Branko Lustig, 87, Holocaust Survivor Turned Film Producer, Dies

Branko Lustig, 87, Holocaust Survivor Turned Film Producer, Dies

Nearly 50 years after his liberation from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Branko Lustig stood onstage at the 1994 Academy Awards ceremony to accept an Oscar for best picture as one of three producers of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.”

“My number was 83317,” he said of the tattoo that was inked on his left arm by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1943. “It’s a long way from Auschwitz to this stage.”

It was a remarkable moment for Mr. Lustig, a Croatian Jew who had survived several concentration and labor camps by the time he was 12; worked on movie sets for decades in Europe; and secured his position on “Schindler’s List — the story of a factory owner in Poland who saved more than 1,000 of his Jewish workers from Nazi persecution — when he showed Mr. Spielberg his tattoo at their first meeting.

Mr. Spielberg recalled in a statement that he had hired Mr. Lustig as a producer after Mr. Lustig had “insisted his award-winning film credits were irrelevant and that his qualification to work on the film was simple and singular.”

Mr. Lustig, who went on to win a second Oscar as a producer of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” (2000), died on Nov. 13 in Zagreb, Croatia, at 87. His daughter, Sara Lustig, said the cause was heart failure.

“Schindler’s List” was not the first time Mr. Lustig revisited the Holocaust. Working in Yugoslavia, he had been a production supervisor for “Sophie’s Choice,” the 1983 film adaptation of William Styron’s novel about a Holocaust survivor (Meryl Streep) in postwar Brooklyn who is confronted by horrific flashbacks to Auschwitz.

In 1986 he returned to Auschwitz itself as an associate director of “War and Remembrance,” the 12-part World War II television mini-series starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Seymour — a sequel to “The Winds of War” (1983), on which Mr. Lustig had also worked. Both mini-series were based on novels by Herman Wouk.

Before the cameras rolled at Auschwitz, Mr. Lustig asked the crew to say a prayer for the dead.

At first, he recalled, he had sensed that there was something inappropriate about filming on what he called sacred ground.

“I was looking at the people walking around,” he told The New York Times in 1986. “We have our lunch breaks in the same barracks where tens of thousands of people were dying, and we walk on the same ground, and no one pays attention.”

But he recognized the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust as its survivors died and as doubters suggested that the Nazi genocide had not happened.

“As we film, I cling to being a professional, like the others,” he added. “But once in a while, when we film children, I break down. When I was 12, I was here, and my duties were to open the bar underneath the gate that said, ‘Arbeit macht frei’” — “Work sets you free” — “when officers arrived.”

Mr. Lustig was born on June 10, 1932, in Osijek, Yugoslavia. After the Nazis invaded, he and his parents fled to Hungary, where his grandparents lived. But the safety they hoped for did not materialize.

His father, Mirko, a maitre dhotel, was sent to a labor camp and died there. Branko and his mother, Vilma (Gütter) Lustig, were deported to Auschwitz in 1943.

Branko, an only child, was sent to a labor camp in Fürstengrube, near Auschwitz, where he and other prisoners were forced one day to watch six inmates hang.

“They shouted in Yiddish, ‘Don’t let us forget — remember us!’” Mr. Lustig said in his testimony to the USC Shoah Foundation in 1995. “‘You should live well!’”

He was taken to other camps and returned to Auschwitz for a while. At Bergen-Belsen, he learned that his mother had not died, as nearly everyone else in his family had. They were reunited soon after they were liberated.

After the war he acted in plays at displaced persons camps, and from 1951 to 1955 he studied acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb. He shifted to the production side of movies after serving as a translator on some films.

Over the next three decades he held various jobs, including location manager (for “Fiddler on the Roof”), assistant director (“The Tin Drum”) and unit manager (“As the Sea Rages”).

“War and Remembrance” was a bridge of sorts to “Schindler’s List,” and to producing films by Mr. Scott, among them “Hannibal,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “American Gangster” as well as “Gladiator,” which starred Russell Crowe as a former Roman general forced to become a common gladiator for the public’s bloody entertainment.

His “Schindler’s List” Oscar was only one legacy of that film. He and the other producers, Mr. Spielberg and Jerry Molen, conceived the idea of what became the USC Shoah Foundation on their flight from Israel, where they had shot the final scene (depicting those who had been saved by Oskar Schindler placing stones on his grave in Jerusalem).

Mr. Spielberg’s idea to record the testimony of all the Schindler survivors grew into an even more ambitious thought — to interview, if possible, every Holocaust survivor worldwide. That idea was adopted. The foundation’s visual history archive features the testimonies of 55,000 people.

June Beallor, a founding executive director of the foundation, which is on the campus of the University of Southern California, said in a phone interview that Mr. Lustig had served as an adviser. He helped train the project’s interviewers; suggested countries in which to take testimonies; gave his assessments of interviews of fellow Croatian survivors; and spoke around the world about the project.

Karen Kushell, a former head of special projects at Amblin Entertainment, Mr. Spielberg’s production company, wrote in an email, “Branko’s considerable abilities as a producer were invaluable in the formation of the foundation, but his connection as a survivor himself brought a gravity and power and inspired all of us associated with the organization.”

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Lustig is survived by his wife, Mirjana Lustig.

As a youth, Mr. Lustig, who was nearing his 13th birthday when Bergen-Belsen was liberated, never had a bar mitzvah. But in 2011 he returned to Auschwitz to celebrate that Jewish ritual of becoming a man, holding it in front of Barrack 24, where he had been incarcerated.

“Tolerance is my bar mitzvah message today,” he said at the ceremony. “And ‘never again’ is my hope and dream for always.”

Source link

About The Author

We are independent. we bring you the Real news from around the world.

Related posts

Leave a Reply