Institute News

Sidney Sheinberg was a longtime supporter of USC Shoah Foundation, mentor to Steven Spielberg

When Steven Spielberg was inspired to establish the Shoah Foundation, Sidney Sheinberg was there to help realize that vision.

Sheinberg, who died Thursday at 84, was not only a mentor to USC Shoah Foundation founder Steven Spielberg, he was also a committed supporter of the Institute’s work nearly every step of the way.

His friendship and generous support helped the organization build the infrastructure for what would become the repository for 55,000 testimonies of survivors and witnesses to genocides spanning the 20th century and into the 21st. His commitment to the Institute continued for the next 25 years. Sheinberg and his wife, actress Lorraine Gary, were part of the annual leadership of the Institute’s signature fundraising Ambassadors Gala and participated in many key milestones including joining Spielberg and President Barack Obama to mark the Institute’s 20th anniversary in 2014.

It was Sheinberg who saw talent in the 20-year-old Spielberg and hired him for his first directing job.

And it was Sheinberg who introduced Spielberg to Thomas Keneally’s book “Schindler’s Ark,” which the director would turn into the groundbreaking film “Schindler’s List.” Sheinberg, the longtime head of Universal Studios, bought the rights to the book, knowing that his protégée was the right man to do justice to the story of Oskar Schindler.

“My heart is broken at this news,” Spielberg in a statement. “He gave birth to my career and made Universal my home. He gave me ‘Jaws,’ I gave him ‘E.T.’ and he gave me ‘Schindler’s List.’ We were a team for 25 years and he was my dear friend for 50. I have no concept about how to accept that Sid is gone. For the rest of my life I will owe him more than I can express.”

It was during the making of the Academy Award-winning film in Poland that Spielberg was moved to found an organization to record and preserve the firsthand testimonies of those who survived the Holocaust.

“Sid Sheinberg helped lay the foundation for the important work we continue to do today,” said USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith. “While most of the world may know him for his work in the film industry, to us, he was a person who understood the value of testimony to shape lives and create a more just and empathetic world. We will miss him dearly and we offer our deepest condolences to Lorraine and their sons, Bill and Jon.”

Sheinberg’s humanitarian work extended beyond the Institute. He was the vice chairman of Human Rights Watch and the co-founder of the Children’s Action Network. He served on the boards of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the American Jewish Committee and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He was also honored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for his life’s work in civil rights and inclusive support of the LGBT community.