“The only way to go, is to go through life with love and not with hatred. Hatred will never, ever win. Love will always win,” said actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in accepting the Holocaust Museum LA’s inaugural “Award of Courage” at its 15th annual gala. The event, which took place on Nov. 6 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, also honored Gregory Annenberg Weingarten and Sandra Gerson Kanengiser for their outstanding commitment to Holocaust education. Hosted by Melissa Rivers, the sold-out gala led by Beth Kean, Omar Sharif Jr. and the Holocaust Museum LA’s team, raised over $1.4 million to continue the museum’s free education programs that teach students the relevant lessons of the Holocaust and empowering them to stand up against hatred, bigotry and antisemitism.
A video playing on ballroom screens proclaimed the museum’s mission, “to inspire humanity through truth and education.” The video continued, “We educate to fight hate…The Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chamber. It started with years and years of propaganda, rumors and lies and brainwashing kids. It started from something small but turned huge.”
In his remarks, Museum Chair Guy Lipa shared, “Our community is devastated by the atrocities committed by Hamas. We are angry and scared, witnessing violent antisemitism in our backyard and around the globe, but I’m heartened to see our community come together tonight. It’s a testament to the importance of our mission to educate future generations.”
Those in attendance at the gala included four of the most prominent rabbis in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills Mayor Dr. Julian Gold, Ronald Leopold, Executive Director, Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the Consul-General of Austria in Los Angeles, Dr. Michael Postl, and significantly, 27 elderly Holocaust survivors. Lipa asked them to stand, enabling the crowd to applaud their “dignity, resilience and courage.”
Lipa, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, pointed out that when his 3-year-old son and his baby-on-the-way will be old enough to have meaningful conversations about the Holocaust, there may not be anyone left to share their firsthand accounts. The museum’s new Jona Goldrich campus, which Lipa announced officially broke ground, “will allow us to keep survivors’ voices alive, increase our visibility and amplify our regional impact by serving exponentially more students and visitors.” He shared proudly that $43 million has already been raised, which means the campaign has realized well over 80% of its goal.
Lipa also noted the troubling fact that conversations of today are no doubt similar to those his family members were probably having in the 1930s.
“While some have voiced outrage about the rise of antisemitism, we have also heard deafening silence from many more. Never again is now. As a community, this is not the time for us to lose our humanity. This is the time for us to lean into our humanity, to reject callousness and simplistic narratives, decide to stop division and further demonize one another, and to reach out and break the divide of hate through education and partnership,” Lipa remarked.
He then introduced the “terminator” of hate, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I have learned a long time ago that the only way you can really eliminate hatred is to face it head-on. When I walked through that camp in Auschwitz, it was horrifying. One of the darkest moments of my life. I’ve spent most of my life helping people find their strength…. The real miracle was the courage of the Jewish people and how it lives on to this day. It’s very important for me, for this generation, to show the youth. And in the future, we can do it the other way. We can be inclusive and be tolerant and look at everyone as equals,” said Schwarzenegger.
The former governor also spoke of his youth in Austria as a fledgling bodybuilder and the son of a Nazi, an abusive, antisemitic policeman. His journey to the United States as well as his ascendance from a non-English speaking Mr. Universe to a movie star superpower exhibited his strength, conviction and determination. Offering light-hearted moments of discovery and realization, Schwarzenegger revealed
his innate intolerance of hatred, and his authentic empathy and appreciation.
The trophy for the Award of Courage was designed for Schwarzenegger by his dear friend Chuck Arnoldi, and appropriately crafted of wood from a “mighty” oak tree. Mike Medavoy, the Oscar-winning producer, whom Schwarzenegger credits for giving him his first break and several other highly successful movie franchises, presented him with the award.
“For me to be here today, it’s unbelievable because as you can imagine, when you have been Mr. Universe five times, Mr. World, Mr. International, seven times, Mr. Olympia, you get a lot of trophies for your muscles. But this is a trophy for my heart,” said Schwarzenegger.
Following the poignant presentation, the Chief Executive Officer of Holocaust Museum LA, Beth Kean, spoke about the “Flame of Courage” installation. Backstage, 101-year-old Auschwitz survivor Joe Alexander lit the flame, which will be escorted through the streets of Los Angeles to the museum where it’ll find its permanent home. “The flame will remind us that in times of darkness we need to find the light,” said Kean, herself the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.
Kean recounted that her grandparents taught her two lessons.
“The Holocaust didn’t start with Auschwitz. It started with words and discrimination. And two, they always warned me, it can happen again.” Kean commented on the frightening surge in antisemitism around the world, on college compasses and in our backyards. “Holocaust Museum LA is answering the wake-up call from our survivors and this gives me hope for our future.”
Likewise, Sandra Gerson Kanengiser, the Legacy Award winner, shared with the audience her mother’s belief that she was meant to survive. Having directed her family foundation’s million-dollar grant, Kanengiser added, “Maybe by hearing her stories, those children learned to empathize in a way that might inform them later in life. That is certainly the hope, which brings us to the gift we’ve made to fund student tours. Trust me when I say the honor is truly ours in the giving.”
The last honoree, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, was presented with the Jona Goldrich Missionary Award. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, via video screens, shared how much he has enjoyed working with his friend Gregory “in championing human rights as well as fighting racism and antisemitism in all forms.” While introducing Gregory, the Chairman and CEO of East West Bank, Dominic Ng, shared that Gregory, like Jona Goldrich, “believes that cultural institutions have the potential to bring people together, to hear wounds and to inspire change.”
In his acceptance speech, Weingarten stated, “In this room, is my mother, Wallis Annenberg, President of the Annenberg Foundation, who has been really a fearless champion of education and human rights, and I know that she is so deeply affected by the rising tide of antisemitism. My father, Dr. Seth Weingarten, a former chief of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, dedicated so much of his life to caring for others. Both of my parents raised me to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, but also sought to live by the museum’s mission, educate to stop hate.”