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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Dec. 22, 1995, V3, #233
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Steven Spielberg Records Holocaust Testimony

By Robin Rupli (VOA-Washington)

Film director Steven Spielberg, creator of some of the most successful moves of all time such as "E.T.," "Jurassic Park," and "Schindler's List," has undertaken the most ambitious project of his life. He wants to catalogue 50,000 interviews with survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and make their accounts accessible to the public by computer.

When Spielberg won Best Picture for his 1993 film, "Schindler's List", he wasn't content to move on to the next film project. The story of industrialist Oscar Schindler, who singularly saved more than 1,000 Jews from perishing in Nazi concentration camps, left Spielberg with a resolve that this horrible chapter in history would never be repeated. As a result, he is now in the midst of a mammoth project to collect oral histories of every living Holocaust survivor and document their stories for historical posterity. The director says he responded, in part, to the survivors who talked to him during the filming of "Schindler's List."

"(They) constantly came over to me to say they had a story to tell, they had a story to share, that it had taken them 50 years to be ready to share their personal story. And no, they didn't want me to make a Schindler's List out of their lives, they wanted simply to talk to a camera and be interviewed about what happened to them."

"Shoah" is the Hebrew word for annihilation -- something the Nazis had in mind for the Jews. Spielberg's Shoah project is a worldwide network of volunteers who set up interviews, videotape testimony, and translate it into more than a dozen languages, including sign language, and finally access every one by computer. In two years, Spielberg and his volunteers have interviewed approximately 10,000 people. His goal is 50,000 by next year. One survivor who is now a project volunteer spoke of how difficult it was to come forth.

"For 50 years I couldn't talk. I was holding back and everybody opens up and I give my testimony so I feel a little better. And that's why I volunteered at this organization to help other survivors speak."

Other testimonies include some of those people who assisted Jews during and after the Holocaust. Paul Parks was a sergeant in a segregated army that helped liberate the concentration camp at Dachau in southern Germany. He remembers first seeing survivors in their striped uniforms and thought it was a Nazi equivalent of a chain gang.

"One of the fellows came out who spoke English. And he said, 'Are you American?' And I said 'yes.' He said, 'Thank God.' And he hit the ground and started to pray."

Many survivors' stories evoke common reactions -- feelings of guilt about having survived and shame at the things that one did to survive the atrocities of the Nazis. Still, says Spielberg, every person's experience is unique. He recalled a story by a young German actor who had a small part in his film, who asked his father for the first time what he knew about the Holocaust.

"His father said, 'I was a camp guard at three camps and I was responsible personally for the deaths of thousands of Jews.' And he told the story for an hour or so and the son was crying at the end of the story and said to his father, 'Today, right now, how do you feel about this?' And the father thought for a second and he said, 'I didn't kill enough of them.' And the bookend of those two stories began to spin around and I think this project came from that, plus the urging of the survivors themselves."

Spielberg says he has no movies currently in the works and no desire to direct one. He says he has found more gratification working on the Shoah project than anything else he's ever done. "It really has taken over my life. People say, 'Why haven't you made a movie after 'Schindler's List?' And I'm saying, 'Well, this is my project, this is my sequel to Schindler's List.' It has nothing to do with the movies. It's collecting the evidence of the atrocities and from the witnesses. And this to me has been more important than any of the movies I have ever made in my career."

Director Steven Spielberg hopes the immediacy of seeing and listening to real people talk via computer will have an impact on anyone who has witnessed or experienced racial or ethnic hatred.

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