And the Sea Is Never Full

And the Sea Is Never Full - .t «My enigma anew:4 1mm“...

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Unformatted text preview: :..:;.t§; «My: enigma anew :4 1mm“ sins-,o‘a'wz‘firfiéfisesaucmm:rf kite. wits: asap/(«:42 Mia-W . rumsegiprfig‘bg‘q M- m Agfifiwflmswflflwmywfit, . IN A a 00K or MEM 0 ms one speaks about oneself but, inevitably, also about others. How is one to write without voicing judgments? The only negative reviews l have written have been related to plays, movies, or television shows dealing with the Holocaust. As a rule, I prefer to praise, but it isn't always easy. 1 demolished, as they say, the Holocaust series broadcast by one of the networks following an astounding media blitz. Though reluctant to provoke a scandal, I allowed myself to be persuaded by editors of the New York Times to offer my opinion in its pages. Had the producers presented their series as a work of fiction, I would not have reacted so strongly. But since it was presented as a documentary, I felt it my duty to object. My piece had enormous repercussions. The Times had to devote an entire tightly set page to the letters that poured in. The scriptwriter responded,- l replied to his response. In short, the debate had been opened, and rather violently. This is what I wrote in the Times.- The story is gripping, the acting competent, the message compelling—and yet. The calculated brutality of the killers, the silent agony of the victims, the indifference of the outside world—this TV series will show what some survivors have been trying to say for years and years. And yet something is wrong with it. Something? No: everything. Untrue, offensive, cheap: as a TV production, the film is an insult to those who perished and to those who sur- vived. In spite of its name, this “docu-drama" is not about what some of us remember as the Holocaust. 1, “3,53%: ELIE. AND fie glen l9 Mew/5:?— Flu/.1” Mao on: Semen, 24799. [IS AND THE SEA [5 NEVER FULL Am I too harsh? Too sensitive, perhaps. But then, the film is not sensitive enough. It tries to show what can- not even be imagined. lt transforms an ontological event into soap-opera. Whatever the intentions, the result is shocking. Contrived situations, sentimental episodes, implausi— ble coincidences: If they make you cry, you will cry for the wrong reasons. Why is the series called "Holocaust"? Whoever chose the name must have been unaware of the implications. Holocaust, a TV spectacle. Holocaust, a TV drama. Holo- caust, a work of semi-fact and semi-fiction. Isn't this what so many morally deranged "scholars" have been claiming recently all over the world? That the Holocaust was nothing but an "invention"? NBC should have used the name in its subtitle, if at all. The network should also have been more rigorous in its research. Contrary to what we see in the film, Jewish refugees who crossed the Russian border before the Ger- man invasion were not allowed to go free but were arrested, interrogated, and jailed,- Auschwitz inmates were not allowed to keep suitcases, family pictures, and music- sheets; Jews do not wear prayer shawls at night,- there is a blessing for Torah-reading and another one for weddings— the Rabbi who performs the wedding in the film recites the wrong blessing. Other, more serious irritants: Mordechai Anielewicz, the young commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, is shown as a caricature of himself,- stereotype Jews and stereotype Germans,- the exaggerated emphasis on the bru- tality of Jewish ghetto-policemen and Jewish Kapos; the obsessive theme of Jewish resignation. Are we again to be subjected to debates on Jewish pas— sivity versus Jewish heroism? They were painful yet fash- ionable during the Eichmann trial,- why renew them now? During the Holocaust, even the victims were heroes and even the heroes died as martyrs. But l am more disturbed by the overall concept of the production. it tries to tell it all: what happened before, dur- *- : @2139me i =9“. (A ;. {wimluln sq. m Reviews and Polemics ing, and after. The beginning and the end. The evil major- ity and the charitable minority. The bloodthirsty SS and Father Lichtenberg. Himmler and Eichmann, Blobel and Franck, Hoess and Nebe: hardly a name is omitted, hardly an episode obliterated. We hear their ideological discus— sions, we see them at work. We learn how they all used their abilities, their inventiveness, and their patriotism to achieve a perfeCt system of mass murder, for it took many talents on the part of many highly educated persons to bring about a catastrophe of such magnitude. On the opposite side: the first signs, the first decrees, the first warnings. Expropriation, confiscation, deportation. The ghettos. The manhunts. Hunger. Fear. The