Hold of the Holocaust
Based on the memoir of a Warsaw Ghetto survivor, "The Pianist" garnered this year's Academy Award for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenwriting. The story of a Jewish family that seeks refuge in Africa, "Nowhere in Africa" won for Best Foreign Language Film. "Prisoner of Paradise," about a Jewish actor forced to make a propaganda film in Theresienstadt, was nominated as Best Documentary, but failed to win the top prize.
These movies, all Holocaust-themed, are far from the first of their genre to be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Numerous films dealing with the Holocaust have received Oscars in the past - "Schindler's List," "Life Is Beautiful" and "Into the Arms of Strangers" come to mind.
And many other Holocaust-themed films have been highly acclaimed, among them "The Grey Zone," "The Long Way Home" and "One Day Crossing."
So, what is it about Holocaust-themed movies that maintains a hold on the public and the film world?
The glib answer is that many Jews are involved in Hollywood.
But, that's too easy a response. And, these movies have reached far beyond the Jewish community.
These films provide the drama that Hollywood thirsts for, reminding us of the world's darkest hours and the abject horrors that humans can inflict upon one another. At the same time, they give us glimpses of the small kindnesses and dignity that can be found even in the grimmest situations.
Oscar winner Adrien Brody, who portrayed "The Pianist"'s Wladyslaw Szpilman, said at the awards ceremony on Sunday that "making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war."
It also allowed him to see that some people, even if given the chance to do harm, not only respect their fellow human beings but put their own lives at risk to help.
The University of Judaism's Michael Berenbaum, who served as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's project director, has been quoted as saying that the Holocaust exemplifies "the human capacity for good, the human capacity for evil, the human capacity to lose, the human capacity to rebound."
In short, Holocaust stories represent life at its most extreme. Not just a vehicle for Hollywood, these stories help us to understand the meaning of life, demonstrating to us that it is possible to face and surmount extreme situations.
Those are themes that particularly resonate in these times of war when daily we face fears of terrorism.
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Thursday, March 27, 2003