Monday, March 22, 2010

Jewish Holocaust / Cultural Representations of Genocide

Life Isn't Beautiful
By Cynthia Ozick
Newsweek, March 15, 2010
"[...] Consider a handful of movies that profess to render the Holocaust. Life Is Beautiful, a naive, well-intentioned, preposterous, painfully absurd, and ignorant lie. Inglourious Basterds, a defamation, a canard -- what Frederic Raphael, writing in Commentary, calls 'doing the Jews a favor by showing that they, too, given the chance, coulda/woulda behaved like mindless monsters,' even as he compares it to Jew Süss, the notorious Goebbels film. The Reader, like the novel it derives from, no better than Nazi porn, and drawn from the self-serving notion that the then most literate and cultivated nation in Europe may be exculpated from mass murder by the claim of illiteracy. As for Schindler's List, its most honest moment, after its parade of fake-looking victims, comes at the very close of the film, and in documentary mode, when the living survivors appear on screen. So where can the truth be found? In Anne Frank's diary? Yes, but the diary, intended as a report, as a document, can tell only a partial and preliminary truth, since the remarkable child was writing in a shelter -- precarious, threatened, and temporary; nevertheless a protected space. Anne Frank did not, could not, record the atrocity she endured while tormented by lice, clothed in a rag, and dying of typhus in Bergen-Belsen. For what we call 'truth' we must go into the bottom-most interior of that hell. And as Primo Levi admonishes, only the dead went down to the Nazi hell's lowest rung. In Theresienstadt, the Potemkin village designed as a way station to the chimneys -- which the International Red Cross allowed itself to be bamboozled by -- doomed children painted brightly remembered scenes and wrote yearning poems ('I Never Saw Another Butterfly'), but they were not yet in darkest extremis. Out of the Vilna Ghetto came the Yiddish 'Partisaner Lied' ('Partisan's Song'), a bugle call of (futile) desperation and defiance. Fleeing to Villefranche, France, in 1940, Berlin-born Charlotte Salomon, already an advanced painter, in two years created an expressionist series called Life, or Theater? Her extraordinary work, again the product of ephemerally protected space, survives; she did not. [...]"

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