shrinking universe will ultimately be reduced to the gas—chambers. But together with the dying victims, we are shown the fighting heroes: partisans, resistance groups, armed insur- gents. Courage and despair displayed by both believers and non~believers: it is all there. Too much, far too much happens to one particular Jewish family and too much evil is perpetrated by one par- ticular German officer. Members of the fictional Weiss family experience the Kristallnacht, euthanasia, Warsaw, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, Babi-Yar, Sobibor and Ausch- witz. Somehow the most famous—or infamous—events and places have been rearranged to fit into the biographies of two families. Thus, Joseph Weiss helps save Jews at the Umschlagplatz in Warsaw, his brother is purchasing weapons for the Underground, his wife teaches ghetto chil- dren Shakespeare and music, his son is among the artists who clandestinely prepare their own testimony in the form of drawings, his daughter perishes as a victim of euthanasia, his youngest son Rudi survives Babi—Yar andjoins the Jewish partisans in the Ukraine, where he participates in the armed uprising of Sobibor—and more, and more. Whatever hap- pened anywhere, happened to this family. And more so. The same applies to Erik Dorf: he too is everywhere. We find him involved in every salient event. Who advises Heydrich on how to deal with Jewish insurance claims after the Kristallnacht? Dorf. Who supervises the mobile gas 1!!) 120 AND THE SEA lS NEVER FULL units? Dorf. Who happens to be at Babi-Yar during the mass executions? Dorf. Who prepares the plans for Auschwitz? Dorf, again. Who purchases Zyklon B gas from respectable German industrialists? Dorf. It is simply too much action for one man, any man. One cannot believe that such a person existed—wand, indeed, Erik Dorf did not exist. Neither did the Weiss family. In this “docu-drama," the principal characters are fictitious, whereas the sec- ondary ones are not. Yet, for understandable artistic rea— sons, all are treated as authentic. On this level, the implications are troubling and far-reaching: how is the uninformed viewer to distinguish the one from the other? Chances are he will believe that they are either equally true or equally invented. The private lives of the two families are so skillfully intertwined with historical facts that, except for the initiated, the general public may find it difficult to know where fact ends and fiction begins. This would, of course, defeat the very lofty goal the film's creators have set for themselves. in film as in literature, it is all a matter of credibility. Were the film a pure work of fiction or straight documen- tary, it would achieve more. The mixture of the two genres results in confusion. And occasionally in scenes that l, for one, found in poor taste. One striking example: We see long, endless processions of Jews marching toward Babi- Yar—with "appropriate" musical background. We see them get undressed, move to the ditch, wait for the bullets, top- ple into the grave. We see the naked bodies covered with "blood"—and it is all make-believe. Another example: We 'see naked women and children entering the gas—chambers,- we see their faces, we hear their moans as the doors are being shut, then—well, enough: why continue? To use special effeCts and gimmicks to describe the indescribable is to me morally objectionable. Worse: it is indecent. The last moments of the forgotten victims belong to themselves. I know: people will tell me that film-making has its own laws and its own demands. After all, similar techniques are being used for war movies and historical re-creations. But the Holocaust is unique, not just another event. This Reviews and Polemics series treats the Holocaust as if it were just another event. Thus, I object to it not because it is not artistic enough but because it is not authentic enough. it removes us from the event instead of bringing us closer to it. The tone is wrong. Most scenes do not ring true: too much "drama," not enough "documentary." In all fairness, I must add that many Jewish and non-Jewish organizations supported the project and promoted it among their members. But they did so even before they could view the programs. This does not mean that people will not be moved. Some who saw pre- views have been profoundly affected. And I know, don't tell me: the film was not meant for viewers like me but for those who were not there or not even born yet, those who are only beginning to discover the reality of death-factories in the heart of civilized Europe. You are right, of course. But—and it is an important but—l am appalled by the thought that one day the Holo- caust will be measured and judged in part by the NBC TV production