Six Years After ‘Schindler’s List,’ Spielberg Still Devoted to His Quest
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Six Years After ‘Schindler’s List,’ Spielberg Still Devoted to His Quest

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Six years after `Schindler’s List,’ Spielberg still devoted to his quest It’s been six years since Steven Spielberg directed "Schindler’s List" and established a foundation that has videotaped the testimonies of tens of thousands of survivors worldwide, but his emotional connection to the Holocaust remains as intense as ever.

After hearing thousands of testimonies, "each is more compelling than the last, and the next is even more compelling," he said in a recent plane-to-ground phone interview.

To occasional critics who complain that enough has been written and filmed about the Holocaust, Spielberg responds, "I just wish that Hitler had stopped in 1938. It will take hundreds and hundreds of years to come to terms with what he did."

Even Spielberg’s latest triumph, the World War II saga "Saving Private Ryan," bears on the Holocaust. "The film is really an extension of `Schindler’s List,’" he says. "It honors the men whose bravery ended the war in 1945, rather than 1947, when no Jew would have been left alive in Europe."

Although he is listed as executive producer of "The Last Days," which depicts the experiences of five Hungarian Jewish survivors, he played no active role in its production.

"I find the film both heart-breaking and hopeful," he says. "I have immense admiration for the five survivors who returned on a pilgrimage to the camps and their home towns, who had the courage to revisit the ashes."

Spielberg is scheduled to attend the Berlin Film Festival later this month, where, in addition to introducing "The Last Days," he will discuss the possible integration of the archive into Germany’s planned national Holocaust memorial.

In general, however, Spielberg has purposely kept a low profile in promoting the documentary, mainly to keep media attention focused on the survivors.

"The way television works, you can get 60 seconds," he says. "If I’m there, they spend 45 seconds on me, and the survivors don’t get a chance to speak. I’ve tried hard to take a back seat."

Although Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Project has reached its planned goal of collecting 50,000 video testimonies, the work continues at the rate of about 50-75 interviews a week, mainly in Hungary, the eastern Ukraine and the Baltic states.

If there are still sizable numbers of survivors in Israel who wish to be interviewed, Spielberg says he will reactivate the Jerusalem office.

But the main effort now is on cataloging the mass of material on hand, and it will be a lengthy job. "It takes one individual 20 hours to catalog one testimony," says Spielberg.

The material will eventually reach the public through CD-ROMs, films, television specials, and, in about two years, an interactive Web site.

Even more ambitious and long range is the plan to "redraft social science curriculums in schools around the world to reflect the Holocaust and hate crimes against any ethnic group, homosexuals and others," says Spielberg.

A documentary project now under consideration will deal with what Spielberg calls "the miracle children," the second- and third-generation descendants of Holocaust survivors.

As for his other hat, as a principal in the studio Dream Works SKG, Spielberg says, "I am returning to another part of my schizophrenic life and doing a science-fiction film with Tom Cruise. It’ll be a soft-drink-and-popcorn movie."

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund