Branko Lustig, Croatian Holocaust Survivor and ‘Schindler’s List’ Producer, Dies at 87

Updated: 2019-11-15 01:50:09

Branko Lustig, a two-time Oscar-winning Croatian film producer and Holocaust survivor died on Nov. 14 at the age of 87.

News of his death was confirmed by the Yad Vashem center in Jerusalem, who said he died in Croatia’s capital on Thursday. The Jewish film festival, “Festival of Tolerance,” where Lustig was president for the past 13 years, also reported his death. No other details were immediately released.

Born in 1932 in the eastern Croatian town of Osijek, which was formerly a part of Yugoslavia, Lustig suffered many losses during his early life. He lost most of his family members during World War II in Nazi death camps throughout Europe. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz and later in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.

Later in life, Lustig won his first Oscar for producing a film about his personal experiences, “Schindler’s List,” directed by Steven Spielberg. He met Spielberg when he moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s.

Liat Benhabib, Director at Yad Vashem Visual Center, said Lustig made it his “life’s mission” to tell the story of the Holocaust.

“Branko Lustig’s life story is interwoven with the tragic history of the Holocaust,” he said.

Lustig told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014 of Spielberg’s reaction when he recalled his harrowing experiences during his time of imprisonment.

He said Spielberg kissed the camp number, A3317, tattooed on his arm, and said: “You will be my producer.”

“He is the man who gave me the possibility to fulfill my obligation,” he told the outlet.

“I’m a Holocaust survivor. It is a long way from Auschwitz to this stage,” he said in an emotional speech as he accepted the Oscar in 1993.

The film, as well as Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,”  also won Academy Awards for Best Picture.

He directed and produced more than 100 local and foreign films, and was an assistant director on Volker Schlondorff’s Oscar-winning “The Tin Drum” (1979) and a local production supervisor on Alan J. Pakula’s “Sophie’s Choice” (1982), another Oscar winner.

Croatian media and officials have praised Lustig as the nation’s most successful and most prominent film producer. Croatia’s capital declared Lustig an honorary citizen in May for promoting democratic values, culture, and tolerance.

“Only a supreme act of creation could express the horrific experience of a boy who has known life and death in the Nazi death camps,” Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said.

After learning about Lustig’s passing, Hollywood star and “Gladiator” actor Russell Crowe took to Twitter to pay tribute in a heartfelt message.

“Just read the news Branko Lustig has passed. What an amazing life he led. From the horrors of WWII to the glory of two Academy Awards,” Crowe wrote.

“He said to me once, “ you disagree with me a lot, but you’re always my friend on the days I need you.” Yes. Much love Branko. Always your friend.”

The Ambassador of Israel in Croatia, Ilan Mor, wrote on Twitter: “It is with great sorrow and sadness I heard about Branko Lustig’s demise, a dear man who survived the horrors of the Shoa and worked extensively in order to keep its memory alive. Never forget! Please, on my and behalf of the State of Israel, my deepest condolences to th [sic] family.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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