Holocaust Survivors Branko Lustig, Meyer Gottlieb Honored Alongside The Hollywood Reporter by Yad Vashem
THR's "The Last Survivors," about entertainment's 11 remaining Holocaust survivors, inspired the Beverly Wilshire gala, attended by Tony Goldwyn, Sheldon Adelson and Jeffrey Katzenberg, presenting to Janice Min and Lynne Segall.
Branko Lustig, the Oscar-winning producer of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and Ridley Scott's Gladiator, has forged such an impressive career that it's unlikely anyone would fault him for kicking back at his home in Croatia and enjoying his twilight years. But the 83-year-old (he turns 84 on Friday), still keeps a busy schedule, managing his duties as honorary president of the Zagreb Jewish Film Festival and speaking at various schools across Europe, traveling to places like Austria and Slovenia.
Talking to students is not business, however, it's personal, and something Lustig does on behalf of Holocaust survivors like himself to ensure that their history is never forgotten. "It's incredible how these kids don't know anything about the Holocaust. They have classes, they are teaching them, but it's only one page — that's all," Lustig recalled from the stage on Monday night inside the Beverly Wilshire Hotel's main ballroom in Beverly Hills. "They are very interested to know what happened in the concentration camps, how we lived there, did we have friends, how we survived. I saw that they were crying. I'm sure they will never forget. That's the reason I'm going there, so the kids don't forget."
It's precisely that mission of making sure the Holocaust is never forgotten which dominated the Salute to Hollywood benefit gala hosted by the American Society for Yad Vashem — an organization dedicated to the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem — along with The Jewish Life Foundation, which funds the creation of Jewish-themed programs on Jewish Life Television (JLTV).
While it was the third annual event, this year's gala had the unique distinction of being inspired by The Hollywood Reporter's December 2015 feature "The Last Survivors," a multimedia package chronicling the heart-wrenching stories of the last 11 living survivors of the Holocaust with entertainment industry connections: hairstylist Bill Harvey; actor Robert Clary; actress and performer Ruth Posner; the last known survivor of the Sonderkommandos, Dario Gabbai; the youngest woman saved on Oskar Schindler's list, Celina Biniaz; writer Leon Prochnik; producer/executive Meyer Gottlieb; producer Lustig; actor Curt Lowens; and sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was among the evening's presenters who praised THR's Survivors package and he took the opportunity to coin a new term. "Survivor doesn't really seem to be, at least to me, the right word, so I made a different one up for tonight. I want to call them triumphers. These people didn't just survive, they triumphed," Katzenberg explained.
Of those "triumphers," Lustig and Gottlieb, former president of Samuel Goldwyn Films, were selected to receive the Salute to Hollywood's Legacy Award, while real estate developer and philanthropist David Wiener was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. For the publication of "Last Survivors," The Hollywood Reporter/Billboard's Janice Min, president/chief creative officer of the entertainment group, along with Lynne Segall, executive vice president/group publisher of the entertainment group, accepted the Vanguard Award on behalf of the THR staff who worked on the project conceptualized and overseen by Min.
The feature was mentioned many times during the night, which kicked off with master of ceremonies Mike Burstyn welcoming the more than 350 guests to the ballroom for dinner and awards presentation. Burstyn would introduce the night's co-chairs Elissa and Edward Czuker, the latter of whom called upon all the Holocaust survivors in the room to stand as 18 men and women stood up. "Soon, there will be no one left," he cautioned. "The duty to tell these stories lives with all of us." (Other speakers included American Society for Yad Vashem chairman Leonard Wilf and executive director Ron Meier, JLTV founder and president Phil Blazer, and real estate investor and philanthropist Adam Milstein.)
Actor and filmmaker Tony Goldwyn followed to tell a bit of Gottlieb's story and present him with the Legacy trophy. It's a history Goldwyn knows well, as his late father and Gottlieb were business partners for four decades while running Samuel Goldwyn Films. "Far beyond being a business partner to my dad, Meyer is the man that Sam trusted most in the world and really, they were brothers," Goldwyn noted. "The passion and devotion that Meyer has shown in this friendship taught me the meaning of loyalty, and I know that I speak for all of my siblings — all of whom are here tonight to celebrate Meyer — when I say that Meyer has been a mentor, a confidante, a friend, but most of all, a constant exemplar of the notion that in the end, we are measured not by what we have achieved for ourselves but by the positive impact we have made on the lives of others."
