Incorporation of the Holocaust experience into the American conceptual framework




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CHAPTER TWO

2.1 Role of Cinema

German film critic Siegfried Kracauer articulated the function of the cinema in his Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, where he recalled the myth of the Gorgon Medusa, whose face was so frightening and horrible that the sight of it turned men into stone. In the myth Athena sends Perseus to kill the monster and warns him to look only at its mirror reflection in his polished shield. Sometimes being a witness or a participant of actual horrors can be a paralyzing experience. Film images can reproduce those events and offer us reflections of happenings that would petrify us in the real life but a film screen works as the polished shield, letting us experience fear but protecting us from the paralyzing effect of the depicted horrors (Insdorf 2003: xvii).

Film generally has become an engine of the transformation of the Holocaust memory shared by public both in America and Europe: “Holocaust films provide all the melodramatic scenarios that have huge popular appeal," says Harvey Roy Greenberg, a psychoanalyst and film scholar. "They have heroism and villainy, rescue and survival, voyages from terror to safety, sacrifice for redemptive causes, religious issues, love among the ruins. And these are all magnified 10,000 times because of the extremity of the situation"(Sterritt 2002). Paradoxically, the American cinematic conception and interpretation of the event, which unlike Europe was connected to the American land only indirectly, has been prevalent and influential not only among American audiences but also in European cinemas

Benjamin Walter, a German Jewish literary critic and philosopher, suggests in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (published in 1936) that “film possesses the potential to transform how people perceive and, consequently, how they respond to the world around them” (Shandler 1999: 7). Film helps both to shape and to reflect popular social, political and cultural attitudes. The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. calls film “the most potent vehicle of the American imagination” (Doneson 1987: 6). Film can create and revive memory and have an enormous potential to educate (Doneson 1987: 8). Film can create a lasting image of an event in the mass mind and by reflecting contemporary issues the film can help make the event meaningful to an audience for whom the event is foreign and thus contribute to its “domestication” (Doneson 1987: 9-10).

The Holocaust in American movies usually serves “a dual function” (Doneson 1987: 10): on one level it explores the Holocaust issue and on the other level it says something about contemporary situation. The Holocaust becomes thus in such movies “a model, a paradigm, or a framework for understanding history” (Doneson 1987: 9). Both theoreticians Judith E. Doneson and Hilene Flanzbaum agree on the overall great impact of the American films on the Holocaust on the American people’s awareness of the event: “films for commercial release and for television have been instrumental in helping to assimilate the Holocaust into the popular consciousness” (Doneson 1987: 7).


2.2 The Term Holocaust

Jeffrey Shandler argues in his book While America Still Watches that the development of the American relationship with the Holocaust can be measured by tracking the use of the term Holocaust itself (Shandler 1999: 211).

The terms genocide and Holocaust were rather problematic in the postwar years. The term genocide was coined during the United Nations Convention on Genocide by a Polish Jew, Raphael Lemkin, in 1948, who defined it as “a state-sponsored murder directed at groups” (Novick 1999: 100). The term itself included but did not specifically refer to the Holocaust; it was clarified as by the UN General Assembly as an attempt to destroy “in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such” (Novick 1999: 100). As Novick states in his book the term was rather a rhetorical than a juridical device used in its early times as a propaganda weapon in the Cold War (Novick 1999: 101).

The term Holocaust, as we know it today, referring specifically to the Final Solution and the Nazi politics of complete destruction of the European Jews was presented to the American public for the first time during the Eichmann trial (Novick 1999: 133). Its original meaning was a religious sacrifice consumed by fire (Novick 1999: 133). Because this word implies by its original meaning Christianization of Jewish suffering, the Hebrew word for catastrophe, “shoah”, is sometimes considered superior, since it is “a purely Jewish and purely secular term, free of odious theological implications” (Novick 1999: 133).

Before the Second World War the word “holocaust” was used to describe widespread destruction by fire and “shoah” to describe “punishments visited by God on the Jews” (Novick 133). The term “Holocaust” entered the American scene and was widely used in the 1960s as an import of American journalists, covering the Eichmann trial; it stood for an English translation of the word “shoah” (Novick 1999: 133). The word “holocaust” had been used in official documents already before the trial but it was only in the 1960s when it started to refer to the Final Solution (by the late sixties it was usually capitalized).

The Eichmann trial played an important role in the American perception of this term because it represented the Holocaust as a distinct Jewish entity, even though not so distinct as it is used today. The American media were crucial in bringing the term into American language.

As far as the Holocaust film is concerned, since its early appearance in the 1940s, the Holocaust film has become an individual genre with its own subcategories. There is not a single definition of the Holocaust film as such; in its broadest sense of meaning it is any film describing the period from 1933 until 1945 and the state before and after in connection with this period; it can be any film influenced by the Jewish genocide. As mentioned before there are many different ways in which the Holocaust has been represented and dealt with in the American film; the Hollywood commercial success can be ascribed, among others, to its work with stereotypes.

Most film critics assert that the stereotypical portrayals of the Jews in the American film have changed within the last fifty years; a highly foreign European stereotyped figure of a Jew has transformed through its more universal image into a fully Americanized figure. This thesis concentrates on the war and postwar years, since these were the formative years for the process of gradual dejudification, universalization and final Americanization of the Jews in American film. The special attention is paid to the most changing aspect of this changing image, which is its victimhood quality. As mentioned earlier in this study, the status and attitude toward victims in American society have undergone dramatic changes in the last century and the aim of this thesis is to attempt to show how this shift has been reflected in the Jewish film characters.


2.3 Newsreels and Testimonies

We will start our analysis with a statement that was expressed on behalf of the Holocaust television (which is not the target medium of this thesis, even though its influence on shaping the American public opinion and awareness of the Holocaust has been as great (if not greater) as that of the American cinema) but still says a lot about the starting point for the Holocaust cinema. Jeffrey Shandler considers in his book While America Watches two means of representing the Holocaust as the most important for American Holocaust television: footage of concentration camps filmed shortly after their liberation by Allied forces and testimonies of the Holocaust survivors: “From the final days of World War II to the present, these images and testimonies have played leading roles in establishing the Holocaust as a moral paradigm for a nation that has almost no direct experience of these events” (Shandler 1999: 2).

