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October 12, 1984 - Image 21

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-10-12

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winner Elmer Bernstein, and use of top Hollywood talents
throughout, from direction and script to sound and
graphics. Some of its most moving moments occur when
the documentary focuses on the personal stories of ordinary
people like Leon Kahn, a survivor who now lives in Van-
couver. He and other members of his family joined the par-
tisans but his mother, refusing to leave her mother, chose
to remain behind. His description of their parting lingers
in the mind.
Another memorable sequence relates how a group of Or-
thodox Jews in the town of Lublin defied the Nazis when,
commanded to sing a song, they sang and danced with fer-
vor to the Yiddish words, "we shall outlive them."
The documentary opens with scenes of pre-World War
II Europe, depicting the richness of the culture, the strength
of family life and the depth of religious commitment. It
traces Hitler's rise to power, the growing anti-Semitism and
the full scale Nazi effort to annihilate Jews.
Film clips, still photos, illustrations and the expert nar-
ration keep the film moving, with virtually all of the major
issues raised by the Holocaust at least touched on.
The film answers the charge that Jews went to their
deaths like sheep to slaughter, pointing out the countless
instances of physical and spiritual resistance. It notes the
apathy of the. Church — pointedly referring to Pope Pius
XII — and the fact that the U.S. failed to open its gates
to refugees before the war or bomb the concentration camps
during the war.
The film states that Jews were not the only victims of
the Nazis but emphasizes that "the full fury focused on Jews
alone" and that the Nazi target was "not just Jewish lives
but Jewish life."
The film closes with Simon Wiesenthal at the Western
Wall in Jerusalem placing a kvittei, or message, between
its cracks: "I am my brother's keeper," he says.
Perhaps the strongest message comes after the film is

Friday, October 12, 194 21

over, after the credits have run. In silence, three graphics Like the Wiesenthal
are flashed on the black screen, one at a time. They note Center itself,
that anti-Semitic candidates ran well in two statewide elec-
"Genocide," the
tions in recent years, and that a 1981 survey in West Ger- Academy Award-
many found that 18 percent of the respondents said life was
winning documen-
"better under Hitler." The final, unspoken but implicit
tary, is slick, emo-
massage: it can happen again.
Stephen Hunter, the Baltimore Morning Sun film critic, tional and powerful-
said he was "powerfully put off by the slickness" of the film, ly effective.
which, he wrote, at times seemed to be "a guided tour of
the Holocaust courtesy of a very peppy advertising agen-
cy." The effect was "unsettling, even offensive," but "so
scorching that it transcends technique in the end. It
becomes almost unbearably moving."
The film is "more emotional and manipulative than
technical and scholarly in its approach," said Hunter, but
the point is to present "a cry, a scream of rage and bit-
terness, not a dry footnote in an unread, 800-page book."
One expert consultant to "Genocide" said he was con-
cerned at "a few glaring historical inaccuracies" in the film,
which Rabbi Hier chose to leave in because of their emo-
tional appeal. One was the incident of the Bais Yaakov girls
who committed suicide rather than be captured by the
Nazis. Most historians say this never took place.
But another Holocaust scholar defended the film. "It
wasn't intended as a work of scholarship, but to move peo-
ple. And it does."
Ironically, due to distribution rights and other problems,
the film has never received a sustained wide-scale showing.
Typically, it is used as Wiesenthal Center benefit screen-
ing in a major city where it will be shown for one or two
nights, playing to primarily Jewish audiences rather than
the uneducated masses it was intended for. It has been
shown in about 30 U.S. cities, but the Center plans to have
the film translated
into many languages and shown around

the world.

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