RS at the movies

Film of the moment:

It is good that there are still several Holocaust movies being made. Each film tells a different story, and makes us think about a familiar chapter of history in a new way. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas tells the story of the Holocaust from the perspective of an 8 year old boy, son of a Nazi camp commandant. Bruno has little understanding of the war being fought by his father, and makes friends, through the fence of a concentration camp, with a Jewish boy, Shmuel.

The film is quite different from the book - expect a different story, rather than examining the film too closely. This is a work of fiction, not based on a true story, and the film has been criticised by some as keeping the viewer at arms length. However, I think this is really all part of the message of the film. We all know what really happened, but as we watch Bruno slowly learning the truth about the world he is in, we are drawn in to questions of how much people really knew at the time, whether propaganda is ever truly convincing or whether it gives us enough of an excuse to carry on in 'ignorance'.

The film silenced audiences, leaving them in tears at the end, which is only right for a film about the Holocaust. For me, I was asking other questions. I was angry at Bruno's mother, because she came to know what was really happening, was appalled by it, but really did nothing to stop it. I wondered how different I was, knowing about the 300,000 who have died so far in Darfur, but what have I really done?

This is not a film about remembering the Holocaust. This is a film that makes you ask questions about the world we live in today. For that reason, I am glad they chose not to use German accents. For me, the film worked in every way, and when the DVD comes out in March, I will be showing it to several of the classes that I teach.

Other Holocaust films that I would recommend:

  • God on Trial - Easy to miss on BBC2 (but shown on PBS in America and released there on DVD), a superb film about a group of Jews in a concentration camp who put God on trial for breaking the covenant with His people.
  • The Pianist - Set in Poland from 1939, this film leads you through the progression from increasingly discriminatory anti-Jewish laws to the horrors of life in the ghettoes and what happened next. It is a true story, and the Jewish director, lead and co-stars have brought a powerful personal dimension that makes the film stand out among others in the degree to which we identify with the story
  • Defiance - Another very different story, this one about a group of Jewish resistors hiding in the forests, rubbing shoulders with the Russian Army and doing whatever it takes to survive. At times this feels like an action movie, but it raises some important moral dilemmas, particularly the issue of revenge, and it doesn't fail to engage. It is a true story, and answers the repeated question that I get as an RS teacher - Why didn't the Jews fight back?
  • Schindler's List - A harrowing film that shows the brutal liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and the inhuman conditions in concentration camps, whilst telling an inspirational true story of how a self-serving Nazi profitier discovers his humanity and saves over a thousand Jewish lives
  • Conspiracy - A film about the Wansee Conference, a meeting of senior Nazi officials where they callously and casually discussed ways of dealing with the 'Jewish problem': How do you kill millions of Jews in an efficient and cost-effective way?

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