Since the first appearance of the footages, they have been reused many times by different media and they constituted besides newspapers and radio broadcasts one of the primary sources of the Holocaust knowledge. The television could not provide an early source of information on this issue, since it was still in its baby years, as Shandler writes about the television role in mediating the Holocaust knowledge to the American public: “The Holocaust is part of the prehistory of television as a national broadcasting medium” (Shandler 1999: 5).

These early visual and vocal captures of the Holocaust were crucial not only for later television occupation with the Holocaust issue but also for the cinema. According to Julian Levinson these first attempts of the representation of the Holocaust reality also established “the first conventions in cinematic representations of the Holocaust” (Levinson 2004: 144). The footage, which was most frequently chosen, showed images of heaps of devastated corpses of the camp prisoner juxtaposed with the starved to death bodies of the survivors; the difference between death and life almost invisible. Historian Robert Abzug calls the documented moment of the liberation and its following dissemination among public “a turning point in Western consciousness” (Shandler 1999:5).

At the end of the war these images were incorporated into propaganda films (Frank Capra’ Here Is Germany (1945)) usually in order to strengthen American patriotism and to show the Allied victory as the moral triumph over evil (Levinson 2004: 144). At the Nuremberg trials of 1945-49 the footages turned into a hard evidence of the Nazi war crimes. In a few cases, the images were used in order to question instead of supporting American moral superiority (Leo Hurwitz’ documentary Strange Victory (1948)). Levinson also mentions the use of the footage in Alain Resnais’ documentary Night and Fog (1955) combined together with a very expressionistic soundtrack.

The documentary footages shot by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the Allied liberation of the Nazi camps served various purposes including documentation. These films were shown in cinemas across Europe and America as part of the commercially produced newsreels that before the screening of feature films. During the first days of May 1945 all five of the nation’s major newsreels focused mainly on the Nazi crime (Shandler 1999: 9). This was an unprecedented phenomenon (at its beginnings in the 1910s newsreels were considered to be just a minor component within the frame of the movie screening and by their nature they were concentrating rather on spectacular than substantial topics) with an incredibly lasting impact on the American awareness of the Holocaust (Shandler 1999: 9).

The footages of the liberated concentration camps represented for the American audiences the first encounter with the Holocaust reality in the cinematic history. Levinson calls this “first seeing event” in his study of the Holocaust survivors’ images in American film “a virtual initiation, via film, into the horror and barbarity of the Nazi death camps” (Levinson 2004: 143). Levinson claims that it was impossible for a viewer of these images of dehumanized figures to feel emphatic identification (Levinson 2004: 143). He supports his argument by a description written by a literary critic Alfred Kazin, when he first saw the images of the victims of the Nazi concentration camps.

Levinson stresses the ambiguous message of these images, whose purpose was to raise in the audience the questions of guilt, responsibility and punishment (Levinson 2004: 145). According to Levinson the extremity of these images estranges the viewer and hinders thus identification or empathy with the victims, whose humanity has been completely destroyed. He proceeds with the idea that such representations of the Holocaust victims contribute to the Nazi mission of portraying the Jews as subhuman creatures.

Shandler on the other hand sees in the act of virtual witnessing of the Nazi crime through a camera “a morally transformative experience” (Shandler 1999: 6): “The transformative impact of viewing liberation footage relies on a valuation of the films as authentic copies and as replications of actual encounters with the victims of Nazi persecution” (Shandler 1999: 7). In order to support his assumption, Shandler quotes probably the most often cited Susan Sonntag’s recollection of seeing still photographs of the liberated concentration camps: “Nothing I have seen – in photographs or in real life – ever cut me as sharply, deeply, instantaneously. Indeed, it seems plausible to divide my life into two parts, before I saw those photographs (I was twelve) and after, though it was several years before I understood fully what they were about” (Shandler 1999: 8).

Shandler also mentions propaganda purposes and “powerful cinematic validation” of these images, which forced the viewer to experience the witnessing moment of both the Allied forces and the Germans rather than to identify with emaciated bodies of the Holocaust victims (Shandler 1999: 16). Not only the choice of specific visual elements of the footage (newsreel producers used only about one fourth of the material offered by the Signal Corps, but also their narration, portray the camp survivor as “the living dead” (Shandler 1999: 16). For propaganda purposes the newsreels excluded images of the camp prisoners in action and thus hindered the viewers to feel human connection with the camp prisoners (Shandler 1999: 17). Shandler argues that by juxtaposing the Holocaust survivors with the dead victims of the Nazi camps, the newsreels dehumanized the living victims and created a canon for other media, an iconic image of a survivor as a silent, passive, weak, anonymous living (Shandler 1999: 17). The newsreels’ lack of the interaction between the photographers and those being photographed also contributed to the dead image of the survival. The focus of the newsreels is mainly on the camp prisoners and their environment both because of the crime evidence purposes and for visual confirmation of the American public wartime rumors of the Nazi politics (Shandler 1999: 18).

Novick argues that even though the footages of the liberated camps provided the American public with visual evidence of the Holocaust, the event was not perceived as the Holocaust we know today (Novick 1999: 65-66). The camps were described and talked about in newspapers and newsreel commentaries as prisons for political opponents, slave laborers, and civilians of many nationalities (Novick 1999: 64). In the more detailed reports Jews were included along with other groups of victims, even though it was stated that their fate was worse in comparison with others. Both the concentration camps and the Holocaust were symbols for Nazi politics without the main Jewish association and the Final Solution as we know it today.

Deborah Lipstadt calls this neglect of Jewish special status of victimhood as “willful blindness, the consequence of inexcusable ignorance – or malice” (Novick 1999: 65). Novick on the other hand sees the logical rationale behind such behavior; the fact was that Jews represented a minority in the liberated German camps. There were many more Jewish victims in the camps in the East but they had been either closed or liberated by Soviets, with few American reporters and photographers (Novick 1999: 65).

Novick also speculates about the lasting impression of the footages of liberated camps in connection with Jewish suffering. He reminds his readers that accounts of German atrocities competed with other breaking news stories such as President Roosevelt’s death, Mussolini’s execution, Hitler’s suicide, the ongoing war with Japan and the dropping of the atom bombs. However, Novick fails to discuss the impact of the Nuremberg trials upon American awareness of the Jewish genocide.

