Ukrainian Film To Counter Holocaust Deniers - Spielberg

KIEV, Ukraine -- A documentary film based on the accounts of Holocaust survivors in Ukraine can help undermine activists who try to deny the attempt to eliminate European Jewry, U.S. filmmaker Steven Spielberg said on Wednesday.

Filmmaker Steven Speilberg (R) speaks as Ukrainian industrialist Viktor Pinchuk listens at a news conference in Kiev, October 18, 2006.

Spielberg, whose grandparents came from Ukraine, co-produced "Spell Your Name" and was attending its premiere after visiting Babiy Yar, the site outside Kiev city centre where the Nazis slaughtered more than 33,000 Jews in two days in September 1941.

"In order to create an undeniability about the Holocaust, these survivors, 52,000 of them, need to be shown to students all over the world," Spielberg told a news conference.

"Tolerance is born of education. Everything comes from what we learn. It all depends on who our teachers are...All hatred starts with fear. And we have experienced a century of fear and I fear we are going into another century of heightened fear."

The film, co-produced with Ukrainian industrialist Viktor Pinchuk, brings together poignant accounts from Jews who survived and Ukrainians who sheltered them.

Yuri Pinchuk relates how he last saw his mother in a ghetto after she had helped negotiate his safe passage out. Polina Belskaya describes emerging from a mass grave.

Irina Maksimova winces at the memory of a German soldier removing a crying infant from a truck, smashing its head and hurling the corpse back into the vehicle. She then tells how her family took in and concealed 16 Jews.

Director Sergei Bukovsky intersperses the accounts with images of life in towns and villages through the seasons.


Spielberg, making his first trip to an ex-Soviet state, said his background made him feel very much at home in Ukraine.

"This is not a foreign culture to me at all. This is a very familiar culture. I got off the aeroplane today and said 'I'm home!'" he said.

"I was brought up in a home where grandparents only spoke Russian and Yiddish...I kind of felt I had a piece of Ukraine in my own home, especially around dinner time."

Spielberg said showing the film would build understanding of the Holocaust in Ukraine, where Soviet versions of history downplayed its scale. He explored the subject of the Holocaust in his acclaimed "Schindler's List".

He said he had been moved by his visit to Babiy Yar, one of the first sites of mass wartime killings, where the Nazis ordered Kiev's Jews to gather 10 days after seizing the city.

No monument stood at the site until the 1970s and it was not until the end of Soviet rule that a monument to Jewish victims was erected. Gypsies, partisans and other victims were later shot there, with the total number believed to exceed 100,000.

"I had mixed feelings to be quite honest because the epicentre of Babiy Yar is a train station...," he said.

"I had a very tough time picturing what that place looked like 60 years ago and why it had changed so much. I was then able to see some pictures in books...get my bearings and my geography and go to the monuments."

Source: Reuters