Seventeen years after the creation of his Shoah Foundation, Steven Spielberg says he never thought his project to record the stories of survivors would have such a profound impact.
"I never even imagined I would get Holocaust survivors to share their
experiences that they wouldn't even share with their children and grandchildren," the renowned director told the Exponent in a brief interview Tuesday night during a $1,500-plate fundraiser here for the project he founded soon after making the acclaimed movie "Schindler's List."
His organization, now known as the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, honored Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation, with its Ambassadors for Humanity Award.
Comcast recently partnered with the institute to offer a series of Holocaust-related documentaries to its on-demand customers. The films are available for viewing through May 25.
The institute's archives consist of nearly 52,000 videotaped testimonies of survivors' experiences during the Holocaust era. They are tapped by scholars and educators, who use the accounts to teach students about the Shoah, and as a guide for teaching tolerance and understanding differences.
One local high school teacher, Jonathan Young, told the crowd how the personal testimonies help his students at Esperanza Academy Charter High School in North Philadelphia understand the horrors of the Holocaust, the importance of tolerance and the hope that survivors inspire for life after tragedy.
Learning about such history "really changes them as people," he said of students who take his Holocaust-studies course as an elective. "It helps them think about treating people differently."
Spielberg's Shoah Foundation also has begun recording the testimony of survivors of genocide in Rwanda, Cambodia and elsewhere.
Explaining the group's decision to expand its focus, Spielberg said, "It's important to show students that history is repeating itself" with genocides around the world and that there is more work to be done to repair the world.
Asked how his work with the Shoah Foundation compares to his Hollywood achievements, the award-winning director said: "I make a lot of movies, stories that are filled with imagination and dreams. This is reality."