Spielberg says childhood anti-Semitism made him ‘ashamed of being Jewish’

Spielberg says childhood anti-Semitism made him ‘ashamed of being Jewish’

Acclaimed director and producer speaks about his new documentary series on what makes people hate

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in Beverly Hills, California, February 28, 2019. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in Beverly Hills, California, February 28, 2019. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Academy Award-winning Hollywood director and producer Steven Spielberg has said that bullying he suffered while at school made him ashamed of being Jewish, even though his identity was something he has always been proud of.

Spielberg, who is on a visit to India to meet with the local film industry, made the remarks during an interview with media, excerpts of which were published by India Today on Sunday.

The subject of anti-Semitism came up as Spielberg talked about his new six-part documentary series “Why We Hate,” broadcast earlier this month on the Discovery Channel.

“I encountered anti-Semitism as an elementary school student in my school, and not throughout the entire school but small parts of popular kids they would pick on less popular kids, in my case zero popularity, growing up,” recalled Spielberg, who came from an Orthodox Jewish family.

“I didn’t think of it as hate but thought of it as a shame,” Spielberg said. “I was ashamed of a lot of things and they actually managed with enough chiding and bullying to make me actually feel ashamed of being Jewish.”

“Inside me, I have always been very proud of to be a Jewish,” he said. “So, I was on the receiving end of people’s power trips and that was my main experience with being hated, something that I had no control over.

“I felt pretty much like an outcast and when I got older, I realized bullying is a very pervasive tool to make other people feel like they are empowered,” he said.

Referring to acts of genocide, Spielberg, who directed the acclaimed Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List,” said, “We overlook people who perpetuate evil to not view them as monsters…until they are caught while they are in process of mass murder.

“It is the banality of people,” he said.

“The genocides have been industrialized. Especially the Holocaust, so many lives can be taken so quickly in such massive quantity. It was a business of death. It was run like, you would run a steel factory, a mill of some kind. And it was perceived by the perpetrators as being normal.”

Of “Why We Hate,” which he co-produced with Alex Gibney, Spielberg said he wants the series to change the way people talk about there differences.

“I would love that every episode ends with hope,” he said. “Every single segment of the series has solutions so it is not just condemnation of those who hate and those who are essentially are them versus us. There is a middle ground.”

Spielberg said he hopes the series will create conversations, “talking about the things we share in common and not just the things that divide us.”

Earlier this month Spielberg sat down with CBS News to discuss the series, saying it “has been a subject that has been very close to me personally and a subject that seems to be even more relevant today compared to even 10 years ago.”

Hate, he said, rather than being normal is “is the constant abnormal.”

“The human brain is a changeable system. And we can unlearn hate just as quickly as we acquire it,” Spielberg said.

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