By J.P. Bellinger
On Friday, 1 June, I was invited to attend a symposium at Loyola Marymount University Law School Campus in downtown Los Angeles. Arriving early with two companions, gave us a welcome opportunity to explore the campus. To my surprise, there was neither a crucifix nor any other religious symbol on the exterior of the building which would suggest that the structure was a chapel. Upon entering the structure, our immediate confusion was assuaged, and we attended mass in the company of a congregation composed of corporate chairmen, highly placed judges from both Federal and State Courts as well as attorneys from esteemed law firms representing the elite among the Catholic community in downtown Los Angeles. There were also members from several religious orders in attendance.
When mass had concluded, we all repaired to the lecture hall, where a continental breakfast was awaiting us. My associates and I took seats in the very first row. Presently, Father Donald Merrifield, the moderator, introduced to us Mrs. Daisy Miller, who was described as the Associate Director for Annual Development of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. No sleazy snake oil huckster, here. Confident, attractive and well-dressed in a conservative navy blue skirt, matching jacket and white silk blouse, she presented herself in a very dignified manner. Mrs. Miller introduced herself to us as a Holocaust survivor, and her personal tale of woe was related.
Prior to the outbreak of war in 1939, her family resided in Croatia, but at some point during the course of hostilities, were able to flee that nation into Fascist Italy, an ally of the German Third Reich. There her parents were able to convince a peasant family to hide them in their home for the duration of the war. Mrs. Miller declared that for close to two years they were not allowed to venture outdoors for fear of being apprehended by the German army, which was continually scouring the countryside for laborers. To escape this dreaded fate, her father would at times hide by day in a ditch on the farm, covered by dirt and grass, returning back to the cottage at night, where he would regale his three-year old daughter with fairy tales in serialized form. “It was terrible,” she repeated over and over again, “I could tell you horrific stories of our suffering,” but somehow never got around to describing them, a fact for which I didn’t know whether to feel disappointed or relieved. As it turns out, the woman’s family was never taken into custody by the Germans, nor did she or anyone else in her family ever spend one day in German custody, much less any time in an infamous concentration camp. Her experiences, however, were a prerequisite for her later appointment within the Shoah Foundation, which was founded by film director Steven Spielberg.
It all began when Spielberg was shooting “Schindler’s List” on location in Poland. At the time, Spielberg had been repeatedly approached by self-described survivors and told in detail of their ordeals as holocaust victims. And Spielberg listened. Upon returning to the States, the visual history project was soon underway and financially supported, aside from Spielberg’s millions, by such international financiers as the Jewish billionaire, Edgar Bronfman, among others. Mrs. Miller explained the process in the following terms:
“Mr. Spielberg was interested in leaving behind a legacy of survivor testimony for future generations, in order to break down the 'barriers of hate' and we assembled a team to implement that vision Thousands of interviewers were suitably trained and dispatched all over the world to record the statements of survivors in the language most comfortable to them. In the course of 6 years we were able to obtain and visually record over 50,000 testimonies, which included statements by Sinta/Roma (Gypsies) and homosexuals. These interviews, if watched continuously, would take a total of 13 years to view in full.”
Concluding her prefatory comments, the audience was next shown a 10 minute video which briefly described the Shoah Visual History project, which, according to Mrs. Miller, is aimed exclusively at students, educators and historians. Following the video presentation, Mrs. Miller allowed a brief question and answer session.
When asked by a doctor if the Jewish archives in Germany were consulted for this project, Ms. Miller replied, “No, that was not our purpose. Our task was merely to collect oral testimonies; to record and preserve them. None of the statements were verified. That task will be left to researchers and historians.”
When asked by a Federal Judge if any statements were taken from Catholic survivors, Ms. Miller replied, “No, not to my knowledge. Mr. Spielberg was quite specific about this. We were instructed only to obtain statements from Jewish survivors.”
Another questioner asked her opinion of Mel Brook’s revamped play entitled “The Producers” remarking that it was in poor taste, and Mrs. Miller personally agreed: “The Holocaust is not a subject for levity.”
Asked whether the materials would be available on the internet, Mrs. Miller replied, “No. It will only be available through ‘intra-net.’ That is, only accessible to educational resources via closed circuit networking. “We would never dream of making this material available to the general public on the internet,” stated Mrs. Miller. “Our material shall only be available to approved scholars, students, educators and researchers.”
As the question and answer period concluded, Ms. Miller gingerly announced, “I hate to be crass, but now is the time to bring up the subject of donations to keep our momentous work afloat. After all, we have a strict budget set at 13 million per year.”
The audience audibly gasped, and a man two seats down from me opined, “Even Spielberg doesn’t have that much money!”
That was all I could stand, and I blurted out, “Oh, yes, he can! And then some! He could afford to donate 3 million to Deborah Lipstadt alone. He and Edgar Bronfman can more than cover the costs.”
Mrs. Miller, however, disagreed with those comments, remarking, “We have to reach the public and invite them to actively participate in our ‘tolerance’ project.”
Concluding with her presentation, Ms. Miller proffered: “Permit me to give each of you my card and please feel free to come and visit us and observe our work, which we are carrying on in trailers.”
I arose from my seat and left with a distinct feeling that the double entendre “trailer trash” was certainly the appropriate description for this “momentous” project.
Installed: 07/27/98, 1: 00 AM, PST