As a producer, Steven Spielberg shopped directing duties on this film to numerous colleagues, because he was afraid he couldn't do the story justice. He was turned down by Martin Scorsese (who was interested but ultimately felt it was a subject that should be done by a Jewish director), Roman Polanski (who didn't feel he was yet ready to tackle the Holocaust after surviving his childhood in it), and Billy Wilder (who turned it down because was in retirement). Apparently, it was Wilder who convinced Spielberg to direct it himself.
Director Steven Spielberg was unable to get permission to film inside Auschwitz, so the scenes of the death camp were actually filmed outside the gates on a set constructed in a mirror image of the real location on the other side.
The film, as shown in most countries, had the song "Yerushalayim Sheol Zahav" - Jerusalem of Gold - at the end. When the film was shown in Israel, audiences laughed at this, as this song was written after the 1967 war as a pop song. They then re-dubbed a song "Eli Eli" which was written by Hannah Sennesh during WWII over the end which was more appropriate.