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April 13, 2012

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 13, 2012 When Hollywood went to the Holocaust00for evidence By Jonathan Mark New York Jewish Week Was there ever a war in which the :ombatants took movies as seriously as in World War II? Not just on the homefront, with studio dramas such as "Casablanca," and Germany's anti-Semitic "Jud Suss," but on the front itself, where "shooting" meant cameras, alongwith theguns. The Nazis shamelessly filmed enough "documen- tary" material to fill around- the-clock programming on The History Channel, what some jokingly call "the Hitler channel." In 2010, the Israeli- German "A Film Unfinished," however, unearthed raw foot- age from an unfinished 1942 Nazi documentary of the War- saw Ghetto--the only footage anyone has of the ghetto-- that revealed the Nazi film to be less a documentary than an accumulation of scenes that were often rehearsed and plot- ted, ostensibly to show how strange were these soon-to-be murdered Jews. If Winston Churchill fa- mously took the English lan- guage and sent it into battle, the Americans sent some of our finest Hollywood directors into war, not only to document the fighting bUt to finish, in a sense, what the Nazi films left unsaid, filming the evidence of nothing less than the Ho- locaust itself. The new exhibition "Film- ing The Camps" (at the Mu- seum of Jewish Heritage--A Living Memorial to the Ho- locaust, through Oct. 14), tells how two of the greatest Hollywood directors of that era; John Ford and George Stevens, filmed the era, along with a future director, Sam Fuller, then just a young Jewish infantryman, who filmed one camp's liberation with a small Bell & HoWell movie camera that his mother mailed to him. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion'Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, California George Stevens and his crew, France, 1944 "It might be the work of an amateur," says Fuller of his Falkenau film, "but the killings in this are very pro- fessional." The now-deceased Fuller, speaking in an old interview presented on one of the ex- hibit's many video screens, remembered arriving at the Faikenau concentration camp "and the first man I ran into wasCapt. Walker. He said, 'Do you still have that camera your mother sent you?' I said, 'Yes, Sir.' He said, 'Get it.' I returned with my camera, loaded and all that, and walked right into the Camp," filled with the sprawled skeletal bodies and limp corpses. The exhibition, originally curated by historian and film- maker Christian Delage for the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris, is intriguing not only for the rare footage, some- times in color, but also for the narratives and captions, primarily from Dachau, writ- ten by the film crews in the moment. When Stevens and his film crew entered Dachau the day after liberation, April 30, 1945, it was only a few years after Stevens directed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in all their glory in "Swingtime." The lush music of Jerome Kerns' "The Way You Look Tonight," to which Fred and Ginger danced, carries softly in the exhibi- tion from one video screen to another, a few feet away, where videos show Stevens' filming the dead, the dying and the survivors. Maybe the United States was slow to enter the wax, but the American film crews were at the ready. As far back as the 1930s, John Ford, then a reservist in the Navy, was ordered to get some film crews available "in case of emergency." By 1939, long before Pearl Harbor, Ford had already trained 60 men to film a war that was still two years away. In a memo on display from the autumn of 1944, Ford wrote to his men that what they would soon be filming would be darker, more haunting, than they could have known. "Because human memory is faulty," wrote Ford, "and because objects constituting physi- cal evidence decompose or are lost, it is important that a contemporary record be made of the event that it will constitute an acceptable proof of this occurrence." Ford continued, "To record such evidence in a uniform manner, and in a form which will be acceptable in military tribunals or courts, it is es- sential that the instructions herein be followed closely." Shoot from seyeral angles. Get close-ups of hands wired or tied behind the back, and evidence of brutality such as beheadings, marks left by torture, beatings, kick- ings. "If bodies are rotting. to the extent of making the photographing difficult, wear gas masks or do whatever necessary to make it possible to work close to them, but get close-ups," and he underlined "get close-ups." Stevens, a lieutenant- colonel in the army, filmed Dachau with an eye to es- tablishing evidence that the "showers" were not showers at all The caption sheet: "Note airtight door ... Note ab- sence of means of opening door from within ... Note absence of rust or oxidation on nozzle and absence of n'ormal exterior plumb- ing..." Note the bodies that lay "sprawled, awaiting in- cineration." Note "the ovens were obviously in process of being used at the moment of interruption ... u n,swept of bones and ashes. See shot of interior of oven." More rare was the color film of Dachau, and the still photographs of Naziswho had been beaten to deathby in- mates shortly after liberation. Stevens stayed in Dachau for several days, where the Angel of Death still hovered over the camp, even after liberation, but where army chaplain Rabbi David Max Eichorn spoke (add the com- plete video of his sermon is shown) to the survivors at the first Shabbat services after liberation. Stevens ordered the U.S. soldiers to surround the outdoor service, as the gentile Polish survivors had been violent to the Jewish survivors, even after the Nazis had left. A caption sheet from May 4, 1945: "It is not surprising to see the [survivors] cook- ing [over small fires] beside the typhus-ridden bodies of their roommates. They were obliged to sleep in the same room, and even in the sane beds as thosewho died while they were asleep." In one "washroom," 35 corpses "lay to one side, while the survivors did their best to keep clean." Stevens said later of his wartime experience, "I couldn't continue to make films like before," In 1959, Stevens prepared for directing "The Diary of Anne Frank" by showing his films and photos from Dachau to his Hollywood film crew, and then returning to Dachau himself. On one of the video screens is a clip from Fuller's "Verbo- tenF' in which a young Ger- man after the war, nostalgic for the Nazis, is taken by his sister to attend the Nurem- berg trials. There he watches (to Fuller's narration) some of the actual film shot by the Soviets, British and Ameri- cans when first entering the various camps. The American film crews tried to befriend some of the survivors. Some of the crew members in Dachau noted, "Alexander Rossner, aged 11, of Cracow ... observed sitting outside the hut in which he lived in conditions of the usual squalor, playing accordion to former members of the bloc. He was playing 'Twilight."