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  • Barbara Stark-Nemon

Affirming Life with Spielberg, Ford and Sweet Baby James

I had the extraordinary privilege last evening of attending a gala to honor William Clay Ford Jr. with the USC Shoah Foundation’s Ambassador for Humanity Award at The Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, MI. The program was a powerful indication of what can happen when visionary people use their influence to effect change for the moral good.

Steven Spielberg began collecting video testimonies from Holocaust Survivors in 1993, which eventually became the Shoah Foundation’s Institute for Visual History’s archive. Later, the Shoah foundation developed the I-Witness program to engage middle and high school students in viewing these testimonies and reflecting on how this experience would help them to foster tolerance and community engagement. There were roving groups of current students at the gala, proudly demonstrating their projects. The Shoah Foundation has expanded the filming of testimonies to survivors of other genocides, and a Ford donation will expand Detroit I-Witness education program to more schools over the next two years.

Over the course of the evening, I met a long-time friend of my parents, from the days when they were new refugees from Nazi Germany. I met the individuals at the Detroit Holocaust Memorial Center who will sponsor my novel, Even in Darkness, at the Detroit Jewish Book Fair in November. I enjoyed Steve Carell’s entertaining hosting of the evening’s program. I heard Paula Liebowitz, a Holocaust survivor, remind the audience how important testimony is to keep people from becoming mere bystanders to genocide. I heard Detroiter Mickey Shapiro, a Shoah foundation board member introduce Bill Ford as a captain of industry, and a general of humanity. I heard Bill Ford state, as so few of his industry titan colleagues do, that the purpose of any company is to make people’s lives better, and that developing a conscience is part and parcel of what goes into integrating technologies and innovation into his business. I heard this visionary man promise to continue to “earn this” award.

Steven Spielberg noted that having the courage and persistence to tell stories, as more than 50,000 survivors have now done, will enshrine hope and dignity out of despair and desperation. The president of USC, Max Acheus, noted that history happens to individuals. All these messages felt like a benediction for the formidable process of bringing to the page, in Even in Darkness, the family story that wouldn’t let me go. The sheer power of inspiration and applied creativity in the room at the Henry Ford last night was captured in another astonishing highlight of the evening- James Taylor, his wife Kim, and cellist Owen Young performed “Shower the People.” As Steven Catrell tweeted this morning, “life-affirming.”