Prior to the Shoah Foundation's annual banquet on Dec. 5, Contributing Editor Tom Tugend conducted an e-mail interview with its founder, director Steven Spielberg.
Tom Tugend: Why have there been so many Holocaust-themed books and films in recent years?
Steven Spielberg: I think with the passing of time, and with current world events, survivors of the Holocaust are compelled to share their stories. Racism and terror are not isolated to World War II Europe, and atrocities continue to occur around the globe.
I think Americans came to realize this on a much more personal level after Sept. 11. I remember many people saying, "Why would they do this to us?" The Jews said the same thing back in the 1940s.
I hope that each book and film about the Holocaust brings us closer to understanding why such horrific events continue to take place, and how to prevent them in the future.
TT: Do you feel the success of "Schindler's List" helped pave the way for these projects?
SS: "Schindler's List" introduced the Holocaust to a new generation of filmgoers, and for this I am grateful. I'm delighted that films, as well as television miniseries, can continue to examine this part of history. There has also been a string of independent films produced in Europe about the Holocaust, and these films have also been well received throughout Europe, as well as in the U.S.
TT: Is there a danger that too many such films will cause people to become uninterested in the subject?
SS: Every time these films are shown, they reach a whole new audience -- children, teens and adults. They encourage young viewers to ask questions, and this leads to dialogue.
There is a term called "Holocaust fatigue," which is slightly offensive, but I understand it. Most of us don't want to hear about things that are disturbing and upsetting. On the other hand, the stories of survivors are hopeful stories ... of people triumphing over oppression and racism and rebuilding their lives.
TT: What are you proudest of vis-à-vis the Shoah Foundation?
SS: I had no idea the Shoah Foundation would evolve into such an amazing global organization. We have collected almost 52,000 eyewitness testimonies around the world, and I am inspired by the courage these individuals have shown by sitting in front of a camera and reliving these events. To have this archive is, indeed, a gift to all of us.
And, I have seen students watch testimonies and become transformed by the experience. This is very rewarding. To affect one person at a time. To change a life in even the smallest way, so that they might stop and consider the consequences of their actions or choices. This is why the Shoah Foundation exists.
I want the Shoah Foundation to make a difference in the world. I want to someday look back and be able to say, "The survivors came from the ashes to change the world."
At the foundation, we continue to index the testimonies so that they will be available for research, and we are currently disseminating the archive in a variety of ways: through collections in museums and other institutions and through educational products, such as documentaries and educational CD-ROMs.
It is vital the testimonies be returned to the countries and communities from which they came, and we are establishing partnerships with institutions across the globe to do this. Our President and CEO, Douglas Greenberg, has just returned from Australia, where he met with potential partners and supporters to help bring the Australian collection to that community.
TT: Are you concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in places like Eastern Europe and in the Arab world? Do you feel this means people have not learned from the example of the Holocaust?
SS: Everyone should be concerned about anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred throughout the world. That's why the mission of the Shoah Foundation is to work toward understanding among all people, so that hatred and bigotry can be diminished.
TT: Is the Shoah Foundation planning to do anything to reach out to people in the Arab world?
SS: The Shoah Foundation's mission is to bring its message of tolerance to underserved populations throughout the world. We are currently focusing on communities throughout Europe and parts of the United States, and this is a mammoth task to undertake. While there are no current plans, I'm sure there will come a time when the foundation will reach out to the Arab world.
TT: Do you have any plans to revisit the Holocaust in a future feature film project?
SS: I think the global educational work of the Shoah Foundation is the most effective way I can reach an audience about the history of the Holocaust and the consequences of hatred and violence.
"Schindler's List," while based on facts and historical incidents, is a feature film with actors and sets. There is nothing more powerful than watching a survivor look the camera -- and you -- in the eye and recall the personal events that occurred in his or her life.
TT: What is the Jewish content of your life today?
SS: We observe the High Holidays and the prime holidays throughout the year. My wife, Kate [Capshaw], bakes challah for the Sabbath, which is something the whole family observes to honor our tradition.
Last year, one of the proudest and happiest moments of my life was my son Theo's bar mitzvah. Kate and I and our family are looking forward to other joyous celebrations.
TT: Have Jews in Hollywood been outspoken enough in support of Israel at this time? If not, please explain your theories as to why they have not been outspoken enough. How do you personally feel about the situation in Israel?
SS: We know there is a crisis that has been devastating to innocent victims, but it would be inappropriate for me to make a generalization about the Jews of Hollywood.
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