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Kirk Douglas: 91 and Still Giving

USC Shoah Foundation Institute celebrates the 2008 Ambassador for Humanity Kirk Douglas

By Susan Andrews
October 1, 2008

Host Billy Crystal; honoree Kirk Douglas; Steven Spielberg, founder of the Shoah Foundation, honorary chair of the Shoah Foundation Institute and USC trustee; Wallis Annenberg, USC trustee; and USC President Steven Sample attend the institute’s 2008 annual Ambassadors for Humanity Gala held at the California Science Center. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.com.

Host Billy Crystal; honoree Kirk Douglas; Steven Spielberg, founder of the Shoah Foundation, honorary chair of the Shoah Foundation Institute and USC trustee; Wallis Annenberg, USC trustee; and USC President Steven Sample attend the institute’s 2008 annual Ambassadors for Humanity Gala held at the California Science Center. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.com.

Steven Spielberg, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler took center stage in honoring Kirk Douglas with the Shoah Foundation Institute’s Ambassador for Humanity Award on Oct. 22. Throughout the evening, hosted by quick-witted Crystal, a pervasive message resonated: Holocaust survivors’ memories must be preserved and studied so such atrocities are never, never repeated.

Spielberg, founder of the Shoah Foundation and honorary chair of the Shoah Foundation Institute, stated the movie “Spartacus,” in which Douglas starred, is emblematic of his life: “He is a man who stands up for what he believes in and who expects the rest of us to stand up right beside him.” Spielberg lauded Douglas for ending the blacklist era when he credited screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, probably the most famous of the Hollywood 10, for his work on “Spartacus.”  Spielberg called this an “unprecedented and righteous move.”

The eloquent Wallis Annenberg, vice chair of the gala’s dinner committee and last year’s award recipient said Douglas leads from his heart both on and off stage as portrayed in his magnificent role in “Paths of Glory.” She said he is a true ambassador of humanity — writ large — with a lifetime of good works. Annenberg believes the establishment of the institute at USC two years ago was critical and said that first-class materials belong in a first-class institution.

USC President Steven B. Sample praised the service of USC trustees Steven Spielberg and Wallis Annenberg, who have been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from the university. “It’s not easy to establish an institute at
USC,” he said. “We are very selective. We want programs that reflect our values and curriculum, that advance our educational goals. We want institutes that can truly make a difference.”

 “Our role and mission statement says that we help our students acquire moral discernment and respect and appreciation for others,” Sample continued. “Our code of ethics states that we nurture an environment of mutual respect and tolerance. And that we speak out against hatred and bigotry whenever and wherever we find it.”

Kim Simon, interim executive director and director of programs for the Shoah Foundation Institute, noted “Our further integration into the fabric of this great institution will help us use the testimonies ever more effectively … The revolutionary way that the millennial generation is seeking and receiving information mandates us to develop Web-based educational tools that will meet the need of high school educators and inspire students.”

Spielberg said to the Holocaust survivors present at the event, “Six million of you left footprints in the ashes and the Shoah Foundation Institute is dedicated to preserving those memories forever. On our watch, they will never blow away.” The institute holds an archive of nearly 52,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses from 56 countries and in 32 different languages.

In addition, the institute is collaborating with the Rwandan organization IBUKA, to capture the stories of those who survived the Rwandan genocide.

Douglas delivered a heartfelt speech in which he recalled how deeply affected he was when he viewed the first assembly of survivor testimonies. “When I left, I had the urge to do something good for the world,” he said. “I think that the Shoah Foundation Institute has inspired all of us to become ambassadors for humanity.” Among his many humanitarian efforts, Douglas and his wife Anne have also funded the construction of 400 playgrounds in Los Angeles schools.

“USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences is proud to be associated with the Shoah Foundation Institute, one of the crown jewels of the university,” Howard Gillman, dean of the USC College, said. “Kirk Douglas is an outstanding humanitarian and an inspiration to all of us.”

To learn more about the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, visit www.college.usc.edu/vhi.

 

Read more articles from USC College Magazine's Spring/Summer 2009 issue.