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. Pfefferberg had been trying to get a movie made for years, with the first attempt starting at MGM in 1963.
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.
The iconic final scene (where the real life Schindlerjuden, accompanied by their children and Emile Schindler, pay their respects to Schindler's grave), almost didn't make it into the movie. Spielberg came up with the idea halfway through, and the studio scrambled to find the 128 survivors and fly them to Germany for the filming.
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.
Ralph Fiennes looked so much like the real Amon Goeth in costume that survivor Mila Pfefferberg nearly had a panic attack on seeing him in character for the first time.
Producer Branko Lustig is one of the survivors of the Auschwitz camp.
Spielberg took his kids to Poland and the camps for filming. Whilst the eldest was 16, she is almost 10 years older than the second, and the youngest at the time was only 1.
Understandably, filming much of the movie was extremely distressing for everyone involved. For part of the shoot, Robin Williams would cheer up the cast and crew every day.
Banned in China: In Indonesia. The country's Islamic leaders banned the film because they hated that it was sympathetic to the Jews.
Creator Backlash: Zigzagged Trope, Oliwia Dąbrowska, who played the Little Girl in the Red Coat was 3 when filming, was instructed by Spielberg not to watch the movie until she turned 18. She disregarded the advice and watched it when she was 11 and was horrified by it. For many years she lashed out against her role in the movie, until she watched it again as a college student. She has since became proud of her role in it.
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.
Referenced by...: Canadian figure skater Roman Sadovsky performed to the Schindler's List soundtrack for his long program during the 2018-2019 competitive season. His costume evokes the filth and blood of a concentration camp prisoner (he confirms in this interview that his performance is about the Holocaust) and the jumps represent hard labour.
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), Sidney Lumet (who felt that he had already covered the subject of the Holocaust, with The Pawnbroker) and Martin Scorsese, who felt that the story could only be properly told by a Jewish filmmakernote In turn, Spielberg handed his directing gig for the 1991 version of Cape Fear over to Scorsese (he stayed on as producer), and Scorsese 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.