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Hier's parents came from Poland; his father worked as a lamp polisher after arriving in New York in 1917. In the 1960s, Hier served as assistant rabbi and, in 1964, became rabbi of Congregation Schara Tzedeck in Vancouver. In 1977, following a visit to Holocaust sites in Europe, Rabbi Hier came to Los Angeles to create the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Under his leadership, the Center has become one of the foremost Jewish human rights agencies in the world, with a constituency of more than 400,000 families. The Center maintains offices throughout the United States, and in Canada, Europe, Israel and Argentina.
He is the recipient of two Academy Awards - in 1997, as co-producer of The Long Way Home, which offers new insights into the critical post World War II period between 1945 and 1948 and the suffering of the tens of thousands of refugees who survived the Holocaust, and in 1981 as co-producer and co-writer for Genocide, a documentary on the Holocaust.
In 1990, he wrote and co-produced the award-winning Echoes That Remain, a documentary on pre-world War II European Jewish life, and in 1994, Hier produced and co-wrote, Liberation, the first production of Moriah Films. Under Rabbi Hier's direction, the Wiesenthal Center has served as consultant to Steven Spielberg's epic Schindler's List, and ABC Television's miniseries adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel, War and Remembrance. He is the recipient of an honorary degree and, in 1993 was made a Chevalier in the Ordre National du Mérite by French President François Mitterrand.
Newsweek describes Rabbi Hier as the following, "Hier is one phone call away from almost every world leader, journalist and Hollywood studio head. He is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Museum of Tolerance and Moriah Films." In 2007 and 2008 Rabbi Marvin Hier was named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek.
Hier founded the Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles (YULA) and was the dean of the school until the 2006-2007 school year.
In 2009, he criticized Vatican cardinal Renato Martino over his comment that Gaza was a "big concentration camp". He later criticized the lifting of the excommunication of bishop Richard Williamson, a member of the Society of Saint Pius X.
Marvin Hier currently resides in Los Angeles. He has 2 sons and 8 grandchildren.