The New York Times has a new Holocaust movie review out today:
Perhaps nothing came out of the Holocaust other than the determination to prevent a repetition of the crimes. But there is a disjunction between the political sphere and the entertainment industry’s focus on redemption. The one area in which a lesson from the Holocaust does currently seem to apply is in international efforts to punish and deter genocide. On Dec. 18, the International Criminal Tribunal sentenced three officers culpable for the Rwandan genocide to life in prison. Three Croatian generals are being prosecuted at The Hague for authorizing war crimes in the Balkans in 1995. And in the United States, the Institute for Peace and the Holocaust Museum released a task force report presided over by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen called “Preventing Genocide.” It calls for, among other things, a National Intelligence Estimate on “worldwide risks of genocide and mass atrocities.”
I wrote more about this in a post “The Holocaust as Oscar Bait” at the Stop Genocide Blog. In that post, I quoted AO Scott’s November review of recent Holocaust movies, he said:
Thus “Schindler’s List,” for all its unsparing and powerful re-creations of the horror of the Krakow ghetto, is a story of heroism, resilience and survival. And a great many of the mainstream Holocaust movies that have followed, including documentaries and some foreign films, have emphasized hope and overcoming rather than despair and destruction.
This isn’t true only for Holocaust films. Look at Hotel Rwanda, Welcome to Sarajevo, and other films about subsequent genocides. Each features a hero from outside the victimized group, coming in and rescuing those who need to be rescued. This makes a great story – and an inspirational one (in fact, Schindler’s List is partly what got me involved in the movement for Darfur). But, it leaves the dangerous impression that victims of genocide are only that – victims.
Perhaps films like Defiance help shift the victim paradigm. But, like today’s NY Times piece quotes historian Raul Hilberg:
“when relatively isolated or episodic acts of resistance are represented as typical, a basic characteristic of the German measures is obscured … the drastic actuality of a relentless killing of men, women and children is mentally transformed into a more familiar picture of a struggle — however unequal — between combatants.”