Celebs

Steven Spielberg: I 'was put on this earth to' tell story of the Holocaust

May 5, 2014 at 11:50 AM ET

Steven Spielberg may be best known for some of the biggest blockbusters to ever hit the big screen, including "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "ET," "Jurassic Park" and the "Indiana Jones" franchise, but directing those iconic films isn't what he considers his true calling.

As he recently explained to Maria Shriver during an interview for TODAY, it's the work he launched after another one of his big screen hits, 1993's "Schindler's List," that's come to mean the most to him.

"This is something that I was put on this earth to do — not just to make movies, but to tell this truth to people, especially young people," Spielberg said of the USC Shoah Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded shortly after producing the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List," which he funded with proceeds from the film.

The group's aim is to "overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry" through the use of "a visual history," and that's where Spielberg's movie-making talents come in to it. Over the last 20 years, The USC Shoah Foundation has filmed interviews with 52,000 survivors of the Holocaust and genocides in Nanjing and Rwanda.

"This could've been me if I had been born at a different time and place," Spielberg said of the horrors retold in those first-hand accounts. "And this could happen again."

Which is why this work is so important to him, and it's why the organization has launched IWitness, a program that uses the videos to education young people.

"This is inspiring students not only to listen to the past, but act for their own future," Stephen Smith, executive director of the Shoah Foundation, told TODAY.

Among those who shared their stories toward that goal is Celina Biniaz, who was just 13 years old when she was sent to Auschwitz. She was the youngest girl on Schindler's list. 

"Oskar Schindler gave me life, so he saved my life," she told TODAY of the man who saved more than 1,200 Jews from concentration camps by employing them in his factories. "But Steven Spielberg gave me a voice. So in a way, he's my second Schindler."

"Well that's beautiful," Spielberg said when he leaned of Biniaz's comment.

It's clear he's touched by the sentiments and stories from all of those who've contributed.

"I feel like I have 52,000 grandparents that I never knew I had," he said.

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