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Byline: Rob Lowman Entertainment Editor

Steven Spielberg wouldn't take the bait when asked about ``The Passion of Christ.'' The setting was an event Wednesday celebrating the DVD release of ``Schindler's List,'' which was attended by cast members and Holocaust survivors.

``I certainly am not going to comment based on circumstantial evidence from what I've been hearing and feeling in the last seven or eight days,'' said Spielberg about ``Passion.'' ``I think it's much more important, and I'm really too smart to answer a question like that. When I do see the film, the first person who will hear from me will be Mel Gibson and no one else.''

Instead, the director was was using the event to spotlight the Shoah Visual History Foundation, an organization that he founded after making ``Schindler's List.'' In its 10 years of existence the group has archived the testimony of 52,000 Holocaust survivors.

Spielberg said he hoped the foundation's work would be able to prove to doubters that the Holocaust actually happened (Gibson's father, who has made controversial statements doubting the Holocaust in recent weeks, was not brought up), adding that Shoah was also reaching out to young people to educate them about genocide, not only in World War II but in other places like Rwanda, Cambodia and Armenia.

Still, he noted, ``There are Holocaust deniers who are so stuck in their hatred for Jews that neither 'Schindler's List' nor the Shoah Foundation will be able to convince them that 6 million murders actually occurred, but still we must try to convince them.''

On the surface, the event had the trappings of a typical release party - every major news organization and entertainment show or publication was there, plus, of course, plenty of publicists. There were laughs, too. (``Right on, San Francisco,'' Spielberg said when asked about gay marriages.) But the serious issues were never far away.

Before he addressed the media, Spielberg toured the Shoah Foundation, located on the Universal Studio Lot, along with ``Schindler's List'' cast members Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz and Caroline Goodall, as well as four Holocaust survivors who had been rescued by Oskar Schindler, the Swedish businessman who tried to protect thousands of Jews during World War II.

During the tour, survivor Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig told Spielberg, ``Schindler saved us, but you gave us our second life.''

Another survivor - Leon Leyson, a retire Los Angeles school teacher - echoed Jonas-Rosenzweig's thoughts. ``Up to 'Schindler's List' we didn't even talk about the Holocaust with our own children.''

Both of the survivors had been youths during World War II.

After hearing the testimony, Kingsley, citing Archbishop Desmond Tutu's ability to get white South Africans to admit their crimes, said he hoped that more people who were involved in the crimes of the Holocaust would come forward and give testimony.

The DVD, which is being released Tuesday, includes an 11-minute clip narrated by Morgan Freeman explaining the work of the Shoah Foundation and a 77-minute documentary, ``Voices From the List,'' which presents never-before-seen testimonials from Schindler survivors.

Spielberg said he delayed the DVD release in order to mark the 10th anniversary of the foundation.

``I thought it would be significant to wait and remind people,'' said Spielberg, adding that, ``What we've learned is that people don't learn that much from history. ... When 'Schindler's List' came out, it was received in a wonderful, open-hearted, open-minded way, and then the world became a very sad place.''

And while no one would comment directly on ``Passion,'' Douglas Greenberg, the foundation's president, said, ``(As a Jew) I can't help but be nervous when I read about swastikas being painted on synagogues or see a sign that says 'The Jews killed Christ,' '' referring to the sign posted by a Colorado minister after seeing ``Passion.'' ``But if that is the disease, (the Shoah Foundation) is the cure.''

More about the Shoah Foundation can be found at ``Schindler's List'' (Universal; $26.98) includes ``Voices From the List'' featurette and ``Behind the Shoah Foundation With Steven Spielberg'' featurette.

Rob Lowman, (818) 713-3687





Ralph Fiennes, left, Ben Kingsley, Steven Spielberg, Embeth Davidtz and Caroline Goodall promote next week's DVD release of ``Schindler's List'' and the work of the Shoah Foundation, which documents the stories of Holocaust survivors, at Universal Studios Wednesday.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 7, 2004

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