Steven Spielberg's film "Schindler's List" won critical acclaim and numerous awards when it premiered a decade ago. Newly released on DVD, this movie about the Holocaust and its themes of intolerance, bigotry and hatred are as relevant now as then. “Today” host Katie Couric talked to Spielberg and asked him if “Schindler's List” is his most important work.Steven Spielberg: “I hope I could look back some day and say, ‘gee, there was something else I did that was equally as important,’ but up to this point in my life, it’s the most important use of film in my entire experience of living in film all these years.”
Katie Couric: “‘Schindler's List’ will be released on DVD and I know you've added testimonies from survivors who were on Schindler's list. Why was that important to you and what do you hope that will add to somebody's experience watching the movie?”
Spielberg: “When you watch a movie like ‘Schindler's List,’ it’s an extraordinary story about an extraordinary time you know? One of the most hateful and devastating times in human history. And one righteous man, among others all over the world, did a very righteous thing by saving 1200 of his Jewish workers and there are survivors who can testify to those facts that are on the DVD that sort of give support to the credibility that the film needs. I mean anything about history needs that credible reinforcement of eyewitness testimony.”
Following the movie's release 10 years ago, Spielberg created the Shoah Foundation, to honor and remember the victims of the Holocaust.
Couric: “Shoah means?”
Spielberg: “Catastrophe, annihilation, death by fire, you know? Shoah is another word for Holocaust which is another word for the end of the world by fire, by flame.”
Couric: “I know that you've funded a lot of this effort with the proceeds you made from ‘Schindler's List.’ Did you feel a moral obligation to do that? I mean that you said in a way, ‘I don't want to call it blood money, but…"
Spielberg: “It is blood money. Let’s call it what it is. I didn't take a single dollar from the profits I received from ‘Schindler's List’ because I did consider it blood money. When I first decided to make ‘Schindler's List" I said, if this movie makes any profit, it can't go to me or my family, it has to go out into the world and that's what we try to do here at the Shoah Foundation. We try to teach the facts of the past to prevent another Holocaust in the future.”
The Shoah Foundation, now funded by donations from individuals around the world, collected testimonies from 52,000 survivors -- their memories of their lives before, during and after those darkest times.
Spielberg: “It took about eight years to collect their testimonies from almost 64 countries in 32 languages.”
Couric: “How do you hope they'll be used?”
Spielberg: “I hope they'll be used in schools, in libraries and in Holocaust museums and other museums, repositories all over the world. I hope it'll be used to educate young people as to the ultimate dangers of how far hate can take us… this is a living example and there are still witnesses that are alive that survived it.”
Couric: “I know you've watched hundreds of testimonies through the years and one thing you've been struck by is the optimism and hope that many of these survivors exhibit which does seem funny in a way, that there wouldn't be more bitterness and anger and hatred and sort of a sense of rage expressed by these individuals. But that is not the case, by and large?”
Spielberg: “By and large the Holocaust survivors that I know, who I’ve met over the years, don't have that sense of rage and they don't have a sense of revenge. They’re not seeking revenge or a kind of justice, they’re happy to be alive, they’re happy to have given birth to new generations and they just consider their survival a miracle. Some are wracked with guilt that they did in fact survive, others who in their opinion, more worthy of survival, did not. But they've found a way to live their lives and in a sense, survivors who are still alive today and the survivors who are not but who gave their testimony to the Shoah Foundation, each of those survivors became teachers and so in that sense they'll live forever.”
Proof that those survivors, and the Shoah Foundation, are reaching a new generation comes from young people like Nicole Barnes. She and several other high school students worked with the Shoah Foundation to make a video called "Giving Voice" which weaves together first person accounts from Holocaust survivors with a teenage perspective on intolerance and bigotry. "Giving Voice" will be sent to schools across the country to inspire dialogue on these issues.
Spielberg: “I guess the greatest cliché we've ever heard, but the most important words spoken, is, love, you know, love your neighbor and, as you would yourself. It’s a biblical term, it’s important, and it’s embraced by every religion and yet it seems to be a far cry from what we're experiencing today.”
Couric: “Mel Gibson's dad was quoted as saying something that I think many people found quite disturbing. He said, ‘the Germans didn't have enough gas to cremate 6 million people’ and ‘those concentration camps were just work camps,’ completing his thought with, ‘it’s maybe not all fiction, but most of it is,’ referring to the Holocaust. When you read a quote like that or hear about it, it doesn't make you angry when people say things like that?”
Spielberg: “You know it makes me sad, not angry. It makes me sad at people who deny the Holocaust. I’ve learned there are a lot of people that don't want to believe the Holocaust ever happened because it doesn't fit their other beliefs and so they deny it and it makes them sleep better at night to do so. But it makes the Holocaust survivors sleep better at night to know that we've given them a voice. We’ve given 52,000 voices to go off into the world and teach young children the truth about what happened 60 years ago and how to prevent it from happening 60 years from now.”
Couric: “When you look back on your career, and you certainly have a lot of great work ahead of you, I know, but do you hope that people will identify you first and foremost with something like ‘Schindler's List’ and with your work with the Shoah Foundation?”
Spielberg: “Well I think the Shoah Foundation and certainly ‘Schindler's List’ certainly represents more of who I am than what I want to become. Sometimes I’ll hide behind my fantasy films. You know, it’s safer to do that and often it’s more fun to do that. It’s a lot more fun making ‘E.T.’ than it was ‘Schindler's List.’ It was a lot more fun making ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ than it was ‘Saving Private Ryan.” But who I am is more what I did with ‘Schindler's List’ and now with the Shoah Foundation and I’d like people to remember me the way I know myself. We have a thing, we say in Hebrew, tikkun olam which means, the world always needs fixing and we as Jews, we as all people, have a responsibility to help fix things when they're broken and I think ‘Schindler's List’ and the Shoah Foundation does exactly that.”