Mel Gibson's support of Holocaust survivors is a reminder that people can change

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File: Mel Gibson at 'Stand Up For Gus' benefit held at Bootsy Bellows

Mel Gibson, the actor who once drunkenly declared  "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” has been quietly donating to a project to help Holocaust survivors.

Can you believe it? 

It's true, though.

The Oscar-winning director has quietly been making amends for the many ugly things he's said and done over the years, including his hate-filled rant after  a 2006 traffic stop in California. 

"He's helped many, many people, especially Holocaust survivors," said film and television director Zane Buzby, founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project.

Buzby, who is scheduled to hold a lecture and film screening in Wilmington on Sunday at the Siegel Jewish Community Center, reached out to Gibson a few years ago after reading a piece posing the question "Isn't it time to forgive Mel Gibson?"

"The article was written by a reporter who had written a couple of scathing articles about Mel Gibson many years ago... ," she recalled during a recent phone interview. 

"It turns out [the reporter] met with [Gibson] and in the last 10 years he  has gotten clean and sober," added Buzby, who has directed episodes of Golden Girls, Newhart, and Married … With Children.  "He apologized to the people that he hurt.  He did all of the right things that you do when you make a mistake."

Buzby decided to ask Gibson to join her crusade of assisting elderly Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe. Many are desperately in need of food, heat, and other basic necessities.      

"It took a while because he was off filming a movie and I was in Eastern Europe finding survivors, but we finally sat down in the office about 2½ years ago and he was very compelled to help," she said. "And that was the beginning.

"I said, 'Can I publicize this?' and he said no." He was afraid that his association with the project would hurt it.

But the 2004 Passion of the Christ director eventually relented and since then word of  his involvement has gone viral. Partly because we're all stunned by Gibson's  -- ahem -- attitude adjustment. 

I've been boycotting his work. But during the Passover season, in which we celebrate rebirth among other things, his apparent about-face is a nice reminder that people can indeed change.

Besides, you'd have to be awfully hard-hearted not to be moved by the plight of the seniors Buzby's organization aids. They have lived through some of the darkest days in human history only to stagger home and  be left on their own without any of the social safety nets we take for granted in this country.

During a 2001 trip abroad to visit the birthplaces of her grandparents, Buzby was dismayed to discover just how bleak the living conditions were along the back roads and villages of Lithuania and Belarus. Entire villages were empty. Buildings were still pockmarked with bullet holes.   

"I met Holocaust survivors and they were living in these tiny wooden huts," she recalled. "I found them on their hands and knees digging up potatoes before the ground froze so that they would have a winter food supply."

She left with a resolve to help. That's how the Survivor Mitzvah Project got its start. Since then,  the charity has provided financial assistance to about 2,000 survivors in eight countries in Eastern Europe.

On Sunday, Buzby will host a 2 p.m. screening of a film she directed called The Last Survivors – Echoes From the Holocaust.  She hopes attendees will watch and be as moved by their plight as Gibson was.

I know I was.