Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Holocaust Films and Second Generation Voices

I just watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It's set during WWII and is about an 8-year-old boy, the son of an SS soldier in charge of one of the camps, who befriends a boy his age on the other side of the fence. Near the end of the film, the German boy actually dons a prisoner's attire and sneaks into the camp, with dire consequences. I suppose it puts a new spin on the idea of artists going into the camps in order to represent the Holocaust.

At first I was opposed to the idea of this film--respecting the unknowability of the tragedy and all that--but I think I liked it in the end. The moments depicted within the gates of the camp are minimal, and the entire narrative is told primarily through the eyes of the 8-year-old. What remains is the child's untainted perspective of how senseless and illogical and barbaric everything really is.

I gave a little talk at LMU today, and I learned that last week the students listened to a public lecture by a second generation Holocaust survivor who basically denounced every single Holocaust film out there, not to mention the numerous works of fiction that don't quite live up to his expectations when it comes to representing the Holocaust. Apparently, this film was one that he mentioned negatively.

But this leads me to another question that I explored with my students over this past winter quarter: What right does even the second generation survivor have to usurp the narrative of the Holocaust? What right does s/he have to claim authority over the ethics of talking about the event? Are they not, perhaps, still a bit too close to the trauma? Certainly their voices are critical to understanding the ongoing legacy of the Holocaust, but does that also mean that they are authorities on the ethics of Holocaust representation?


Casey said...

And the other question: is a 2nd generation too far from the trauma?

Fran├žois said...

Out of curiosity: have you seen 'The Reader'? If so, do you share this opinion:
I instinctively fear Lipstadt is right, but of course some of my friends (who have seen the film, I haven't) liked it.

Monica said...

Casey--Yes, you are absolutely right. Perhaps the problem is that they are too far from the trauma, and that in itself is maddening.

Francois--No, I haven't seen The Reader yet! I've been so busy... About the Lipstadt post: I think she may have a point, but I'm also getting tired of people denouncing every Holocaust film that comes out. I think there is something mildly dangerous in the character construction of the film (nice German woman we sympathize with, who also happens to be camp guard). But, like you, I have a lot of friends who have seen it and liked it, many of whom are people in Jewish studies. There are so many interesting perspectives on this...