Monday, December 8, 2008

For a Shoah-free Christmas?

Stuart Klawans calls for a moratorium on Holocaust movies. "Lest We Remember: Saying never again to Holocaust movies." What struck me:
In fact, some of them can scarcely bring themselves to put a Jewish character on the screen. Valkyrie, for example, is based on the true story of Colonel von Stauffenberg and the plot to assassinate Hitler, which means the exciting foreground of the movie can be filled with German staff officers, while the victims of genocide linger in the rear as a kind of atmospheric effect. This is convenient for the director, Bryan Singer, whose 1998 Apt Pupil delved into the awful fascination that Nazism exerts on young minds, the better to fascinate an audience with the exact same thrills. I predict Valkyrie will offer you even spiffier uniforms, louder commands, bigger guns, and (with the presence of Black Book’s Carice van Houten) maybe a little sex. The action should be everything you’d want from the maker of X-Men.
So, like Sophie's Choice and Schindler's List. Of course, Anne Frank was about a Jew, but deracinated and distant from the genocide -conveniently for a Hollywood insistent on happy endings- during the writing of the Diary.

From The Holocaust in American Film by Judith E. Doneson:
Now, Meyer Levin's major complaint about the play throuout the years had been that it ignored the Jewish content of Anne's book, a very apparent Jewishness, as in this passage:
Who has inflicted this upon up? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all people learn good, and for that reason only do we have to suffer now.
Levin quite rightly viewed this as a central idea of the Diary. And his anger was justified when in the final version of the play, Anne's words had been changed to read: "We're not the only people that've had to suffer There've always been people that've had to...Sometimes one race...Sometimes another...and yet..."

I doubt antisemitism has ever been as simple as a dominant view of Jews as subhuman. Certainly, it hasn't been that simple for a long time. Even in pre-Nazi Germany, the dominant view was intolerant of Jew-hatred. But anti-antisemitism has always been blunted, so that Jew-hatred was able to reinvent itself as antisemitism. So it's important to me to ask -though I know there are many stories to tell about WWII besides the Jewish one- how the hell can we talk about antisemitism while we keep backgrounding Jews in the retelling of the Shoah? Or giving Oscars to Roberto Benigni.

I'm sure it's just coincidence that these films are out for Oscar season, which happens to concur with the annual aural assault of Christian dominance. But looking at that poster, above, I'm not sure I could really tell Life is Beautiful from Home Alone at the video store.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

- Julie

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. I knew there was something bothering me about this, but couldn't figure out what...