The two-time Oscar-winning producer who survived the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, died in Croatia on Thursday

By Maria Pasquini
November 14, 2019 05:03 PM
Emma McIntyre/Getty

Branko Lustig, a two-time Oscar-winning producer who survived the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, has died. He was 87.

Lustig’s death was confirmed on Thursday by the Festival of Tolerance, the Jewish film festival for which he served as president of for the past 13 years. The Yad Vashem center in Jerusalem told the Associated Press that Lustig died in Croatia on Thursday.

Lustig was born in Osijek in 1932, which was then a part of Yugoslavia, the Associated Press noted. During World War II, he lost many of his family members in concentration camps, including his grandmother and his father.

Later in life, after making several films, Lustig moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, where he would go on to meet director Steven Spielberg. Lustig’s personal experiences helped inform the movie Schindler’s List, for which he won his first Oscar.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter from 2014, Lustig said that when he told Spielberg his story, the director kissed the camp number tattooed on his arm. “He kissed my number and said, ‘You will be my producer,’ “he recalled. “He is the man who gave me the possibility to fulfill my obligation.”

“It is a long way from Auschwitz to this stage,” he said while accepting the award, according to the outlet.

Branko Lustig
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Over the years, Lustig has worked on many films including Hannibal, The Peacemaker, Black Hawk Down and Gladiator, for which he won his second Academy Award.

After learning of Lustig’s death, Gladiator star Russell Crowe, shared a touching tribute, writing, “What an amazing life he led.”

“From the horrors of WWII to the glory of two Academy Awards. He said to me once ‘you disagree with me a lot, but you’re always my friend on the days I need you,'” he continued. “Yes. Much love Branko. Always your friend.”

After years in Hollywood, Lustig returned to Croatia ten years ago. Speaking about his decision to return with a local outlet, he said that he “came back to die,” according to the Festival of Tolerance.

“Hollywood is beautiful, I met great actors, worked with them, but still this is my country and I have experienced a lot here – both beautiful and distressing. I also have a lot of friends here, I have a lot of acquaintances in America, but only Spielberg is my friend,” he added.

Earlier this year, he was named an honorary citizen of the City of Zagreb for his contributions to society and art.