Another early form of the Holocaust representations was testimonies of those, who experienced the Jewish genocide both directly as victims and survivors and indirectly as bystanders. Unlike the liberation footages, where the focus is rather on anonymous dead victims of the Nazi persecution, the focus of the testimonies lays on the experience of a living individual. While in the footages the visual element is more dominant for the overall effect and the narration is a complementary part (even though sometimes a very determinant part), the testimonies are based mainly on oral narratives of the Holocaust survivors.

One of the earliest television broadcasts of a Holocaust survivor’s testimony was an episode of the NBC series This is My Life in 1953 as part of one of the most popular television programs of the 1950s (Shandler 1999: 30). In documentaries made at the end of the last century the survivors play a very active role in promoting the story of Holocaust unlike the early television programs, where the Holocaust presented just a historical backdrop for extraordinary emotional sensational life stories of people who survived it. Recently with the aging of the Holocaust survivors the testimonies have played a very dominant role in the Holocaust remembrance, evidence of which is Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation.

3 Chapter Three

3.1 Sociopolitical Situation

As mentioned earlier in this essay, America had only an indirect experience of the Holocaust; its closest contact with the Holocaust reality before the liberation of the camps was through its refugee policy. Since the 1970s there has been a wave of accusation blaming the U.S. prewar and wartime passive policy making as far as the rescue of Jews was concerned. The United States have been publicly charged by many historians (David Wyman’s The Abandonment of the Jews and Arthur D. Morse’s While Six Million Died) with complicity in the Holocaust by means of restrictive prewar immigration policy, the failure in negotiations and the unwillingness of the U.S. Air Force to bomb the rail lines leading to Auschwitz (Novick 1999: 49).

David S. Wyman argues in his book The Abandonment of the Jews that in November 1942 the Roosevelt administration received reliable information about the extermination of the European Jewry but did not take any actions until several months later. Both the United States and Britain feared that Germany might release thousands of Jews and this would put pressure on Britain to open Palestine and on the United States to admit more Jewish refugees. American Jewish leaders tried to publicize the European Jewish situation and pressed for government rescue steps but they were unable to mount sustained, united drive for government action wasting energies into infighting between them and failing to assign top priority to the rescue issue (Kimel).

Novick agrees with other scholars that there existed a great diversification of the American Jewry in the forties: “no common beliefs united an ‘American Jewry’“(Novick 1999: 31) and the bonds between the American and European Jews were even weaker. Novick assumes that the international sense of Jewish peoplehood, the concept of the Jewish people throughout the world expressed by shared religion, language, history of persecution and traditions was replaced by universalism; in the case of American Jews was this universalism expressed by their loyalty to American politics and culture (process that Novick calls “American acculturation” (Novick 1999: 33) - Americanization of a real living Jew was later reflected in film). During the forties and fifties the American identity became superior to the Jewish one; the opposite is true at present.

In the section “The War Years” of his book The Holocaust in American Life Novick asserts that “all Americans – Jews and gentiles alike – were well aware of Nazi anti-Semitism from the regime’s beginning in 1933, if not earlier” (Novick 1999: 20). He also argues that the Jews became major target group only after Kristallnacht in 1938. Before then the Nazi victims were Communists, socialists, trade unionists, and other political opponents (Novick 1999: 21). His point is that from 1933 to 1942, when the news about the politics of extermination emerged, Jews were seen both by gentiles and American Jews just as one group of victims among others and not as the singled-out victims of Nazism. This universal perception of Jews as victims, officially discussed and accepted at the Evian conference in 1938 (although its major concern was how to save Jews, reference was always made to refugees (Doneson 1987: 45)) lasted through the war and the following postwar years both among gentiles and Jews.

Novick asks a question concerning the guilt of American Jewry resulting from their passivity during the war. He acknowledges that there were a number of specially focused rescue efforts coming from orthodox Jewish groups, the Jewish Labor Committee, academic organizations, and Zionists but in general rescue was for American Jews not on the top of their agendas (Novick 1999: 39-40). Moreover Novick blames the leading Jewish organizations for discrediting (mainly for its provocative advertising style and its political agenda) the Emergency Committee to Save Jewish People of Europe, founded by Peter Bergson, whose efforts were focused exclusively on the rescue (Novick 1999: 40). Novick explains this reluctance to relate to Jewish issues in public and to agitate for rescue by American Jewry’s fear of arousing domestic anti-Semitism, which remained high during the war and declined only after 1945, and by prevailing belief that there was nothing to be done to rescue European Jews, except for a rapid military victory (Novick 1999: 40 -45).

Novick sees “certain weary fatalism” (Novick 1999: 21) in the way the American Jews responded to the Holocaust news, passively waiting for another pogrom. In his wartime media analysis (both mainstream and the Jewish press) Novick concludes that the persecution and fate of the Jews could not compete with the news from the battlefronts and military events, especially the Pacific conflict. The information and numbers concerning ghettoization and deportation of European Jewry often varied in newspapers and contributed thus to the prevailing feeling of disbelief and exaggeration.

In the United States the news accumulated in the early 1940s but since there were no firsthand reports from Western journalists, they came from Jews, who had managed to escape, from underground sources, from anonymous German informants, and also from the Soviet government (Novick 1999: 22). News about massive massacres was often considered both by public and the state organs as propaganda rumors. Novick excuses American newspapers relatively little coverage of the ongoing Holocaust by lack of hard news and by lack of interest and awareness among American public in the forties, who either disbelieved the Holocaust stories or because of the gradually worsening news from Europe they might have been already immune to shock (Novick 1999: 25).

Novick and other scholars note that between 1942 and 1944 the U.S. State Department and the Office War Information suppressed reports of Nazi politics because of the fear such stories would be perceived as wartime propaganda or would attract too much attention to Jewish victimization and thus narrow the motives and aims of the war (Novick 1999: 22-29). The fact that in 1942 the United States joined Britain and the Soviet Union in a declaration confirming that Germany was implementing Hitler’s plan on exterminating the European Jews proves that the government was fully aware of the genocide, which was going on in Europe. Even though the government knew, the public was hindered to know and remained ignorant. In 1944 President Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board (WRB), whose task was to help European refugees and spread the news on the genocide among American public.

