happened to meet Pfefferberg by chance, and upon learning that he was a Holocaust survivor, immediately agreed to write their story.
After reading Schindler's Ark, Steven Spielberg immediately secured the rights to a film version. Originally, he was only going to produce the film. He offered Martin Scorsese the director's chair, who refused, saying that this movie had to be made by a Jewish filmmaker. He then offered Roman Polanski, a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor whose mother died in Auschwitz, to direct the movie. Polanski turned it down, finding the subject matter too personal; he would then proceed to direct The Pianist, nearly ten years later, by which time he was more comfortable dealing with his past.
For the scene where Schindler rode full speed towards Auschwitz to save the trainload of women mistakenly sent to death, they chose a motorcar which could not have been owned and used by Schindler in 1944 (a Daimler DE36) for the simple reason it has been designed in 1946 in Britain. All other cars are appropriate for the time and country: the other Schindler car, a Horch, the car Goeth rides in Plaszow, a Mercedes-Benz etc. No explanation is given why this car has been hired for a film so meticulously researched.
Ralph Fiennes agreed with Embeth Davidtz that in order to make their scene together more realistic and immediate, the Domestic Abuse situation between their characters would not be entirely mimed. Fiennes actually hit Davidtz in the scene where Goeth almost confesses his love for his Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch, and the scene was filmed in just one take. Embeth Davidtz had to wear an ice pack on her face for the rest of the day due to the brutality of the scene.
Producer Branko Lustig is one of the survivors of the Auschwitz camp.
Banned in China: In Indonesia. The country's Islamic leaders banned the film because they hated that it was sympathetic to the Jews.
Doing It for the Art: Spielberg refused to accept a director's salary for this film, feeling that doing so would be "blood money," and instead donated whatever money he would have made from it to a genocide studies organization. He also deliberately left the Amblin logo off of the film to keep it from appearing "whimsical" and refuses to autograph any promotional materials.
Fake Nationality: Schindler, who was Sudeten German, is portrayed by Liam Neeson, who is Irish; Goeth, who was Austrian, by Ralph Fiennes, who is English; and Stern, who was Polish, by Ben Kingsley, who is an Englishman of partially Indian descent. Several minor characters, however, are played by Polish actors. Since "Jewish" is not a nationality, virtually all the Jews portrayed in the film are this - most of them native Israeli actors feigning a vaguely eastern-European accent, or in some cases just using an Israeli accent.
While no one doubts the quality of the film ultimately released, Steven Spielberg was originally to serve as a producer, with previously considered directors including Sydney Pollack, Roman Polanski (who turned it down due to his own past as a Holocaust survivor, and a relative of some of the Schindlerjuden [though he would go on to direct The Pianist), and Martin Scorsese, who felt that the story could only be properly told by a Jewish filmmakernote Scorcese would go on to direct the Spielberg-produced Cape Fear and he would tackle the Holocaust briefly in Shutter Island. Billy Wilder also expressed interest in directing the film.
The real-life Poldek Pfefferberg lobbied for years to have Schindler's story brought to a wider audience. In 1963, he attempted to talk MGM into making a film version of Schindler's life, but the deal fell through. About twenty years later, he got Steven Spielberg's attention, but Spielberg wasn't sure he could do justice to Schindler's story and tried unsuccessfully to get Roman Polanski, among others, to do it instead.
Other contenders for the role of Oskar Schindler included Harrison Ford, Kevin Costner, and Mel Gibson. Ford turned it down because he didn't want his star power overwhelming the seriousness of the film, fearing people would only see Indiana Jones.