Host Lester Holt cited the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in which 11 congregants were killed. Spielberg, 71, added xenophobia and racism to the list of current concerns.
“Schindler’s List,” which was released in December 1993, is back in select theaters this week.
The film tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who helped save more than 1,000 people by putting them to work at his factory.
It was responsible for Spielberg’s first Academy Award for best director, part of a haul of seven it won that included best picture. And it was a commercial success as well, which Spielberg told Holt he was surprised by.
“I couldn’t imagine, based on the story that we told, that an audience would tolerate just the amount of violence, human against human. Or inhuman against human,” Spielberg told Holt. “No one thought the film was going to make any money.”
Working on the film gave Spielberg the idea for the Shoah Institute, which is housed at the University of Southern California. Founded in 1994 to preserve video and interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses, it has expanded to documenting testimonies about other genocides. Spielberg told the story to Holt, talking about how they had worked with Holocaust survivors and people who were helped by Schindler.
One of the people was a little girl at the time, whom Schindler was sent to prison for kissing on the cheek.
“She came over to watch a shoot, and she came over to me and she said, ‘I want to tell you my story,’ ” Spielberg said. “I said, ‘I’m telling your story.’ She said, ‘Oh that’s nothing; that was a tiny part of my life. I want to tell you my entire story of what my life was like, who I am. I want you to see me, to tell my story so that story can inform everybody about what happened to me and others like me.’ ”
Spielberg told Holt that of all his works, he was proudest of the film.
“I don’t think I’ll ever do anything as important,” he said.