Editor's note: The following article originally appeared in a recent issue of Comment magazine, the opinion journal of CARDUS, and we'd like to share it with our readers due to a number of Holocaust movies now playing—including Valkyrie, The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and, opening Friday, Defiance and Good.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the release of Schindler's List, the Steven Spielberg film about the efforts of the Sudeten German Oskar Schindler to save eleven-hundred Jews from Nazi extermination. The film has never been without controversy.
The very effort of portraying the Holocaust in feature films has long been a source of debate and censure. There are those who insist that the Holocaust is inscrutable, not available to portrayal in film or literature. One of the more enduring criticisms of Schindler's List is that by depicting a rescuer the film distorts the real horror of the Holocaust.
Ilan Avisar's critique is typical: "the message implied in [Schindler's List] is one that focuses on exhilarating qualities of courage and moral strength at the expense of an excruciating recognition of the genocidal evil that prevailed." If one is to portray the Holocaust in film, say the critics, the portrayal must mirror the reality of the event itself: most Jews died and most Germans killed them, collaborated with the killers, or stood idly by.
Both criticisms of Holocaust film more broadly and of the genre of the rescue film specifically should bother me, as a scholar of the Holocaust, as a student of theology and ethics, as a sometime artist, as a movie-goer, and as a Christian. Of the first charge I'll say little except that as a human event the Holocaust must be subject to human apprehension. This ...
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