I came back to Los Angeles; I didn't get any offers to be an actor, but everyone offered me [roles as a] maître d'!
I'm alive, and they are all dead. Last year in Berlin, they invited me to give the Lola [award] of the German film academy. Angela Merkel was there, and when I started talking about Auschwitz a little, she holds her hand [up to her face], and I knew she was thinking, "Oh my God, not again.'' And then I said, "They are all dead and I'm free, here, in front of you.'' She was immediately in a better mood.
People are afraid that as Holocaust survivors disappear, so too will the memories of it.
You are right. Slowly, people are not making movies about the Holocaust. [For my] film festival, every time [there are] less movies about the Holocaust. One day they will stop, like Westerns.
What do you make of the Holocaust deniers, who say it never happened, even in the face of survivors like you?
One day, when I will not be here anymore -- not only me but every [survivor] -- then who will stand in our position and tell them, "Yes, this is true, you can ask me, I was there"? There will be nobody. And that's very important, that's [why] Steven [Spielberg] made his Shoah Foundation. I helped him to organize [it]. Today we have 55,000 statements, and the statements will be here.
That's what I want to say to the young people at Auschwitz: They will be responsible for the next generation, to tell the people who will deny that the Holocaust existed, that they were there when the survivors talked to them. That's a big message.
Have you been studying Hebrew and Torah for the bar mitzvah?
I must tell you -- at 78 years, it's really difficult to learn Hebrew and really difficult to learn Torah, so I will repeat after the rabbi, Rabbi Lau from Jerusalem. He will come to Auschwitz to make me, let's say, a man. Can you imagine what would happen if they must again circumcise me?!
How did you get into film?
In 1955, I finished the academy for theater in Zagreb, and they sent me to be a translator for a couple of film productions, where they spoke Serbian, Hungarian and German. When I was there I started to work, and I never again went [back] to the theater. I stayed with film.
Did film interest you when you were a little boy?
Only with Mickey Mouse and Disney figures! From the beginning of my film career, Yugoslavia was in this time a communist country, and I made movies about the partisans fighting the Germans, and sometimes, somehow, I felt a satisfaction [watching] the brave partisans with machine guns killing German [soldiers]! I liked that.
Do you have to be careful in making politically themed films that they not be too political or people won't watch them?
At this time in Yugoslavia, [with] the communist regime, like it or not, they must watch it!
The producer and director Dan Curtis, known for the television miniseries "War and Remembrance'' and the television show "Dark Shadows,'' brought you to the United States.
He was a very good man. He took me to America; he put me in the Directors Guild. [We] finished "War and Remembrance." After this I knew everything about movies!
You lost so many relatives in the Holocaust. Who in your family will be there with you?
I am bringing my daughter, who is a lawyer in New York, and I am bringing my wife. I have nobody else.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive: latimes.com/pattasks.