I wondered if the Simon Wiesenthal Center would be joining the list of Jewish organizations and Jewish philanthropists — those like Hollywood’s Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Eric Roth — and organizations like the Yeshiva University of New York, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles — and others who had been victimized by Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion Ponzi ploy. I reached Rabbi Hier (by phone) in Boca Raton, Florida today.
He was still celebrating the successful premiere Wednesday night of the Center’s Moriah Films’ "Against The Tide" at the Movico Palace Theater. Moriah has won two Best Documentary Feature Oscars, ("Genocide", 1980 and "The Long Way Home," 1997). The new fillm, "Against The Tide" will not be in the running until next year.
As for investing money with Madoff, Hier tiold me, "We were very fortunate. No one ever came to us." Although it’s possible some supporters of the Wiesenthal may have, on their own, become involved with Madoff, not one penny of the Center went to him, Wiesenthal assured me. "We never gave him a dime. We have an all-seeing committee, we have a financial committee, we have a boad of trustees — never with one person." As for Madoff, himself, Rabbi Hier volunteered, "I mever knew him or met him."
He and the Center are now preparing to release the film after a premiere in L.A. on Feb.4 to accomodate narrator Dustin Hoffman’s schedule. "He read the script and immediately agreed to do it," said Hier who coproduces the film and cowrote. The film is the never-before-told story of Peter Bergson who tried to awaken the U.S. government and the public to the Holocaust and to try and take action. Neither came to fruition despite the pleas, including those of Hollywood’s Ben Hecht, Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni. "The Roosevelt administration was filled with anti-Semites," said Hier. "Winston Churchill asked the U.S. military to bomb the tracks leading into Auschwitz, but Don McCloy of U.S. Intelligence turned down the request."
"Meanwhile, Peter [Bergson] was the quarterback" Hier told me. "He tried to get some action [started] while one million Jews were still alive — three million had already been murdered." Some of this story will also be in the next Moriah film — about Winston Churchill. Meanwhile, Hier reminds that the current film, "Against The Tide," also points out today’s lack of action to stem the murder and mayhem in Darfur. What’s changed?
P.S. — On CBS’ Sunday Morning show Dustin Hoffman is interviewed by John Blackstone. He doesn’t disappoint, illustrating his pixie-ish personality by a request for a toilet (backstage) in his name in the theater he helped build in Santa Monica.