! The boy "had the preco- cious features of a child actor, or perhaps more properly, a member of a traveling circus. The lively manner in which he ran through the list of the places of his previous imprisonment... Auschwitz, Grossrosen, Blachov, Birke- nau, he had them all on the tip of his tongue." Birkenau, the boy explained was a vernichtungslager, an exter- mination camp, "fromwhich he admitted he was very lucky to emerge alive." The film crew asked, "Is there anything you would like, Alexander, that you can't get and have always wanted?" Anything in the whole world! "A comb,' was the unflinch- ing reply." "We gave him a comb," said the notes "and left him to his accordion and his audience." JonathanMark is associate editor ofThe New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. 'Hunger Games' teen hero: a modern-day Queen Esther? By Danielle Berrin Los Angeles Jewish Journal Queen Esther is an easy heroine. Beautiful, brainy and the savior of a people makes her effortless to admire, though she barely set a precedent for modern archetypes. Today, young girls are screaming for Katniss Ever- deen, the kid-killing heroine of "The Hunger Games," a film adapted from the best- selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins that opened" March 23. Had the queen been alive today, no doubt she'd be competing with movie stars to swell the circle of her influence. "I'm just going to cry," said one of thousands of girls in line to meet 21-year- old "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence at a Barnes and Noble in New York's Union Square, ac- cording to a report from The New York Times. "Hunger Mania," as it's being called, refers to the fandom madness seen with the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" franchises, th()ugh this time,the focus of all this adoration and idolatry is an unconven- tional female hero. Katniss is an unsentimental surviv- alist, who would probably not have chosen her savage destiny unless abs()lutely necessary (to heroically save her younger sister's life), though she slips easily from domestic protector to wild, determined warrior. In her review of the movie, the Times' Manohla Dargis champions this rare bird, calling Katniss a "brilliant, possibly historic creation-- stripped of sentimentality and psychosexual ornamen- tation, armed with Diana's bow and a ferocious will." Though the story does have its romance, it is hardly the heroine's main focus. The fierce Katniss prefers to fight, not,flirt. And she does not, as Dargis proudly notes, need a man to save her. "Again and again," Dar- gis writes, "Katniss rescues herself with resourceful- ness, guts and true aim, a combination that makes her insistently watchable." To whom in the modern world might Katniss com- pare? Especially when the real-life hero for so many of the story's fans will inevita- bly become the actors who bring the tale to life. Could a female stateswomafl such'as Hillary Rodham Clinton be- come the object of modern female fantasy? Or perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize win- ner Leymah Gbowee, who frightened away Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, not with sword but with smarts, savvy and song? But the modern Es- thers hardly elicit girlish screams of delight, or even legions of fans. Why does the warrior on the screen not translate to the war- riors of the world? Instead, even Dargis, who must have female idols of her own, resorts to a bibli- cal babe in order to identify Katniss squarely in Ameri- can cultural consciousness. "Unlike those American Ad- ams who have long embod- i.ed the national character with their reserves of hope, innocence and optimism, Katniss springs from some- place else, a place in which an American Eve, battered, bruised and deeply knowing, scrambles through a garden not of her making on her way to a new world." It'sa compelling fan- tasy: the lone, strong-willed woman needing nothing from the realm of the heart on her strident walk through the world--her Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games." loveliness from love lost, her worldliness from devas- tating disappointment. She relinquishes her need for intimacy because nothing she's ever been close to has she been able to keep. Strange then, that in the same weekend in which this was the vision of woman- hood most vaunted, a hero- ine of a different sort also emerged. In "The Deep Blue Sea," based on a play by the British playwright Terence Rattigan, Rachel Weisz plays a woman so split between capturing love and main- taining an independent life, she risks certain despair. Is she less admirable for choosing love over ambi- tion? Weak because her torment is internal and not externalized in some deadly dystopian wilder- ness? As if the strength re- quired for survival is always physical, and not--even at a time when wars. are be- ing fought--located closer to the spiritual domain of the soul. Because even a girl who wins "Hunger Games" is a body at best. The achieve- ments of the measured world are an ever-transient feat. What of her character will survive when her spear gives out? Danielle Berrin writes for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. This article was reprinted by permission.