Genocide (1981)

by | Aug 7, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Genocide (1981)

Directed by:  Arnold Schwartzman
Narrated by: Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor
Written by:  Sir Martin Gilbert & Rabbi Marvin Hier
Studio:  Moriah Films/Koch Lorber Films
Video:  4:3 Fullscreen
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Length:  83 minutes
Rating: ****

Genocide was the first film made about the Jewish Holocaust to receive
an Academy Award for best feature documentary. This unforgettable
account of the millions murdered in Hitler’s Final Solution is
introduced by Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter, and narrated by
Orson Welles & Elizabeth Taylor. Wiesenthal, who states in his
introductory remarks, “Listen well, my friends, it can happen again”,
and his wife lost 89 members of their families to the Holocaust.

Through the use of artistic graphics, photographs, chilling archival
film footage and passionate narration by Welles and Taylor, the story
of the Holocaust unfolds. The richness of Jewish religion and culture a
century before the Holocaust is delineated. Then we are given a
description of how resentment of the Jews developed into anti-Semitism
over time. In Germany this was particularly systematic and insidious.
As early as 1920, Hitler spoke of the “removal” of the Jews from German
life as he promoted the “master race.” There is shocking description of
how anti-Jewish feeling was developed. School children were taught Jews
were the enemy. There was competition among towns to be “Jew free.”
Jews had been part of life in this part of the world for 1000 years!
They had fought in World War I.

We see the film footage as Hitler’s forces invade each country from
Austria in March 1938 to the Soviet Union in June 1941 and joined with
collaborators in the horrifying slaughter of the Jews. War was declared
by Britain after the invasion of Poland in September 1939. Particularly
in France, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, some non-Jews supported the
Jews. But on the whole, the Jews were alone in this unthinkable ordeal,
as they were murdered in every town and village on a mass scale or put
into ghettos and then into forced hard labor. Despite the overwhelming
odds, Jewish partisans in the ghettos and forests persisted. 

Ships filled with Jews seeking refuge in other countries were turned
away from Cuba, Latin American and the United States. In countries
further away from Germany, anti-Semitism was not as deep, so it was not
so easy to murder them on the spot in the streets. Consequently, death
camps were set up in 1941 to which Jews could be transported by train.
The Final Solution was developed with deportation by train to
“resettlement” camps. The train trips took from two days to two weeks
en route to the gas chambers from France, Greece and Norway.

In July, 1942 the New York Times ran an article on page six that more
than one million Jews had been exterminated. On page one it was
revealed that Governor Lehman’s shoes were given to a scrap rubber
drive. How can it be explained that this massive attempt at genocide
was not treated as more significant sooner?

In Slovakia a rabbi wrote to a Jewish organization in Switzerland:
“We cannot understand how you can eat and drink, how you can sleep in
your beds at night, how you can go for walks at night when this
responsibility rests on your shoulders.” Appeals were made to the
British and the Americans to disrupt the trains, to bomb the gas
chambers but nothing was done.

Four days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941,
Germany declared war on the United States. Churchill, Stalin and
Roosevelt committed to defeat Hitler. Finally, the Jews were not alone.
Several extraordinary accounts of bravery by non-Jews and Jews are
documented. ( For more of these detailed accounts, see our review of
Unlikely Heroes on this website.)

The factual presentation of the material itself is sufficient to
horrify and shock, but the most chilling and poignant feature of this
film is the narration by Elizabeth Taylor of several long letters by
victims that survived detailing what they had witnessed and felt.

Toward the conclusion of the film we see footage of  Western
Allies arriving at long last to liberate Auscwitz in April, 1945.
General Eisenhower sent photos to Churchill and asked for a number of
leaders of Congress and newspaper editors to come to the camps and see
for themselves. Germany surrendered in May, 1945. We see crowds of
celebration of victory in New York, London and Paris. Thousands of
Nazis were arrested. Trials began. They all said “We were only
following orders.” The film score by Elmer Bernstein is well suited to
the material. Also included is cantorial and Hassidic music.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, established in 1977 as a human rights
organization and founded by Marvin Hier, is described in an extra. It
includes a museum of tolerance and a national task force on hate,
produces documentaries such as this one and is building a center in
Jerusalem to foster better understanding between Jews and non-Jews.

The Wiesenthal Center produced in 1994 a companion documentary titled
Liberation. Both films are highly recommended to educate and enlighten
regarding this horrific time in human history.

-Donna Dorsett

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