Gottlieb, a 76-year-old child survivor of the Holocaust who lost his father at age 4, praised his parents as heroes and said that he is fortunate to have lived "the American dream" despite constantly being overshadowed by "the dark memories of my childhood." He referenced his iconic film industry experience by bringing up the 2003 independent film Rosenstrasse, inspired by the only German protest about the deportation of Jewish citizens.
"It was during this period of time that I first heard the term 'Holocaust overload,' not from Holocaust deniers, but I heard that from a number of national newspaper journalists who refused to write about the film because they said that their editors felt that both readers and moviegoers had read and seen 'enough about the Holocaust,' " Gottlieb detailed. "I was furious. Since then, I've continued to use my voice to make sure that people never forget the Holocaust. The real weapons of mass destruction aren't bombs, they are hatred, intolerance and bigotry. That is in part why I agreed to participate with The Hollywood Reporter's 'Last Survivors.' I'd like to thank and congratulate The Hollywood Reporter for using their voice to raise awareness of the Holocaust and bringing to light the life stories of 11 survivors."
Katzenberg was next to the stage to present Min and Segall with the Vanguard Award and he applauded the work of The Hollywood Reporter staff for pushing the industry to "be better," citing the Last Survivors as an example.
"After enduring unspeakable horrors of pain, deprivation and loss, they somehow managed to rebuild their lives and achieve success in our industry which, under the best of circumstances, can be a pretty daunting place. In this remarkable piece, The Hollywood Reporter didn't just recount their stories, but allowed them to speak for themselves during these extensive and incredibly moving clips," he said. "These profiles are so important because soon we will only have memory, and the memory cannot be allowed to fade. Never again can only happen if we never forget."
Katzenberg introduced a video clip that detailed the editorial process of putting "The Last Survivors" package together, starting with Min's initial idea and continuing through the research, coordination and execution. Appearing in the video were THR's Min, Flax, senior writer Gary Baum, photo and video director Jennifer Laski, and producers Michelle Stark, Victoria Mckillop and Natalie Heltzel. Photographer Wesley Mann, who captured all the images in the portfolio, also offered his vision for the package in the clip.
"One of the things my staff hears from me all the time at work is that all stories at their core are about people. Not things and not companies," Min said. "Constantly our stories and ideas are revised to reflect that simple belief. So to be very literal here, the Holocaust is just a thing, intangible in its scope and horror. But the people who died and survived are the stories that continue to make the Holocaust and all victims of terror and genocide around the world frighteningly real. So real that you cannot look away."
Min then welcomed THR features editor Peter Flax to say a few words about the package, which he said started out as an amorphic undertaking that had "the potential to be big or colossal." Colossal won out.
The publication followed seven months of research to locate the list of individuals and to negotiate their participation to coincide with the ending of the Holocaust 70 years ago. Flax and his team worked with such organizations as USC Shoah Foundation, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"Our print feature covered 21 pages in the magazine without a single advertisement, and our photographer Wesley Mann, who is here tonight, flew 40,000 miles around the world taking survivor portraits," said Flax, who credited the survivors for making it all happen. "The stories are so deeply personal, full or horror and humanity, stories that illuminate deep truths about our past and our future. None of what we created would've been possible if these survivors hadn't shared intimate details of what they went through. I offer my deepest thanks for that. Everyone in this room understands the power of these stories to move people, to educate people, to actually make the world a more tolerant place. I'm so proud to have honored the life experiences of these and other Holocaust survivors and used the platform of The Hollywood Reporter brand to share them with such a large audience."
An audience that Segall noted responded with love in the form of emails, phone calls, etc. "It's this spirit of community and support that will help the world avert the next crisis and serve as a constant reminder that every human being has the right to be valued, respected and to receive ethical treatment," Segall said.
That sounds like a perfect world, one that Lustig fears is far from reality. "I have a feeling that fascism is coming back," he closed. "Very slowly, very slowly. Maybe nothing will happen, but we pray. Please help us pray that it will never happen again."