Spielberg celebrates Douglas, Shoah Foundation

LOS ANGELES (AP) - October 23, 2008

Douglas, 91, was honored Wednesday with comedy from Crystal, music from Midler and kind words from Spielberg at the Shoah Foundation's Ambassadors for Humanity benefit dinner.

"Kirk Douglas, in a way, has saved many lives - not just through his art, but through his humanitarian contributions to the planet," Spielberg said. "We're here to show how closely attuned Kirk Douglas is as a representative of our work and our vision at the Shoah Foundation."

Crystal cracked jokes about John McCain, Jewish holidays and Douglas, who reaffirmed his Jewish faith and had a second bar mitzvah at age 83.

He called Douglas "an inspiration" and said, "This is the greatest head of hair I've ever seen on a Jew in my life."

Midler, backed by a 12-piece band, toasted Douglas with a set of songs including "The Rose."

The veteran actor famously credited a blacklisted screenwriter on 1960's "Spartacus." Over the past decade, Douglas and his wife, Anne, have funded the construction of 400 playgrounds at Los Angeles schools.

Spielberg established the Shoah Foundation in 1994 to collect and preserve stories from Holocaust survivors. Its archive now includes more than 50,000 video testimonies from survivors and witnesses from 56 countries. The organization recently joined forces with an African group to record and preserve testimonies from survivors of the genocide in Rwanda.

The Shoah Foundation became part of the University of Southern California two years ago, which is making its video archives and accompanying curricula available to scholars around the world.

"It's one of the crown jewels of the university," said Howard Gillman, dean of USC's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Spielberg said the foundation's work supports his "ultimate dream" of making the study of the Holocaust and other genocides a prerequisite for graduating from high school.

"They can look at all these examples of genocide and it will give the world a very complete look at a sad human condition," he said. "It's something we have to understand in order to overcome."

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