Talks have begun on making videos about genocide that would also
include interviews with survivors of the Cambodian and Rwandan
atrocities. The larger issue, Mr. Greenberg said, is "racism and violence"
By Bernard Weinraub, The New York Times
New York, NY, Tuesday, March 9, 2004
LOS ANGELES, March 8 - Steven Spielberg's earliest blockbusters - "Jaws,"
"E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" -
avoided any hint of ethnicity. It was only with the release of "Schindler's
List" in 1993 and its aftermath that Mr. Spielberg publicly confronted being
"Anti-Semitism affected me deeply; it made me feel I wasn't safe outside my
own door," said Mr. Spielberg, who is now commemorating the 10th anniversary
of the Shoah Foundation, an outgrowth of "Schindler's List" that has
collected large numbers of video testimonies from Holocaust survivors.
Discussing the taunts and ugly incidents of his childhood, Mr. Spielberg,
57, said: "It happened in affluent neighborhoods in Arizona and California,
where I was one of the few Jewish students. I didn't experience it in more
lower-middle-class environments in New Jersey and Ohio."
Steven Spielberg at the offices of the Shoah Foundation, a Holocaust
survivor's testimony projected behind him
(Misha Erwitt for The New York
Once, in a silent study hall of 100 students, several of them pitched
pennies around his desk to taunt him, Mr. Spielberg said quietly. "I have
vivid memories of that," he said. The hallways, too, could be an ordeal: "A
lot of kids coughed the word 'Jew' in their hands as they walked by me
Those memories and the experience of making "Schindler's List" led to the
foundation, officially called the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History
Foundation. "When we started it, we were in a race against time because of
the ages of the average Holocaust survivor," Mr. Spielberg said.
In that sense, he said, the race is over because the foundation has
collected nearly 52,000 remembrances, or testimonies, from people who
survived the concentration camps.
But in another sense, Mr. Spielberg said, the mission has never seemed more
urgent. "We are in a race against time for the conscious minds of young
people," he said, because youths need to learn "the dangers of stereotyping,
the dangers of discrimination, the dangers of racial and religious hatred
and vengeful rage."
Mr. Spielberg spoke expansively and somewhat bleakly, mindful of recent
incidents of anti-Semitism in France and elsewhere, in his offices on the
Universal lot in Universal City. The spot is not far from the simple,
Quonset-hut-style enclave in which the Shoah Foundation collects, catalogs
and indexes the eyewitness accounts and makes documentaries, classroom
videos, CD-ROM's and other materials. Shoah is the Hebrew word for
"annihilation" or "catastrophe" and has come to be used to refer to the
To commemorate the anniversary a DVD of "Schindler's List," the Academy
Award-wining film about Oskar Schindler, the real-life war profiteer who
saved more than 1,100 Jews from death in Nazi concentration camps, is being
released Tuesday. It will include a 77-minute documentary being distributed
for the first time, "Voices From the List," with testimonies from some of
the survivors saved by Schindler.
"Schindler's List" won seven Oscars, including best picture and best
director. The film, with its brutal depiction of genocide, was an unexpected
success for Mr. Spielberg: it grossed $321 million around the world. His own
profits from the movie reached $65 million.
He donated the money to create the Righteous Persons Foundation, which was
set up to encourage the flourishing of Jewish life in the United States. At
the same time Mr. Spielberg created the Shoah Foundation. Douglas Greenberg,
the foundation's president and chief executive, said it had raised $160
million so far. Of that, he said, Mr. Spielberg has donated $54 million.
Mr. Spielberg said that his goal was to create an archive of more than
50,000 videotaped testimonies of survivors as a permanent record and a
source for teaching students. Zev Fried, manager of community relations for
the foundation, said that there may have been as many as 300,000 survivors
around the world 10 years ago but that the figure was uncertain.
Mr. Spielberg said he had seen hundreds of testimonies over the last decade.
"The biggest surprise was how forgiving and optimistic, how much they
embraced life," he said. "My first prediction was I was going to hear so
much anger, and I didn't. They didn't sound like victims. They sounded like
people who had been hit by a sledgehammer, and they were hit so fast and so
often they couldn't account for the reason behind it. They were just lost in
why this happened."
"They saw the warning signs, the restrictive laws and programs that happened
in the 30's; they saw something," Mr. Spielberg said. "They just couldn't
possibly foresee what came. No one had the imagination to imagine that kind
of inhumanity. They couldn't see it coming. To this day there still is shock
and a tremendous sense of loss.
"And many of them came to realize that their survival was a miracle, and
they didn't understand what made them so deserving of survival. Many have
been haunted by that guilt for all the postwar years."
The archive was collected in 56 countries and recorded in 32 languages.
Mr. Greenberg said that the foundation had filmed interviews with about 200
of the people saved by Schindler, and that the 77-minute documentary was a
compilation of some of the English-speaking accounts. Accounts in other
languages, including Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish, are also being turned into
a film. "They seamlessly tell the story of their own lives and Schindler's
life from the point of view of the Jews who were on the list," Mr. Greenberg
said. The majority of the 200 live in the United States, Israel or
Australia, he said.
The foundation's plans are now almost entirely educational. Talks have begun
on making videos about genocide that would also include interviews with
survivors of the Cambodian and Rwandan atrocities. The larger issue, Mr.
Greenberg said, is "racism and violence."
Mr. Greenberg said the foundation was seeking to make its Web site,
www.vhf.org, multilingual in an effort to provide teaching materials to
educators abroad. Other educational efforts have already begun or are
imminent, including an English-language Web exhibition for students 11 to 14
that highlights testimonies from survivors who were children during the
Films to be released include five foreign-language documentaries under the
title "Broken Silence" by some well-known international directors, which
involve interviews and film clips from the foundation's archives. This month
the foundation is also making available what it calls a reality-style
program, "Giving Voice," in which seven diverse teenagers talk about bigotry
and their responses to the testimonies they have witnessed from survivors.
The two-part video, released by Universal Studios Home Video, also includes
a teaching guide.
Mr. Fried, the foundation's community relations manager, said that as many
as 500,000 students in the United States, mostly in high school, had seen a
documentary or some of the visual histories made available by the
foundation. About one million students abroad, mostly in Europe, have seen
the testimonies or documentaries, he said.
Many of the Holocaust survivors are quite old now, Mr. Spielberg said,
because at the time the concentration camps were liberated the remaining
prisoners were not especially young. "You have to remember they killed the
children first, the children and the old," he said. "Those who could work
were kept alive."
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