As mentioned earlier, in the propaganda framework of the Second World War, the concentration camps became a symbol of enemy regime and its victims were portrayed mainly as political opponents and members of resistance; Jews were depicted and perceived as passive victims. This image was then reflected in the Hollywood versions of the camps. Novick focuses on political reasons for deemphasizing special Jewish victimhood: “The task of American wartime propagandists was to portray Nazi Germany as the mortal enemy of ‘free men everywhere’ “ (Novick 1999: 27). Thus the task was to broaden the range of Nazi victims rather than to narrow and to single out special groups. In the atmosphere of American prewar and still powerful isolationist policy the pro-war propaganda downplayed Jewish victimhood in order to divert the attention from Jews and thus avoid the public assumption that it was Jews, who brought America into the war.

Doneson explains the idea or the motives behind downplaying or universalizing Jewish victimhood both in American politics and American film industry as follows: “Emphasis on the Jew as victim, in an atmosphere that is already negative, might lead a viewer to wonder why the Jew is always the ‘chosen’ victim – and, ultimately, to believe that the Jew might in fact be deserving of punishment. The Jew is guilty of being the victim”(Doneson 1987: 47).

Let us now look more closely at the cinematic situation of the thirties and forties. The thirties and forties in America were marked by Great Depression, New Deal politics, prewar isolationist politics, the Second World War and postwar recuperation. They are often referred to as “Hollywood’s Golden Age”, despite the fact that film makers of the 1930s faced a lot of challenges: more oppressing censorship, the advent of sound and color and the stock market crash. The movie production and movie attendance was at peak during this period.

Cinema and film generally have always played an important role in offering people a refugee place from their everyday problems. In the decade following the Great Depression going to cinema belonged to one of the non expensive past times. Censorship performed mainly on the demand from various religious organizations was still a hot issue. In 1934 the Production Code dealing with the censorship of language, references to sex, violence, and morality took effect. All movies had to be submitted for “a seal of approval”. The thirties belonged to musicals, screwball comedies, adventure/fantasy movies, westerns and classics. Most experts recognize 1939 as one of the greatest years of Hollywood film, the year when such classics as Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Of Mice and Men were produced. By the end of the Second World War, the genres most characteristic of the era were film noir, gangster and horror movies (Alfred Hitchcock ventured to Hollywood), and comedies. The forties were also the golden age of Disney feature film animation and the time when major Disney cartoon characters were born.

My argument is in the assertion that persecution of the Jews in Europe played a very minor role in the wartime Hollywood. Film makers and producers (most of them of Jewish origin) felt reluctant to confront the Jewish issue in film. There seem to be several reasons for the Holocaust becoming almost a taboo in the American film during the Second World War (together with the political ones mentioned in the section above): fear of loss in profits in European markets, American public apathy as far as the Jewish issues were concerned (fear of not making profit at home) and relatively high anti-Semitism in America generally (which was about to decline only after the war).

Doneson also mentions another factor that had an enormous influence on almost nonexistent Hollywood production concerning the Jewish issues: continuing government’s accusations of Jewish Hollywood producers and filmmakers (“not appropriate film makers for the war effort...insufficiently American in origin, intellect and character” (Doneson 1987: 47)) plus the American Jewish community’s lack of political power and ability to influence the American policy at that time (Doneson 1987: 47) (there was no need for Roosevelt to assure his votes from American Jews, since they supported him already overwhelmingly).

After Pearl Harbor Hollywood began making war films but almost none paid attention to the persecution of European Jews; specific ethnic interests were considered un-American. During the war in Europe neither the American public nor the Hollywood industry seemed to be interested in the Jewish persecution and in political films on Hitler and the Nazis. From 1934 until the beginning of the war Hollywood literally ignored the issue with a few exceptions: Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Mortal Storm (1940), To Be Or Not To Be (1942), The Seventh Cross (1944), and The Hitler Gang (1944). But most of them gained a rather moderate or disappointing reception at the box-office (Doneson 1987: 31). During the war the leaders of the motion picture industry established the War Activities Committee (WAC), who set up rules and guidelines for film makers. Their projects were focusing mainly on anti-Nazi morale boosting war related movies, sometimes with Jewish soldier characters in order to stress American Jewry’s loyalty to the United States and to show what America was fighting for. The issue of anti-Semitism remained unmentioned.

In 1942 the “Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry” was issued stressing the need not to emphasize any specific ethnic group. In 1943 as the war and persecution proceeded, the American Jewish Congress asked the leaders of the film industry for a movie dealing with the genocide in Europe. The result was that the Jews were included among the victims of the Nazi persecution but never singled out. The American Jewish community lacked political power and ability to influence the American policy at that time (Doneson 1987: 47) and was slow and chaotic in its response to the persecutions in Europe.

The end of the war represented a quasi turning point for American minds in their perception of Jews. Anti-Semitism in America, which as mentioned above was relatively high during the war, reached its peak in 1944 (Doneson 1987: 49). According to opinion polls made immediately after the war 75 percent of the respondents did not change their attitudes toward the American Jews but paradoxically while during the war there was almost no interest in movies touching the issue of the Jewish persecution, 60 percent of the respondents thought such films should be shown in American cinemas (Doneson1987: 49). The Americans perceived the Holocaust as a moral lesson but were still not able to implement this lesson into every-day life. There was still a paralyzing fear of the issue of immigration and refugees, which became or rather stayed topical even and especially after the war.

It was only after the war, when the film makers felt the need to explain to Americans the danger of anti-Semitism (Doneson 1987: 49) via war films that turned American Jews into heroic patriots following the wartime film practice of including Jews among characters of soldiers fighting for America in order to portray the war as a war of all Americans who are all equal. The opposite effect was achieved; by stripping Jews of their Jewishness and avoiding their negative stereotypes, they turned Jews into empty, one-dimensional cartoon characters (Doneson 1987: 50). The pre-war negative stereotype (which is discussed later in this study in the case of the film The House of Rothschild (1934)) was replaced by postwar new “liberal” stereotype of the “Americanized Jew” (Doneson 1987: 50).

The first postwar film that criticized anti-Semitism was a crime film-noir Crossfire (1947), where Jew as a minor character is a decorated war hero and a victim of a racial murder. The script changed a homosexual victim from the book The Brick Foxhole, upon which the film is based on, for a Jewish one and created thus a movie warning against anti-Semitism. While homophobia was an unaccepted issue in the late forties, anti-Semitism became gradually topical issue in film. The main characters are gentiles; the anti-Semitism is viewed from the outside – from a gentile perspective. Neither genocide nor America’s role in the war is mentioned or discussed. By making analogy to the Irish Catholics, the Jewish victimhood is universalized; the Jews in the film could easily be replaced by another oppressed group such as African Americans (Bartov 2005: 46). Persecution and victimization become thus the main characteristics of a Jew. The film offers a solution to the anti-Semitism in the form of a complete assimilation – Americanization. The movie thus created a new stereotype of “the Americanized Jew”.


