Genocide is known for being the first Holocaust documentary to win an Oscar and remains essential viewing in teaching about the Shoah.
Simon Wiesenthal briefly introduces the film before we get into the nuts and bolts. From there, it is non-stop. If you’re looking for entertainment, you will not find it here. What you will find is the bare minimum when it comes to Holocaust education. How did it happen and why?
When one thinks about the Holocaust, they tend to focus on the numbers. Six million Jews dead. To teach the Holocaust should be more than just teaching the statistics. Why did six million Jews die? You cannot teach the Holocaust without discussing the environment of the time. Wisely, this film discusses some of the roots of antisemitism be it Martin Luther, etc. At one point in the film, we hear Orson Welles saying, “In every country, the Jews were the convenient enemy.” Again, it’s because of the antisemitism. When people learn that it’s okay to hate on Jews, they’re going to do exactly that.
While antisemitism was on the rise in Europe, Neville Chamberlain traveled to Munich to meet with Hitler. It resulted in the Munich Agreement between the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy. The adoption of this agreement on September 30, 1938 was one of the single worst days in British history. No government leader should ever appease authoritarian dictators in such matter. No matter what one thought of Chamberlain before 1938, his legacy is that of appeasing Hitler less than a year before the German invasion of Poland.
Jews were looking to get out if Europe while they still could. Albert Einstein was one of the lucky ones and immigrated to the US in 1933 after Hitler came to power. Others, like those who set sail on the MS St. Louis, were not. The story of the St. Louis is among the most tragic in history. Its passengers were traveling to Cuba in May 1939 but were unsuccessful in their efforts to find asylum. Only 28 were allowed in and the rest made an attempt to enter the United States and Canada to complete failure. They were forced back to Europe–records have shown that Britain took in 288 while the remaining 620 went to continental Europe. Of the 620, only 365 would survive the war.
Where Oskar Schindler’s name is familiar because of Schindler’s List, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved 30,000 Jews in Hungary. The Russians would end up detaining Wallenberg in 1945. He will forever be one of the Righteous Gentiles.
Orson Welles provides the narration while Elizabeth Taylor recites excerpts and poems. Oscar winner Elmer Bernstein provides the film’s score. The film is dedicated to the memory of those who perished. May their memories be a blessing.
Genocide runs just shy of an hour and a half but audiences will learn the basics of the Holocaust. There are photos of almost nude bodies and graphic violence throughout the film. You cannot depict the Holocaust without it. To put it simply, it is impossible. It is a shame that there are school boards banning books about the Holocaust because of it. Shame on them!
There are many Holocaust documentaries to choose from but Genocide is a solid choice for introducing people to the atrocities.
DIRECTOR: Arnold Schwartzman
SCREENWRITERS: Martin Gilbert and Rabbi Martin Hier
NARRATORS: Elizabeth Taylor & Orson Welles
FEATURING: Simon Wiesenthal
United Artists Classics released Genocide on March 14, 1982.
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