(JTA) – Speaking at Harvard University’s commencement, filmmaker Steven Spielberg said he was “wrong” as a kid to think anti-Semitism “was fading.”
Spielberg, whose 99-year-old father Arnold sat in one of the first rows at his address before the Ivy League university’s class of 2016, told the graduates Thursday that the world “is full of monsters” espousing “racism, homophobia, ethnic hatred, class hatred” and “religious hatred.”
Spielberg also offered a veiled criticism of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, saying, “We are a nation of immigrants – at least for now” and calling on graduates to vote in the upcoming election.
Facebook COO and Harvard alum Sheryl Sandberg, who is also Jewish, served as chief marshal of the ceremony.
“As a kid, I was bullied – for being Jewish,” Spielberg recalled in his speech. “This was upsetting, but compared to what my parents and grandparents had faced, it felt tame. Because we truly believed that anti-Semitism was fading. And we were wrong. Over the last two years, nearly 20,000 Jews have left Europe to find higher ground. And earlier this year, I was at the Israeli embassy when President Obama stated the sad truth. He said: ‘We must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise. We cannot deny it.’”
The 69-year-old creator of award-winning films like “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” as well as blockbusters like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the Indiana Jones series, also spoke about his Shoah Foundation. The foundation has taken video testimonies of over 53,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses in 63 countries since he founded it in 1994, he said.
The foundation is now collecting testimonies from genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia and Nanking, he said, adding, “We must never forget that the inconceivable doesn’t happen – it happens frequently.”
Spielberg provided more details about his childhood brushes with anti-Semitism in a 1993 interview with the New York Times. In that interview, soon after “Schindler’s List” came out, Spielberg, who grew up in Ohio, Arizona and California, recalled how “I was always aware I stood out because of my Jewishness. In high school, I got smacked and kicked around. Two bloody noses. It was horrible.”