3.2 The House of Rothschild (1934)

Doneson argues that in the American cinema of the thirties and forties there were only three films that stood out and confronted the European situation and focused on anti-Semitism: The House of Rothschild (1934), The Great Dictator (1940), and Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), all produced by non-Jews (Doneson 1987: 16).



The House of Rothschild (1934) is a historical film that confronts contemporary issues of anti-Semitism. The film was praised both by critics and by public but nowadays is rarely shown in America (Doneson 1987: 21). Even though the fear of foreign unknown and dangers of political discrimination of one specific group based on ethnicity or religion are still topical issues nowadays, the film’s stereotypical images of the Jew have relevance only in its historical context of the film’s release and from the perspective of today’s viewer would probably be considered as outdated artifacts or caricatures of another time.

By working on two levels – one historical and the other one contemporary – this movie establishes a pattern for other movies to come dealing with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. It was the first American film made in response to the Nazi regime in Germany and the first American film, focus of which was European political anti-Semitism.

Its main goal was to “demystify the Jew” (Doneson 1987: 11), especially his European image, which was foreign to most of the American public in the thirties. The decline in immigration to the United States and the gradual assimilation of the American Jews caused a virtual gap between the American and European Jew: “the Jew in the United States was becoming a recognizable American; the European Jew, by contrast, was still strange” (Doneson 1987: 11).

The movie, task of which was to attack and warn against anti-Semitism, was produced in the middle of the Great Depression, when in Germany Hitler and the Nazis came to power and when Jews in Europe were chosen to be blamed for all the economic trouble: “From a purely commercial point of view, it was a controversial movie to be making at the time” (Doneson 1987: 19). Unlike Europe, America did not respond to its economic crisis by turning Jews into its scapegoat, instead president Hoover and the banks were to blame (Doneson 1987: 18). But still, as mentioned earlier, anti-Semitism in America was about to grow and reach its peak during the war.

The film is based on a true story of the rise of the German-Jewish money landing family, the Rothschilds (the original name of the family was Bauer), which takes place in the nineteenth century; the Rothschild banks secretly lent money to England, Austria, and Prussia to help finance Napoleon’s defeat. Once Napoleon is defeated, Nathan Rothschild (George Arliss) and his brothers are forbidden further influence in the European politics. The Rothschilds become outraged and use their financial power to destroy the European market. As revenge a Prussian ambassador initiates a pogrom against the Jews. Despite the anti-Semitic prejudice in the nineteenth century Europe the Rothschild family managed to become the richest and most powerful bankers in the world. The emphasis is put both on the influential power (the power of money and information) and the plight of the Jewish people of not being accepted in the mainstream society.

According to Doneson the Rothschild family and Jews generally symbolized for many Americans the potential of capitalism; the Rothschild family’s rise from the Jewish ghetto to the most powerful banking institution in Europe became a concrete example of the American dream (Doneson 1987: 20). The stereotypical image of the Jews stood for money and power and as such they were perceived both with admiration and distrust (Doneson 1987: 18).

Doneson argues that the film presented an ambiguous message: on one hand it was a warning against rising anti-Semitism both in Europe and in America and on the other hand it promoted the most typical Jewish stereotypes (Doneson 1987: 20). Besides a common stereotype of a wandering homeless Jew (the movie starts in the ghetto and ends with the Rothschilds being spread and influential in major European capitals) the film promotes the image of a Jew as a cunning and powerful businessman.

Throughout the centuries Jews have been depicted as manipulative lovers of money through which they try to control the society they live in. The connection between Jews and money was deep in the core of the most stereotypical image of a Jew (whose archetype goes back to Shakespeare’s Shylock both in art works and in real life). Doneson mentions surveys on typical Jewish characteristics made in the thirties, where money is considered to be both positive and negative element: the means of getting it is despised, while the power and success resulting from having it is admired; the film reflects this dual and paradoxical attitude to Jews/money/power (Doneson 1987: 23). The Jews in the film are characterized both by their financial power, manipulation skills and their desire to assimilate. However, the film also offers an explanation and an excuse for the Jewish love for money as the founder of the dynasty says: “Money is power. Money is the only weapon a Jew has to defend himself with”. Doneson also points out to another idea of the money as the only Jewish tool for their survival expressed in the film: the possibility that the Jews could use their financial resources for saving their lives and safety (Doneson 1987: 23).

The physical image of the Jews in the film succumbs to a widely accepted stereotypical view of the European orthodox Jew of that time as something exotic; they are visibly Jewish both by their perception of religion, manners and dress: black clothing, a skullcap, side locked hair, a hooked nose, a bearded face, a bent figure, heavy gesticulation – all attributes of the archetype of the ghetto Jew (Doneson 1987: 23-24). The two generations of Jews (father and son – Mayer and Nathan) bear almost the same Jewish traits. Nathan seems to look more “unorthodox” without the beard and with his top hat instead of a skull cap. Doneson argues that the portrayal of a fixed image of the ghetto Jew through generations contributes to the perception of the Jew as a race and serves as a visual metaphor for Jewishness in the public imagination (Doneson 1987: 24).

Doneson sees the goal of the movie in promoting acceptance of the (European!) Jew at present and to change the public perception of Jews from threat caused by large-scale Jewish immigration into appreciation of Jewish contribution to the society they live in (Doneson 1987: 28). The Jews in the film are portrayed both as a foreign/dangerous and as a not loyal but beneficial element of any society they live in (Doneson1987:19). The movie offers a contradictory image of the Jew: a cunning and powerful banker but also an eternally oppressed victim without own land, and suggests a solution to the Jewish issue through their successful assimilation but also in its didactic manner appeals to the viewer’s tolerance (Doneson 1987:18).

The film’s work with allegory (Napoleon reminds us of Hitler) and history (violence in Jewish ghetto) warns the American audience about the possible threat that the European Jews had to face. According to Doneson the film’s topicality makes this film outstanding in it its period (Doneson 1987: 22). Soon after the release of the film Germany enacted the Nuremberg Laws. According to the Internet Movie Database excerpts from this film were taken out of context and used in the anti-Semitic Nazi films Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) and Die Rothschilds produced by Goebbels during the Second World War (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0025272/).

