Shoah Institute gala celebrates completion of visual history project, laments continued genocides

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute hosted its annual Ambassadors for Humanity gala on June 6 with its customary panache, and there was good news and bad news.

On the upbeat side, institute executive director Stephen D. Smith announced that the organization had just completed the mammoth task of digitizing testimonies by some 52,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses, representing 105,000 hours of visual history.

It would take one person, watching the interviews 24/7, some 30 years to view all the material, he said.

Less uplifting was the confirmation that despite vows of “Never Again,” genocides are continuing across the world.

For example, among the guests at the dinner was Edith Umugiraneza, a young Rwandan woman, who told a Journal reporter that she had witnessed the murder of her parents and siblings during the bitter tribal strife in her African nation.

The evening’s honoree, Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co. — the world’s largest media company — said, “We have never lived in a world without genocide.

“The world is a slow learner.” he added, and suggested that the urge to wipe out those of different race or religion appeared to be a constantly renewed “toxic resource.”

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the Shoah Institute’s founder and chair of the evening, lauded Iger as “one of the good guys” and “a model corporate citizen.”

Because the event fell on the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe by Allied armies during World War II, Spielberg and Iger, describing themselves as “sons of the greatest generation,” honored two attending veterans of the Normandy landing.

The more than 500 guests attending the event at the Hollywood & Highland Grand Ballroom were entertained by host Jimmy Kimmel and singer Mary J. Blige.