Branko Lustig, famed producer of Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, and Gladiator has died at the age of 87.
As a child, Lustig was imprisoned for more than two years at Auschwitz and later Bergen-Belsen. It was while trying to survive in the former that he witnessed the hanging of seven prisoners. In a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lustig recounts that it was in this moment that his life took on a different meaning. Moments before the prisoners were hanged Lustig recalls, “I remember the words: ‘Tell to the world how we lived and how we died.’ I took this as a task in my life.”
Born in the eastern Croatian town of Osijek, Lustig was just 12 years old when he liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945, at Bergen-Belsen. The sound of bagpipes announced the army’s arrival, and to Lustig it was a sound he would never forget – “I had died finally, and that was the angels’ music in heaven” Lustig recounted to The Hollywood Reporter.
Lustig’s mother would also survive the Holocaust, however, most members of his family were killed under the pro-Nazi Ustaša regime. After moving to the United States in 1988 to work on the miniseries War and Remembrance, Lustig met Steven Spielberg who, at that time, was developing Schindler’s List.
“I told him my life, details about the camp. He kissed my number [from the concentration camp, tattooed on Lustig’s arm] and said, ‘You will be my producer.’ He is the man who gave me the possibility to fulfill my obligation.” Lustig told The Hollywood Reporter.
In 1994, together with Spielberg, Lustig helped to set up the USC Shoah Foundation: The Institute for Visual History and Education. The Foundation’s aim is to record the testimonies of those who survived or were witnesses to the Holocaust. To date, the Shoah Foundation has recorded the testimony of over 50,000 survivors.
Lustig died on November 14 in his native nation of Croatia. His death was announced by Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. No further details were available.