What was then the impact of the film on an average American film-goer of at the time of its release? Did it strengthen the feeling of fear of possible wave of immigration or did it arouse a feeling of empathy and understanding with the plight of the European Jews? The film’s indirect and unclear message leaves a lot of space for speculation. The fact that the film was a box-office success (Doneson 1987: 21) says something about its appeal and attraction to the American public. To a certain degree the film had to reflect public attitudes of its time or was it just its historical disguise and the story of the famous family house that attracted public to cinemas? As Doneson claims in her film study the historical concept and setting of the film had to be strange for most American film goers but the issue of financial power and control was still very topical five years after the stock market crash (Doneson 1987:28). Did the film use stereotypes in order to promote or warn against them? The impact of the movie is ambiguous the same way as its message is. The fact is that it did not prevent the anti-Semitism from growing and reaching its peak during the war and its popularity had no effect on America’s isolationist policy as far as immigration is concerned.


3.3 The Great Dictator (1940)

If the movie The House of Rothschild did not lead to any cultural or political transformation and changes, the same cannot be said about Charlie Chaplin’s political satire and black comedy of mistaken identities The Great Dictator (1940). Chaplin’s first talking picture (13 years after the first sound movie The Jazz Singer was produced) is often considered to be the first film (and at the time of its release an exceptionally risky one) that directly expressed its concern for the European Jews and whose main goal was to wake up the Americans from their apathy and make them aware of what was going on in Europe. At the time of its release the film has been perceived both as a pro-war propaganda and as a warning prophecy. The Great Dictator was included among the all-time top 100 American comedies as voted by the American Film Institute and has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The success and popularity of this movie completely overshadows another anti-Nazi satire You Nazty Spy! (Oh, You Natzy Spy!) (1940) directed by Jules White and released just nine months before Chaplin’s more famous The Great Dictator.

The Great Dictator is Chaplin’s most controversial and commercially successful film nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Picture, for Best Music, for best Writing, for Best Actor, and for Best Supporting Actor. Chaplin began planning his film in 1937 and started to film in September 1939; a week after the beginning of Second World War. He finished the shooting almost six months later, when France had fallen to the Nazis. The film was released in September 1940 in New York City, to a wider American audience in October, in the United Kingdom in December, and in France in April 1945, shortly after the liberation of Paris.

In the late 1930s criticizing the rise of fascism in Europe and condemning the treatment of the Jewish people were daring risky ideas. At the time of its release the United States had not yet entered the war and their relationship with Germany was officially neutral. The movie was written and directed by Chaplin and was shot largely at the Chaplin Studios and other locations around Los Angeles. During its production Chaplin received various warnings from isolationists, crypto-Nazis not to proceed, and even his own studio, fearing financial losses, did not want to see the picture made (Doneson 1987: 33).The project continued largely because Chaplin was financially and artistically independent of other studios; failure to release the film would have bankrupted him, since he invested 1.5 million dollars of his own money into the project (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Dictator). According to the Internet Movie Database when interviewed about this film, Chaplin said: "Half-way through making The Great Dictator I began receiving alarming messages from United Artists... but I was determined to go ahead for Hitler must be laughed at.” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032553/).

The film was well received at the time of its release, and was popular with the American public. Critical opinions were mixed, with many reviewers critical of Chaplin’s final speech (which was added only after the Nazi conquest of France) and the comedy tone in many of the Jewish ghetto scenes. Jewish audiences were reportedly deeply moved by the portrayal of Jewish characters and their plight, which was still a taboo subject in Hollywood films of the time. It was shown in London during the Battle of Britain, in order to provide a great morale booster. General Eisenhower personally requested French dubbed versions of the film from Chaplin for distribution in France after the Allied victory there. When the film was released, Hitler had it banned from all occupied countries (according to the Internet Movie Database, Chaplin, after being told Hitler saw the movie, replied: “I’d give anything to know what he thought of it.” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032553/)). It was also forbidden to be shown on screen in Spain (until Francisco Franco died in 1975), in parts of South America, and the Irish Free State. In the United Stated the film was not shown in Chicago because of its large German population.

Both critics and public audience seemed to be disturbed by the film’s black humor. Chaplin was criticized for attempting to turn the Nazi power into comedy and accused of trivialization. When he was interviewed by The New York Times in October 1940, Chaplin commented: “It would be a sad moment if we couldn’t laugh now. I believe there is more promise and sign of victory if we in America can laugh about them [the Nazis]. I’ve always felt that the nation which can laugh is the nearest to being sane…As to Hitler being funny, I can only say that if we can’t sometimes laugh at Hitler then we are further gone that we think. There is a healthy thing in laughter, laughter at the grimmest things in life, laughter at death even” (Bartov 2005: 130).

But the audience of the early 1940s was not used to black comedy. Nobody realized then how much ahead of time Chaplin’s movie was. In 1964 after the atrocities of the Holocaust were publicly revealed, Chaplin stated in his autobiography that he would not have been able to make such jokes about the Nazi regime, had he known about the actual extent of the Nazi horrors (Chaplin 1974: 387-388). The thing that was so surprising was the urgency and the immediate seriousness of the Holocaust issue that Chaplin’s movie brings to the audience. People were ready to laugh at and feel sympathies and pity for the “little fellow”, as Chaplin called his Tramp character, but they were not ready to take him seriously. For many the humor they found in the movie was not funny at all: “If ‘The Great Dictator’ seems less funny than anything Chaplin has done before it is because the evil which he is exposing seems more immediate and threatening” (Doneson 1987: 40).

The release of the film also had political consequences. Group of senators, who supported isolationist policies in America, introduced in September 1941 a resolution calling for an investigation of pro-war propaganda in Hollywood films. The initial argument for the resolution came from Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota in a speech in St. Louis, Missouri, whose target was Chaplin’s movie The Great Dictator. At that time Hollywood was perceived to be controlled by the Jews, who were blamed for bringing the U.S. to war and increasing anti-Semitism (Doneson 1987: 42).

