Have we learned nothing? Recent events around the globe and here at home have revived frightful memories of the Holocaust and the devastating possibility that history could repeat itself. Already, we have heard talk of arm bands, national registries of people of a specific faith, and even mass deportations. The devaluation of Jewish and Roma life, in particular, that led to the slaughter of 11 million people, is repeating itself with respect to immigrants and Muslims in particular. In this course, we will ask ourselves why have we learned nothing. Given the virtual industry that has grown up around the Holocaust, the thousands of films, memoirs, novels, songs, operas etc., why has its central and most compelling message—that nothing can justify or redeem genocide-been lost? Why might we be destined to repeat the past?
To pursue an answer to this question, we will look at how the Holocaust was represented in popular film from 1945 to the present. More to the point, we will concern ourselves with how the challenges of representing deeds so horrific led many filmmakers to end up with a movie at cross-purposes with itself. That is, instead of bearing witness to the Holocaust, the film is sidetracked by competing concerns, especially the Cold War. Likewise, the box office rules; viewers demand a happy ending to something that has no happy ending. Finally, we will ask ourselves just how many films are really about the Holocaust and not just a trite tale that appropriates the Holocaust to pump up the volume.
Films include: Charles Chaplin, The Great Dictator; Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List, Yael Hersonski, A Film Unfinished; Lásló Nemes: Son of Saul