LOS ANGELES (JTA) – Recalling the horrors of the Holocaust, President Obama urged nations to fight growing anti-Semitism and threats against Israel.
Speaking Wednesday night to 1,200 supporters of the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, Obama called for “confronting a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world.”
“We see attacks on Jews in the streets of major Western cities, public places marred by swastikas,” the U.S. leader said. “From some foreign governments we hear the worst kind of anti-Semitic scapegoating.”
At the same time, “it’s up to us to speak out against rhetoric that threatens the existence of the Jewish homeland and to sustain America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” Obama declared to loud applause.
The gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Shoah Foundation by filmmaker Steven Spielberg following the international success of his Holocaust-themed movie “Schindler’s List.”
Spielberg presented Obama with the Ambassador for Humanity Award at the event, which raised $4 million for the foundation’s work in compiling video testimonies of 52,000 Holocaust survivors, liberators and other witnesses.
The work is continuing with testimonies from the last survivors of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and of the Japanese massacre of Chinese in Nanjing in 1937.
More recent testimonies are being collected from survivors of mass killings in Cambodia and Rwanda.
Stressing the importance of the testimony from survivors collected by the Shoah Foundation, Obama said, “The purpose of memory is not simply to preserve the past, it is to protect the future.”
Noting the foundation’s work with high school students, the president observed, “We can teach our children the hazards of tribalism. We can teach our children to speak out against the casual slur.”
While Obama was the evening’s headliner, other speakers and entertainers included Spielberg, who noted that the key to preventing future genocides was to “never just stand by.”
Bruce Springsteen earned a standing ovation from an audience sprinkled with Hollywood’s heaviest hitters with renditions of “The Promised Land” and “Dancing in the Dark.”
TV host and comedian Conan O’Brien served as the evening’s host. Praising the Shoah Foundation’s work, O’Brien deadpanned that it “was recording evidence of intolerance long before Donald Sterling’s girlfriend.”
Even with the array of celebrity speakers, they were almost upstaged by Celina Biniaz, who was the youngest person included on Schindler’s famous list.
“Oskar Schindler gave me my life,” she said. “Steven Spielberg gave me my voice.”