Chaplin originally intended to call the film The Dictator, but then Paramount Pictures would charge him for using that title – they owned the rights to an unrelated novel by Richard Harding Davis. So Chaplin inserted “Great” into the title (even though in France the film is known under the title Le Dictateur). The Great Dictator was the last movie, in which Chaplin starred as the Little Tramp. Even though for Chaplin the character actually retired already in his previous film called Modern Times (1936).

One of the two main characters and Chaplin’s roles, a Jewish barber, still bears visible traits of the eternally optimistic Tramp with the toothbrush moustache, bowler hat, bamboo cane, and a funny walk. He still keeps his positive outlook on life in a world full of chaos and injustice, even in a ghetto and concentration camp but this time his enemy is not a local policeman but the Nazis.

The Tramp had always been an “Everyman – a common man” for international audience, an adored beggar with his ill-fitting costume: “His portrayal of the little tramp, a universally recognized symbol of indestructible individuality triumphing over adversity and persecution, both human and mechanical, won him critical renown as a tragicomedian.” (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761557123/Chaplin_Charlie.html). It was not for the first time the audience heard the Tramp talk (he had already sung his nonsense song in Modern Times (1936)) but it is the first time when his situation and circumstances that surround him are so hopeless. In earlier films he would always find a way how to get out of trouble, no matter what authority he was fighting or escaping from. This time the “cat and mouse game” he is playing has much stricter rules with more dangerous consequences. The Tramp-barber manages at the end to outwit the Nazis and gives his final speech on the occasion of invading Osterlich but it is actually Chaplin himself asking the world for help on behalf of the European Jews and mankind generally. The only way how to win and survive is combined resistance; this is the movie’s message.

The movie starts with the preface: “This is a story of a period between two World Wars – an interim in which Insanity cut loose, Liberty took a nose dive, and Humanity was kicked around somewhat.” It runs about 126 minutes and is roughly divided in half with Chaplin starring in each segment. Chaplin plays a dual character: the Jewish barber and Hynkel, the dictator of Tomania (it was not the first time when Chaplin portrayed a dual character in his movie; he had already used that trick in The Idle Class (1922)). All the characters except for the Jewish ones (the barber, who like the Little Tramp, is without a name) and places mentioned in the film have symbolic names, which are easily recognizable (Tomania = Germany, Hynkel= Hitler, Garbitsch = Goebbels, Herring = Goering, Napaloni = Mussolini, Bacteria = Italy, Osterlich = Austria).

The film begins during the First World War (WWI comedy was nothing new for Chaplin – his Tramp character is a recruit in one of his early movies Shoulder Arms (1918)). Chaplin, as an unnamed soldier in the army of the fictional nation of Tomania, rescues an officer Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). At the end of his unplanned but successful rescue mission their plane crashes into a tree, Chaplin loses his memory and spends the next twenty years in hospital, unaware of the changes that took place in Tomania. Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin in a double role) became the ruthless dictator of Tomania and aided by Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Herring (Billy Gilbert) persecutes Jews. The amnesiac soldier returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto still politically “ignorant”. He is shocked by the behavior of the storm troopers and the way they treat the Jews. Hannah (Paulette Goddard), living next door, enthusiastically joins him in his naive but just resistance and becomes his loving friend and ally. Schultz recognizes the barber just in time, when the storm troopers are about to hang him from a lamp post, and orders them to leave him and his friends alone. Hynkel stops the persecution for a while in order to get a loan from a wealthy Jewish banker Epstein. On Garbitsch’s advice, Hynkel plans to invade the neighboring country of Osterlich (Austria) and needs the loan to finance to invasion. Eventually, Epstein refuses, and Hynkel reinstates his persecution of the Jews, this time to even greater extent. Schultz opposes the invasion and persecution and Hynkel sends him in a concentration camp. Schultz escapes and hides in the ghetto and together with the Jews plans to overthrow the Hynkel regime. But both he and the barber are arrested and sent to the concentration camp. After a power struggle between Hynkel and Napaloni (Jack Oakie), both leaders unite in invading Osterlich, which had been refuge place for Hannah and other Jews from the ghetto. Schultz and the barber manage to escape from the camp disguised in Tomanian uniforms with the double cross reminding of the Nazi swastika. Border guards mistake the barber for Hynkel because of their remarkable physical resemblance and Hynkel is mistaken for the barber and is arrested by his own soldiers. The barber is taken to the Tomanian capital to make a victory speech, which the barber turns into a freedom speech. Hannah hears the barber speaking on the radio and is surprised by “Hynkel” talking directly to her: “Hannah, can you hear me? Where ever you are, look up! Look up, Hannah! The clouds are lifting, the sun is breaking through! We are coming out of darkness and into the light! We are coming into a new world; a kindlier world, where men will rise above their greed, their hate, and their brutality. Look up, Hannah!” Considering the time of its release, one cannot fully disregard Chaplin’s optimistic upbeat ending full of hope for better future as naive.

After having described the plot of the story let us now examine the Jewish characters in the film. The Jew in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is visibly unrecognizable from other characters, only the choice of an accent might play a certain role. The Jew in the film represents all that is good in man and thus becomes a universal symbol of suffering humanity (Doneson 1987: 39). May be for the sake of the universal message of the movie, Chaplin uses Esperanto as the written language for the ghetto and its shops. There is no remark about Jewish own language or their religion. The only time when religion is mentioned is when Hannah has her hair done and talks with the barber: “Do you believe in God? I do. But if there was none, would you live any different? I wouldn’t.”