bearing its name. Listen to what one of the study-guides, prepared by the National Council of Churches, has been telling its readers: "'Holocaust' may come to be known as the definitive film on the Holocaust in terms of meticulous accuracy, totality of material presented, and its use of carefully selected archival footage. . . ." Though surely well-intentioned, such misleading, compla- cent statements are dangerous: It simply is not so. The wits ness feels here duty-bound to declare: what you have seen on the screen is not what happened there. You may think you know now how the victims lived and died, but you do not. Auschwitz cannot be explained nor can it be visualized. Whether culmination or aberration of history, the Holo- caust transcends history. Everything about it inspires fear and leads to despair. The dead are in possession of a secret that we, the living, are neither worthy of nor capable of recovering. Art and Theresienstadt were perhaps compatible in Theresienstadt, but not here-—not in a television studio. The same is true of prayer and Buchenwald, faith and Tre- blinka. A film about Sobibor is either not a picture or not about Sobibor. 121 M____.____.____.________fimwufi_._.#usu_u___,___________.ic [22 AND THE SEA lS NEVER FULL The Holocaust? The ultimate event, the ultimate mys- tery, never to be comprehended or transmitted. Only those who were there know what it was, the others will never know. lt was easier for Auschwitz inmates to imagine them- selves free than for free persons to imagine themselves in Auschwitz. What then is the answer? How is one to tell a tale that cannot be—but must be—told? How is one to protect the memory of the victims? How are we to oppose the killers' hopes and their accomplices' endeavors to kill the dead for the second time? What will happen when the last survivor is gone? l don't know. All 1 know is that the witness does not recognize himself in this film. The Holocaust must be remembered. But not as a show. In the course of the fury unleashed by the show, I discovered that the producers had consulted with well-remunerated "expert advisors": two ‘55 officers. Not one survivor. at to do? I am partial to documentaries. The Eighty-first Blow, Reviews and Polemics 1 2 3 " bbi Yekutiel-Yehuda Teitelbaum, threw himself into the flames f th same reason. But his gesture does not diminish the others' wo An 't is partly in memory of their martyrdom that I wrote of oz— mann's 'lm with unmitigated praise. .Othr performances on screen or stage, have dealt with is sub- ject. And - my time I felt that the memory of the Hol aust was tainted by eit er the images or the language, I raised my ice. I don't regret it. Since obody else protested, it was my duty 0 do so. And whenever I hesita d, there was always someone to r ind me of my own words: Silence 'nifies consent._lust as there w always someone to resent me. And 5 i e grudges are tenacious ecause l disliked Sophie's Choice (the film, n t. the book), and said so n print, William Sty- ron and I no longer speak. .lso voiced my disa J pointment with Ghetto, a play about the Vilna G etto, which pvoked an acrimonious reSponse from its author, the Is eli playwri t Joshua Sobol. Yet when l decried certain segments of th televisi r series The Winds of War, the author of the novel on which it wa bas : d, Herman Wouk, understood my reaction. It is always the sam roblem: Auschwitz cannot be depicted,- the veil covering this dar 'verse cannot be lifted. I know that some of the wri rs w a have introduced the Holo- caust into their work take excep on to my “'urist" attitude on the sub ject. They consider me, unj tly, a kind r censor-inquisitor who watches scrupulously over . territory that, t y believe, is theirs as much as the survivors’. Th suppose, wrongly, hat l claim exclusive rights for myself and my [low survivors. That is a t the case. In liter- ature as in philosoph , there is no "game prese ." Anybody can write on any subject, nd even on any individual. But maintain that no one, myself incl ed, is authorized to speak on beha ‘ of the dead,- no one may appr riate their memory. Those who accuse e of arro- gance because I emand the respect due the dead understan nothing of my motive l plead for humility, for more prudence, more eserve in both beh ior and language. Unfo tunately, there are suddenly too many Holocaust sch ars who kn the answers to all our questions, too many experts wh, from u. e day to the next, become judges and critics, deciding who dese es to write and who doesn't, who is sentimental and who isn't, wh should be read and who shouldn't. We have come to the point w ere Jewish survivors no longer dare to speak up. The others always now better. ...
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