Director Steven Spielberg poses at the premiere of the HBO documentary film 'Spielberg' in Los Angeles, California, US..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At a panel discussion over the weekend marking 25 years since the release of Schindler’s List, director Steven Spielberg said that every public high school in the United States should be required to teach the Holocaust.
“It’s not a prerequisite to graduate high school, as it should be,” Spielberg said during the panel discussion held after a special screening of his 1993 film at the Tribeca Film Festival. “It should be part of the social science, social studies curriculum in every public high school in this country.”
The director was responding to a question about a recent study that showed that 41% of Americans – and two thirds of millennials – didn’t know what Auschwitz was. The poll, released by the Claims Conference earlier this month, showed that a whopping 22% of millennials hadn’t even heard of the Holocaust.
Later, Spielberg said that when Schindler’s List
won Best Director and Best Picture, “that night wasn’t really a celebration at all... I don’t feel this movie is a celebration. The subject matter and the impact the film had on all of us … took sort of the celebration out of that.”
Rather, he said then during his acceptance speech, “I pleaded with the teachers to please teach this in your schools. I said that’s the most urgent thing you could do – you need to teach this story.”
Spielberg was joined on the panel in New York City by several of the film’s actors, including Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall and Embeth Davidtz.
The cast reminisced about filming in Poland and some of the most difficult and heart-wrenching moments on set.
Neeson said he will never forget the moment that one of the film’s producers, Branko Lustig, a Holocaust survivor, came up to him just outside Auschwitz, “and he points out one of the huts, and said ‘see that hut there – that was the hut I was in.’ And it hit me. Big f*cking time. Big time.”
They also recounted several antisemitic incidents that happened during filming, including when a German businessman walked up to Israeli actor Michael Schneider.
“He asked Michael: ‘Are you a Jew?’” Kingsley recalled. “And Michael in shock said ‘yes,’ and he mimed a noose around his neck and pulled it tight, and I stood up.”
“You did more than stand up,” Spielberg interjected, implying that Kingsley tackled the man to the floor.
Spielberg also recalled how once, when Ralph Fiennes was dressed in his full SS uniform, a Polish woman called out and said “how much she loved his uniform, and wished ‘all of you were back here protecting all of us again.’” The director noted that “I’ll probably get arrested in Poland when I go the next time having said that – since they passed that law.” Spielberg was referring to controversial legislation recently passed in Poland that outlaws blaming the country or its citizens for any involvement in the Holocaust.
The iconic director said filming the movie was difficult for everyone, and that they would watch a lot of Saturday Night Live
on set to break the depressing mindset. He also said that Robin Williams would call him regularly to perform stand-up comedy over the phone to cheer him up.
The worst day on set, the director said, was filming a scene where young Jewish women are stripped down and herded into a gas chamber they think is a shower.
“There were two girls, two young Israeli actors in that scene,” Spielberg recalled, “who couldn’t shoot for the next three days – they actually had breakdowns after that.”
The director said filming that day “was probably the most traumatic day of my entire career.”