The fact that the physical appearance of the Jew plays no identifying role in the film ridicules the whole notion of racial purity. Chaplin makes use of his physical resemblance with Hitler, especially their identical toothbrush moustache. This was not the only thing they had in common; they were born just a few days apart, grew up in poverty and each of them in his way spread their fame throughout the world. Chaplin plays in the movie with the idea of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde presenting the barber as Hynkel’s Jewish alter ego: the Jewish barber’s goodness and Hynkel’s evilness represent two opposites of a unity (Bartov 2005: 129). What distinguishes Hynkel from the barber is not the physical appearance but the moral qualities. The barber is characterized as morally superior and more courageous and the dictator as an insane villain. The barber is an example of the protean image of the Jew, “the human chameleon” (Bartov 2005: 129), who in a way also represents a certain stereotype of the Jew. The protean Jew is a Jew, who in order to survive changes his look (in this case puts on the Tomanian uniform while escaping from the concentration camp and is mistaken for Hynkel) but stays the same inside (remains faithful to his believes and gives the final freedom speech). Usually this transformation involves a Jew who acts and looks like a gentile in order to survive and escape persecution. As far as the humor in the film is concerned Chaplin makes fun of everybody and everything but the Jews as an ethnic group. Most of the funny scenes are still based on the physical comedies, such as the one with the barber “dancing” through the streets after being accidentally hit by Hannah’s saucepan. They generate laugh but also on a more serious level they convey a message of the Jews being courageous but not having the necessary support and weapons to fight with. The Jews in the film are generally depicted as hard working courageous people oppressed by the dictator and his regime for no obvious reason. Their courage is mainly demonstrated in the barber and Hannah’s characters. Neither of them is politically motivated in the right sense of the word, their active opposition to the oppression seems to be a natural part of their character. Hannah, who fights the storm troopers with a saucepan, seems to be naive in her indestructible optimism: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they stopped hating us? If they leave us alone and let us go by our business like we used to. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have to go to another country? I don’t want to go away. With all that hardship and persecution I love it here. Perhaps we don’t have to go. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they let us live and let us be happy again?” The barber is in his ignorance the bravest man in the ghetto. His naive resistance reminds us so much of the Little Tramp (this time we can hear him talk back, which becomes another form of denying and fighting authority): Storm trooper: “What do you think you’re doing?”… Barber: “I really don’t know.”…Storm trooper: “You leave that alone!”…Barber: “Don’t be silly.”…Storm trooper: “I am not silly!”…Barber: “I appreciate that.”…Storm trooper: “When you talk to me hail Hynkel and salute!”…Barber: “Who are you anyway?”… Storm trooper: “I’ll show you who I am, come down to headquarters!”…. Storm trooper: “Hail Hynkel!” Barber: “Who is he?” (slap) Storm trooper: “Don’t fool with me! I said Hail Hynkel!” The rest of the Jewish inhabitants seem to be more reluctant to fight and more passive in their acceptance of their fate. Hannah never gives up her hope and optimism: “That’s what we shall all do. Fight back. We can’t fight alone but we can lick ‘em together”. But when it comes to Schultz making plans how to overthrow Hynkel’s regime forcing the responsibility on the ghetto inhabitants and making them choose a martyr, Hannah prevents this from happening by putting the fatal coin into every pudding (this scene might be considered as the only one making fun of the Jews). While the Jewish men consider it “privilege to die for their country”, which means Tomania, Hannah and her landlady Mrs. Jaeckel express their unwillingness to become involved in such a way: “we Jewish people shouldn’t get mixed up with such a business…our place is at own looking at our own affairs.” Mr. Jaeckel’s calm, considerate and skeptical attitude makes him the chief head of the ghetto and he is the one, who decides to leave for Osterlich, which means emigration. During one of the storm troopers raid the camera shifts its focus on a bird in a cage hanging in Mr. Jaeckel’s house. The bird becomes the symbol of the Jewish situation, both of them unwillingly trapped in a cage, from which there is no escape but death. Chaplin’s portrayal of the Jews becomes more universal than ever before and signals a shift in the image of a Jew in the American cinema toward a more American, more assimilated and thus more universal image that finds its peak in the 1950s in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). Compared with the movies that preceded and followed The Great Dictator, Chaplin’s universal image of a Jew stripped of almost all Jewish stereotypical identifications clearly stands out and fits into his humanitarian socialist vision of the world. But neither Chaplin can completely avoid stereotypes about Jews and money: the rich Jew Epstein who is supposed to provide funds to help Hynkel finance the invasion of Osterlich reminds us of the Rothschild Jew, a wealthy court Jew and leaves the question whether Chaplin was hinting by this scene of the possibility for the Jews to buy their way out of danger. Chaplin’s vision of the ghetto and concentration camp was realistic only to a degree; the knowledge of the atrocities in Europe was still limited in America at that time. Today’s viewer, who is educated and “spoiled” by so many movies and documentaries on the Holocaust, might find the depiction of storm troopers unrealistic. Their behavior often resembles rather that of drunken teenagers than the Nazi soldiers. Their violence is usually expressed by bullying the ghetto inhabitants, marching through the streets of the ghetto singing the “Arian” song, destroying their goods and painting the “Jew” word on their shop windows. There is not much of “real” shooting or killing, except for the unfinished act of hanging the barber from the lamppost. However, in the scene following the invasion of Osterlich both the Jewish resistance and the Nazi persecution are expressed on a more violent level. Chaplin uses newspaper headlines and documentary footages of some actual events in order to stress the urgency and immediacy of the Jewish issue in Europe. He acknowledges the existence of ghettos and concentration camps and makes references to poisonous gas as part of the Nazi’s Final Solution. There are several places in the film where the concentration camps are mentioned: Mr. Jaeckel explains the lack of men in the ghetto by the fact that most of them have “gone there” but he like the rest of the inhabitants has only a vague idea of what such a camp looks like. Mr. Jaeckel also suggests to the barber that there is nice money to be made in beauty salons and that he should think about setting up one there. Chaplin finished his movie before the actual horrors of the concentration camps were revealed; thus his ghetto and concentration camp scenes and the degree of the Holocaust awareness in the Jewish characters seem to us from the present point of view rather ignorant and sugarcoated. When Hynkel sends Commandant Schultz to the concentration camp, he talks about it like about a vacation resort: “Schultz, you need a vacation, fresh air, little outdoor exercise. We shall send you to the concentration camp.” There is a short sequence from the concentration camp introduced by the barber’s joke about going to the “smoking room” and trying to avoid entering the gate but Chaplin did not know all the facts that seem so common and obvious for us today and so his camp reminds us more of a prison than of the camps were people were exterminated by hundreds. Chaplin dresses the barber into a prisoner’s uniform with a number, lets him march in the yard and read a love letter from Hannah before he goes to bed. We are left without an explanation how the barber and Schultz got Tomanian uniforms and managed to escape. The film’s message concentrated in Chaplin’s six-minute final speech. The speech at the film’s end became the most controversial part of Chaplin’s movie that caused a lot of mixed reactions. Barber, having been mistaken for the dictator, delivers, in front of a great audience, an address broadcast on the radio to the nation following the Tomanian take over of Osterlich (reference to the German Anschluss of Austria on March 12, 1938). The expected victory speech becomes Chaplin’s political monologue:
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