How Has the Holocaust Been Represented in Film?
‘The Holocaust’ was the massacre of nearly six million Jews in parts of Europe controlled by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party leading up to and during World War II. When the Nazi party first came to power in 1933 they began building on the anti-Semitist feelings in Germany; introducing new legislations that gradually removed the Jews from society such as the Nuremberg Laws which prohibited marriage or extramarital sexual intercourse between Jews and German citizens and required Jews to wear an armband with the Star of David on it so they could be identified as a Jew. Encouraged by the Nazi’s, people began to boycott Jewish ran businesses and in the November of 1938 they were openly attacked, these pogroms became known as ‘Kristallnacht’ which in German translates as: “the Night of Broken Glass” because of the vandalised shops and broken glass windows. During Kristallnacht over 7,000 Jewish shops and 1,668 synagogues (almost all of the synagogues in Germany) were destroyed and the official death toll is ninety-one although it is assumed to be much higher. In 1939, after the invasion of Poland, small areas of towns were sectioned off from the rest of the population where Jews and Romani were forced to live in confined and overcrowded spaces. These were known as ‘ghettos’. The largest was Warsaw Ghetto, in Poland (where ‘The Pianist’ was set), with over 400,000 people living within its walls. Although it contained at least 30% of the population of Warsaw it occupied only 2.4% of the city's area; this meant that the residents of the ghetto were forced to cram in an average of nine people per room. From 1940 through to 1942 starvation and disease, especially typhoid, killed hundreds of thousands. Over 43,000 residents of the Warsaw ghetto died there in 1941. On January 20th, 1942 a “final solution to the Jewish question in Europe” was devised by the Nazi leaders. Death camps were built in Eastern Europe with new railway systems that were made to transport Jews from other countries to these remote areas. Jews, as well as other ‘undesirables’ such as Romani, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, homosexuals, people with physical or mental disabilities, Jehovah's Witnesses and other political and religious opponents, were rounded up from all over Europe and forced into tightly packed rail freight cars like cattle. If they survived the journey, a small fraction of the Jews were deemed fit to work as slave labour. Everyone else was sent straight to the gas chambers which were disguised as shower rooms to prevent the victims panicking or trying to fight back. People were packed into these ‘shower rooms’ where the doors were bolted shut and a small but deadly pellet of Zyklon-B was dropped in and was activated by the heat of hundreds of human bodies crammed in together, those inside were dead within twenty minutes. By the end of the war six million Jewish men, women and children had been killed; this was more than two-thirds of the Jewish population.
We have watched three films based around the Holocaust. The first of the three ‘The Pianist’ is a film based on the true story of a Jewish man, Wladysaw Szpilman: a famous pianist who worked for a polish radio station, living through the Holocaust. The beginning of the film shows the German invasion of Poland, in which Szpilman’s radio station is bombed, and the anti-Jewish laws that the Germans enforce in Poland, for example, when Szpilman is refused entry to the park or the café with his polish friend and made to walk in the gutter to let polish people get primary use of the pavement. Szpilman and his family soon have to move to the Warsaw Ghetto where death became commonplace due to starvation, disease and attempt to rebel against the Nazi’s. The Nazis treat the Jews appallingly; they forced some Jews to dance to humiliate themselves for their own entertainment, a little boy is beaten to death for trying to scavenge...
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