On the Monday evening before Kol Nidre, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance invited two dozen Hollywood VIPs to preview their new Anne Frank exhibit weeks ahead of its October public opening. The guest list, created by Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and vice chairman of NBCUniversal Ron Meyer, included a handful of Hollywood bigwigs, Barbra Streisand and Tom Cruise.
Cruise was the first to arrive — solo — dressed elegantly in a suit and red tie. During cocktail hour, he mingled politely in the museum’s central rotunda while a lavish spread of kosher hors d’oeuvres languished coldly beside him.
“I made sure not to order anything from Doheny Meats,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center quipped about the now-defunct kosher butcher that was caught on tape circumventing supervision.
God forbid Tom Cruise should eat non-kosher meat, or, poo poo poo, leave a Jewish event hungry.
“I told Tom to eat something,” Hier’s wife, Marlene, gushed to a group of attendees. “I told him, ‘Tom, make yourself a plate.’ Because the thing I remember about his dinner” – the 2011 fundraiser at which the Wiesenthal center honored Cruise with a humanitarian award – “is that he talked to everyone. They’d bring him food, and he’d be talking, and then…” She gestures as if she were Cruise attempting to near his plate. “They’d bring another dish, and he’d have to turn around and start another conversation.”
She recounted a time Cruise and his then-wife, actress Katie Holmes joined her and the rabbi for Shabbat dinner. “Tom and Katie came to my house on Friday night and they loved the potato kugel. So we sent them home with kugel in a Ralph’s plastic bag and then we sent her the recipe. She kept saying, ‘This is so nice, Tom. It’s so peaceful.’ I said, ‘You can do it, too…’
“Then she divorced him.”
Streisand was the last to arrive, at half past six, wearing an off-the-shoulders black summer dress, with her dashing husband, actor James Brolin, on her arm. He carried her Chanel purse.
“Let’s see this exhibit,” she declared as she greeted the rabbi.
Hier invited her to have some hors d’oeuvres before the tour began.
“Let’s have some tapas,” Brolin said, but his wife didn’t seem interested.
“We just came from Amsterdam,” Streisand announced, referring to a visit she and Brolin made to the Anne Frank House earlier in the summer.
“We were allowed up into her attic,” she said.
“We read her letters in the dark,” Brolin added.
“This was a special visit,” Streisand explained, “a night where we were allowed to sit in her room, and the curator was reading from her book…”
The night following, Streisand performed in Germany – on what happened to be Anne Frank’s birthday. “I said to the audience, ‘Today is Anne Frank’s birthday,’” she recalled. “I dedicated the performance to her. I just told the audience, ‘you know, let’s celebrate Anne Frank.’”
Asked how the audience responded, Streisand added, without hesitation, “They were the most incredible audience in Europe.”
To set the tone for the tour, Hier invited the group into a special classroom where he announced that he was about to show them “the only existing evidence in the world linking Hitler to The Crime.”
Cruise hopped right to the front, taking a seat in the first row. Babs and Brolin sat in the center, giving Katzenberg, who leaned against the back wall, a bird’s eye view of Brolin giving Streisand a backrub.
Hier stood at the front and put on a pair of latex gloves. He introduced “The Hitler Letter,” an original document typed and signed by Adolf
Hitler in 1919, in which he lays the foundation for his political scapegoating of the Jews. “This is ordinarily kept in a safe,” Hier said, inviting the group to the front to see the letter up close.
“How did you get it? Did you have to buy it?” Streisand asked.
Hier replied that the Board of Trustees opted to purchase the letter for $150,000. Streisand gasped.
“Have you told them the typewriter story?” Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the Wiesenthal Center prodded.
Hier hesitated, eager to move the evening forward since Streisand had announced she was due back at an editing suite in Hollywood by 7:45.
“I want to hear the typewriter story,” Cruise insisted. “Give us a little bit, now that you’ve brought it up.”
Hier launched into a tale about the Wiesenthal Center’s investigation into the letter’s origins, and how Hitler, who in 1919 was an impoverished, failed artist, could afford a typewriter. An inquiry with the National Archives led to a further reveal, when a comparison between the Wiesenthal Center’s letter and a similar one at Stanford University revealed a discrepancy: the Stanford letter’s margins were different and contained an additional line.
“Theirs is a forgery!” Hier exclaimed, waving the letter in the air with his gloved hands. Turns out, he said, the German Workers Party was concerned that if Hitler didn’t win power they’d need to justify the loss: “So they put in the line ‘And the Jews own the media!’ And in order to do that, they needed an extra line, so they turned it upside down and started the letter this way…”
“Put it down!” Katzenberg half-nervously, half-jokingly shouted. “[That letter] has survived a lot of things. It won’t survive you!”
Next the museum’s director, Liebe Geft introduced the Anne Frank exhibition. The group proceeded into the galleries in a hush.
“I remember as a kid learning about her,” Cruise whispered to me. “Her story is something I used with my kids when they were younger to teach them about the Holocaust. Because they were young, they could identify with her.”
He was particularly moved by the pen-pal letters Anne and her sister, Margot, wrote in English to a pair of sisters in Danville, Iowa. “That’s so sweet. Oh my God,” he said. At another exhibit, showing the various film and fashion magazines and photographs Anne had posted over her bed, Rabbi May told Cruise, “That’s where you would have been.”
Streisand was taken with the 17, 528 articles of children’s clothing that serve as a wall which snakes through the exhibition, beginning in color and eventually turning dark. “Oh my God, look at these fabrics. Oh my God,” she said. “Does anyone know anything about these fabrics?”
Cruise fell behind the rest of the group, taking time to linger at each exhibit. Katzenberg strolled at the front, waiting for the others to catch up. Asked about his impressions of Anne Frank, Katzenberg was tongue-tied: “Go ask Streisand,” he said.
Of everyone in the group, Cruise seemed the most affected. “Look at what she contributed in the darkest condition of humanity,” he said. “She’s magical.”
Cruise told Rabbi Hier he plans to return with his kids.
When it was all over, Hier escorted mogul Meyer and his wife, Kelly, into the elevator. Kelly, who is not Jewish, was deeply moved.
“I knew that she told an amazing story,” she said of Frank. “But I was amazed at her optimism. Her spirit was very full of light and so connected to her faith, and to God. It’s inspiring.”
In the end, though, it was Meyer, whose own parents narrowly escaped the Holocaust, who offered the evening’s biggest twist.
“My mother was Edith Frank,” he said in the elevator.
Hier’s ears perked up: Could Ron Meyer, the longest-tenured movie studio chief in Hollywood history also be related to Anne Frank?
“That should be looked up by a genealogist!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Meyer said. “I might be an important guy.”