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Jewish Journal

Shoah Foundation presents inspiration award to Steven Spielberg’s father

by Tom Tugend

May 2, 2012 | 12:14 pm

Standing, from left: Sue Spielberg, Nancy Spielberg, Anne Spielberg and Steven Spielberg, with their father, Arnold Spielberg. Photo by Kim Fox

Standing, from left: Sue Spielberg, Nancy Spielberg, Anne Spielberg and Steven Spielberg, with their father, Arnold Spielberg. Photo by Kim Fox

The Four Seasons banquet room was teeming with Spielbergs, but for once it wasn’t producer/director Steven, nor sisters Nancy, Sue or Anne, who were in the spotlight.

Rather, the mishpachah had gathered to pay their respects and express their filial love to the 95-year-old family patriarch, Arnold Meyer Spielberg.

The occasion for the April 26 luncheon was the conferral of the first Inspiration Award by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute on the senior Spielberg, himself the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants.

Some might assume that the institute chose the honoree because he is, after all, the father of the man who founded the organization in 1994, after the success of “Schindler’s List,” and who has nurtured it since.

However, among high-tech and computer professionals, Arnold Spielberg’s name is almost as well-known as his son’s is in Hollywood, and the elder Spielberg had put these skills to work to set the institute off on the right track.

The USC institute, with 52,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses from 56 countries and in 32 languages, is admired first for its historical and educational values. However, collecting, classifying and — most important — providing easy access for schools, academics and the public to the massive amount of material, is also an impressive technological feat.

After serving as communications chief with a Burma-based bomber squadron during World War II, Arnold became an electrical engineer and a vital figure in the incipient computer revolution.

He helped design and build the first business computer, patented the first electronic library system, designed the first electronic cash register and took a leading role in developing the massive digital Shoah Institute archives, which hold more than 105,000 hours of visual history.

Early on, he promoted the concept that technology, frequently accused of diminishing man’s humanity, can instead build connections among individuals and societies.

When the four Spielberg siblings stepped onto the stage, it was time for some family anecdotes. Nancy recalled that she met her father “at a very young age,” and Sue stressed his crucial help on her math homework.

Steven went into more detail, remembering his long childhood problem with falling asleep until his father built a kind of oscilloscope with a moving green dot, which put the boy to sleep in seconds.

Some 175 invited guests — including the extended Spielberg family, early mentor Sid Sheinberg, fellow “Schindler’s List” producer Branko Lustig and Shoah Foundation stalwarts — attended the luncheon.  Organized by June Beallor, it will become an annual affair.

In recognition of the first award recipient, future honorees will receive the freshly renamed Arnold Spielberg Inspiration Award.

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