653: ReadTheSpirit Resource Page for Holocaust Remembrance in Media

Remembering the Holocaust is appropriate in Passover and Holy Week: Passover is about survival and liberation. And, Holy Week? Well, each year in this season, Christian readings and rituals touch on themes in the Gospels that—if misused or misunderstood—can pose problems in Jewish-Christian relations. So, remembering the Holocaust is appropriate for Christians, too.
    What Is This “Resource Page”? This is not a comprehensive guide to learning about this defining period in world history. If you’re a parent or educator reading this page, a more comprehensive overview can be found at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Web page “For Teachers.” The Holocaust Museum Web page does a great job of breaking down Essential Topics to Teach and even Lesson Plans with resources you can use immediately.
    This ReadTheSpirit Resource Page is focused on news. It’s our overview of the best newly available resources we’ve spotted. The Holocaust is an important theme for our readers. And, many new resources on the Holocaust get lost in the ongoing flood of news items about media. Here, we lift up a handful of gems we’ve spotted, many of which are hard to find if you don’t check this page …


NEW Double-DVD Set from Facets of 2 Holocaust Films

    The Chicago-based non-profit group, Facets Video, focuses on bringing important films from around the world to American audiences and also has a strong commitment to educational programs. This spring, Facets has released a double-DVD set of two important Holocaust films.

“THE FIFTH HORSEMAN IS FEAR” Produced in 1964, this Czech film dared to explore the Holocaust and Communist oppression in the same movie. (Wikipedia offers a more detailed overview of this landmark black-and-white production.)
    The film focuses on a Jewish doctor (at left) forced into slave labor when Nazi forces overrun his country. He is forbidden to practice medicine and, instead, works as a clerk making inventories of the vast warehouse of possessions confiscated from Jewish families. We see mountains of books, a vast wall displaying elaborate clocks, a cavernous room full of grand pianos—all awaiting selection, apparently, by Nazis plundering Eastern Europe.
    What filmmaker Zbynek Brynych does best is convey the paranoia of living under constant threat of arrest and death. We see an eye peering through a crack in a doorway, a stranger in a pub spying from a distance and a resident in an apartment building who checks his watch nervously as if filing reports on the daily movements of his neighbors.
    Clearly, this was Brynych’s commentary both on the Holocaust and the Communist era. Some scenes in the film are vivid slices of 1940s life; others seem to jump into the 1960s. The doctor’s dramatic crisis in the film comes when an injured man stumbles into his apartment building and the doctor agrees to save his life. For this act of life-giving goodness, he may lose his own.

“DISTANT JOURNEY” First released in 1949 and then banned for years by the Soviets, this is one of the world’s first accurate films about the Holocaust—produced courageously by filmmaker Alfred Radok. Soon after the movie’s release, Soviet forces clamped down on Prague and such productions were banned, because the official Soviet view of the Holocaust did not focus on Jewish losses. (Wikipedia provides more history on “Distant Journey.”)
    This film focuses almost entirely on Jewish life. Clearly, it was a personal passion for Radok, whose father and grandfather both died in Theresienstadt—the actual setting where more than half of “Distant Journey” was filmed. Radok’s courage and creative resolve is startling. Within just a few years of the war’s end, he took his film crew back into the heart of the ghetto streets and buildings where his relatives had so recently been tortured and killed.
    The plot focuses on a married couple: two doctors, one Jewish and one Gentile. Radok’s own family was mixed, so he knew first hand about such tragic dilemmas during the Nazi regime.
    Two things are especially striking about this film: One is Radok’s innovative style of editing. He took short clips from Nazi propaganda films, including “Triumph of Will,” and recut the Nazi sequences to add imagery of the deadly violence that resulted from these early Nazi rallies. This provocative jump cutting is surprising to see in a film made so long ago.
    The other striking truth in “Distant Journey” is the intensity of the personal testimony it represents. In scene after scene, we can feel the depth of Radok’s own trauma. We see families, at home, scrambling to pack for train transports to the ghettos, testing futile strategies to save what is most precious to them. In another extended scene, we see men gathered for prayer in a synagogue, knowing that they’re about to make this “distant journey.” Once the characters wind up in Theresienstadt, Radok builds on this almost documentary feel of ghetto life—right down to the claustrophobia that ensued once thousands of humans were packed into that tiny walled town.
    This is a journey that’s far from easy—but one you won’t forget!   
    Click here to visit Amazon for this 2-DVD set: “Distant Journey/The Fifth Horseman Is Fear.”


“THE LAST STAGE” Another important Holocaust-era artifact is “The Last Stage,” a film produced by an Auschwitz survivor who returned to the actual location shortly after the war ended. Like “Distant Journey,” “The Last Stage” is as close to direct survivor testimony as one can get from this era.
    Here’s a link to our earlier full review of that film, which also is distributed by Facets.

“AS SEEN THROUGH THEIR EYES” PBS broadcast this documentary, based on surviving artworks created by Jewish artists during and after the Shoah. Then, the film was released on DVD for ongoing viewing.
    At Hanukkah 2009, we featured a review of the film.

“BELZEC” Earlier this year, we reviewed an in-depth examination of this nearly erased chapter of Holocaust history: the death camp at Belzec. Attempting to cover their tracks, Nazi forces destroyed the camp, tried to incinerate the remaining mass graves—and many local residents tried to deny that anything happened in their town. This film proves that such a crime cannot be erased from our global memory so easily.
    Here’s our review of “Belzec,” which we coupled with a second documentary film review on “Examined Life.




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