A competent accomplished woman goes up against a populist outsider who has created a reputation built on lies. Sound familiar? Maybe, but this is not about the 2016 US election: it is the plot of the film Denial (2016), based on the true story of the trial between Jewish Studies and Holocaust scholar Deborah E. Lipstadt and British Holocaust denier David Irving.
There is no denying that Denial is a film for our times. Conceived nine years ago, and filmed in 2015, the parallels between the trial and the President election is not lost on viewers. Frustratingly, we do seem to live in a time in which history is ignored, facts seem like an inconvenience and there is a prevailing ideology – that one’s opinion is more important, regardless if you can back it up with facts or not. What happens in this scenario is that there can be no debate between anyone because those espousing opinion, cannot rationally articulate their argument against those who cite facts.
This month, Jodi Elowitz shares five selections that explore recent Holocaust fiction and documentaries from a variety of perspectives.
Now Streaming on Netflix
What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy (2015) is a documentary based on the article My Father, the Good Nazi (2013) written by British Lawyer, Phillipe Sands in the Financial Times Magazine. The article discusses the relation of Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, Governor General of occupied Poland (General government) and Horst von Wächter, son of Otto von Wächter, District Governor of Krakow, Poland and later District Governor of Galicia during World War II. Both men were responsible for overseeing the extermination of Jews and charged with war crimes. Frank stood trial at Nuremberg and was found guilty on counts three and four (war crimes and crimes against humanity), sentenced to death, and executed on October 16, 1946. Wächter escaped prosecution and died while hiding in Rome in 1949.
Edited by Corry Guttstadt, Thomas Lutz, Bernd Rother, Yessica San Román
This volume offers a trans-national, comparative perspective on the varied reactions of the neutral countries to the Nazi persecution and murder of the European Jews. It includes a chapter by CHGS director Alejandro Baer and historian Pedro Correa entitled “The Politics of Holocaust Rescue Myths in Spain.”
The volume is based on the conference papers of the international conference of the same name which was held in November 2014 in Madrid. The conference was originally funded through IHRA’s Grant Program and co-sponsored by CHGS, among other organizations. The entire volume can be downloaded for free at this link.
The idea of reviving a historical figure to return from the dead to our own time period is not new. Many novels and films have dealt with this premise before though usually they focus on the return of someone likable. In the German film Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da) we get Adolf Hitler in Berlin circa 2014.
Billed as a comedy, Look Who’s Back opens in the clouds, reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will. At first, Look plays like a science fiction film around the return of the deceased. It turns into a buddy-road picture, as Hitler and the recently fired, down-on-his-luck filmmaker Fabian Sawatzki (played by Fabian Busch) drive about Germany in Fabian’s mother’s floral delivery van. They film people’s reactions to Hitler in the hopes that Fabian can get the footage on the air at the TV station that fired him. (These scenes are actual reactions of unsuspecting people on the street to Hitler as played by the actor Oliver Masucci.) Is it a comedy? Yes. Is it funny? Yes. There are laugh-out-loud moments, several moments of uncomfortable laughter, as well as a few cringe-inducing scenes.
On Saturday, February 20th the Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis & St. Paul presented If Only I Were That Warrior as part of their annual Italian Film Festival followed by a moderated discussion. In the film, director Valerio Ciriaci examines Italy’s brutal attempts to colonize Ethiopia in 1935 through the lens of the 2012 erection of a monument dedicated to Rodolfo Graziani. The monument, located in the Italian town of Affile, reignited the tense politics surrounding Graziani’s involvement in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and its legacy today.
Son of Saul is a film about a member of the Sonderkommando (Jewish prisoners forced to aid in the killing process and clean up) at Auschwitz. What sets Son of Saul apart from most films that deal with the Holocaust is that it is not presented in a traditional narrative structure. Hungarian director László Nemes upon accepting his Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film said “over the years the Holocaust has become an abstract. It deserves a face.” Certainly he does this immediately as the camera never leaves Saul; we are either looking directly at his face in close-up or over his shoulder. We experience events with Saul as he goes about his work and later his self-imposed mission, the burial of a boy. The movie is a visceral experience — there is very little dialogue, and we only see and hear what Saul sees and hears. Nemes gives us very little to go on, we know nothing about Saul’s past, who he once was, prior to landing in Auschwitz. Saul is introduced to us as he emerges from a combination of mist, smoke and sound. We are immersed in a world that is out of focus and filled with a cacophony of sounds, some so sharp and real one turns to look for the offending speaker in the audience. Nemes and his sound designer Tamas Zanyi, recorded over eight different languages speaking dialogue to create aural chaos, these layers of sound combined with the close-ups and long takes are intended to disorientate, forming a psychological experience with Saul. Nemes does not use any sentiment or melodramatic devices to tell his story. We never form an emotional bond with Saul as one might to other characters in other films on the Holocaust.
Continue reading “Son of Saul: A New Kind of Holocaust Film”
On Saturday, October 17th, 2015, the Minneapolis Film Society screened Pretty Village at St. Anthony Main theater, a documentary depicting the experience of Kemal Pevranic and his village during the war in Bosnia (1992-95). Pevranic, the main subject of the film, is also the producer and a human rights activist who works to raise awareness and to rebuild his community in Bosnia by working on reconciliation efforts, particularly with young people of all three ethnicities in Bosnia. The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies co-sponsored the film screening event, in which I participated as the moderator of the post-screening discussion. Continue reading “Minneapolis Film Society Screens Pretty Village”
Taner Akçam and Umit Kurt, Translated by Aram Arkun
Pertinent to contemporary demands for reparations from Turkey is the relationship between law and property in connection with the Armenian Genocide. This book examines the confiscation of Armenian properties during the genocide and subsequent attempts to retain seized Armenian wealth. Through the close analysis of laws and treaties, it reveals that decrees issued during the genocide constitute central pillars of the Turkish system of property rights, retaining their legal validity, and although Turkey has acceded through international agreements to return Armenian properties, it continues to refuse to do so. The book demonstrates that genocides do not depend on the abolition of the legal system and elimination of rights, but that, on the contrary, the perpetrators of genocide manipulate the legal system to facilitate their plans.
Taner Akçam holds the Kaloosdian and Mugar Chair of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. He is the author of many books, including: The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire (Princeton University Press, 2012), which received the Middle East Studies Association’s Hourani Book Prize and was listed by Foreign Affairs as “Best International Relations Books of 2012.”
Umit Kurt is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History Department of Clark University. He is the author of The Great, Hopeless Turkish Race: Fundamentals of Turkish Nationalism in the Turkish Homeland 1911-1916 (Iletisim Publishing House, 2012).
By Lou Ureneck
The harrowing story of a Methodist Minister and a principled American naval officer who helped rescue more than 250,000 refugees during the genocide of Armenian and Greek Christians-a tale of bravery, morality, and politics, published to coincide with the genocide’s centennial.
Professor Ureneck (Journalism, Boston University) conducted much of his research in writing the book in the U of M Library’s extensive Kautz Family YMCA Archives, highlighting the University’s unique ability to place historic events in context, and provide primary sources for study and scholarship.