Never forget the Holocaust

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

 

It was a perfect little house, with a perfect little garden, for a perfect little family.

It mattered little, or not at all, that it was situated next to a concentration camp where the most haunting atrocities occurred.

A wall separates the house from the camp. The problems are far way and of no concern.

That is the symbolism aimed for in the 2014 novel The Zone of Interest, and that is the subject of yet another Holocaust film nominated for five Oscars in 2024.

The film, set in Auschwitz is based on the 14th novel written by British author Martin Amis (son of Kingsley Amis). It tells the story of German commandant Rudolf Hoss who is rewarded for his hard work and loyalty to the Nazi party by being granted his dream house surrounded by a garden of bright flowers for the children to play.

The serene homestead is shielded from the sights and horrors taking place next door. The walls and fences however, cannot save the family members from breathing the ashes that spill in the water they drink and the air they breathe.

The author depicts the attitude of a whole nation that wished to know nothing of the satanic brutality they inadvertently allowed.

The film has received immense critical acclaim, which is no surprise, and a poor reception at the box-office, which is also no surprise.

The Zone of Interest is based on the German word interessengebiet, a term used to outline the restricted zone around the Auschwitz concentration camp.

While movie-makers do not tire of producing films about the WWII holocaust, movie-goers have become weary of them. Total revenues to date have not exceeded $3 million, which makes The Zone of Interest the biggest flop of this season or any season. Is that any indication that similar movies will no longer be produced? Never.

The film has been chosen as one of the best five films of the 2023 season by the National Board of Review; it has won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival as well as five Oscar nominations. What more can you ask for?

Could it be that the aim of the industry when it comes to the Holocaust is not to profit but to keep the memory forever alive in the human conscience?

Admittedly, the Nazis committed the most heinous crimes in modern history, but that was during the last century — 80 some years ago, during a war considered the deadliest in human history, with 75 to 80 million fatalities.

Nations were in ruins and the United Nations was established to maintain world peace in October 1945. Those very same nations eager for peace have watched silently as more holocausts took place since and up to this very day.
Why is there an obsession even in the 21st century with the evil that occurred in the last century?

Why the profusion of movies about that one? holocaust while other holocausts are largely unnoticed At least 25 to 30 genocides have occurred under UN patronage, with only a nod or two from the film industry.

Need we mention Bosnia, Herzegovina, Cambodia, Biafra, Rwanda, Burundi, Tibet, etc?

The reasons the one Holocaust remains a zone of interest are many.

It happened during a war that involved all nations. Some 20,000 books have been published about it. All of Europe was affected. The various European film industries are naturally drawn to the subject. The Hollywood population is over 90 per cent Jewish.

The films span a range of genres including war films, spy films, action, romance, psychological dramas, and even comedies. As actor Viggo Mortensen put it “The Holocaust movie is almost a genre in itself these days.”

Since the 1940s, thousands of Holocaust movies have been produced between Europe and the US, often by famous filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet, Stephen Spielberg, Roman Polanski, and Jonathan Glazer, all are Jewish.

Holocaust cinema is so venerated that one-third of all American holocaust films have been nominated for at least one Oscar.

Only one Holocaust film has received the Best Picture award, Schindler’s List, in 1993.

Will British director Glazer, lauded for his rendition of man’s extreme inhumanity as ordinary, be the recipient of Best Director award at the Oscars, come 11 March?

 Holocaust resonates with the academy voters, hoping that such movies are more than mere entertainment, but to be remembered and discussed through many lenses.

While genocides no longer shock our sensibilities or even get noticed by filmmakers, one subject shamefully fell through the cracks.

Following Hitler’s defeat, 11-12 million Germans were forced to flee or were expelled from several European countries and throughout Eastern and Central Europe. The ethnic cleansing of the Germans was the largest displacement of a single European population in modern history. Many Germans were sent to internment and labour camps.

Two million lives were lost.

Have you ever seen a movie about their plight? What filmmaker would dare to be sympathetic to Germans?

Has the human race learned its lesson from the myriad holocaust films? Are we better off because of the many books and movies about this one Holocaust?

Many a tear has been shed over the Holocaust victims, are there enough tears for other holocausts?

Holocaust movies will continue because the propaganda aim is obvious.

“Never again” will there be another Holocaust.

Hollywood will see to that.

 

“The propagandist purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people exist.”

 Aldous Huxley (1894-1936)

 


* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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