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Sympathy of Germans towards the Jews during the Holocaust

Sympathy of Germans towards the Jews during the Holocaust


Since the late 1940s, filmmakers from all corners of the globe have told the tragic and inhuman story of the Holocaust by various means of the art form. Many films have been awarded for adequate and truthful reflection of severe reality of the Holocaust. The paper researches anti-Semitism movements in the Holocaust films. Hollywood films about the Holocaust have been the most prominent and influential in bringing the Holocaust to the attention of an international audience. The popular success of such films as The Diary of Anne Frank, The Pawnbroker, Shoah, The Grey Zone, The Pianist, and Schindler’s List depict the most horrific and outrageous scenes of the Holocaust. On the basis of the movies Schindler’s List and The Pianist, sympathetic attitudes of Germans towards the Jews have been examined and analyzed.

Keywords: Holocaust, anti-Semitism, Jew, concentration camp, persecution

The word Holocaust is of Greek origin and may be described as a systematic persecution of millions of Jews by the Nazi regime and its followers. When Nazi collaborators came to power, it resulted in the annihilation of Jewish people because of their “inferiority.” Since January 1933, the tyranny of Nazi led to the murders of millions of Jews across Europe. The Nazi newspaper called Der Stürmer, translated into the English language as The Attacker, condemned the Jews and stressed that the Jews were a misfortune to the whole society. As a result, the Jews were not only isolated from the rest of society but also confined to ghettos, destined to savage repressions and death (Creed, 2007).

Because of the fact that the Holocaust in the world history is a fatal and heartless event, many filmmakers decided to describe the Holocaust as a central subject in their films. Since 1940s till 2010s, filmmakers from all corners of the globe displayed different aspects of this tragic event in fiction and nonfiction movies. It is usually said that preserved documents, testimonies of witnesses, sources of literature, and films will help the future generation keep the recollections of this tragic moment of history forever. Movies provide a unique opportunity to the viewers to observe the sad story of outrage upon personal dignity of the Jewish people. Furthermore, scientists prove that the majority of people wish to see and to hear information about the Holocaust rather than to read about it in books, newspapers and journals (Creed, 2007).

The Holocaust in the History of Cinema

The Most Popular Movies about the Holocaust

For many years, scholars have been arguing if the Holocaust should or should not be shown and described in movies. Moreover, filmmakers disagree upon how the phenomenon of the Holocaust should be represented. In other words, scientists are interested in whether they are required to omit or to add details about the process of the Holocaust. The primary purpose of movies is not to distort or alter the meaning and peculiarities of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, many films are not successful as they inadequately represent information concerning the Holocaust. As a rule, documentary films that encourage the participation of eyewitnesses of the Holocaust are the most veracious and accurate. Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust, confesses that there are neither appropriate words nor suitable means to embrace the totality of the Holocaust (Doneson, 2002).

Numerous Hollywood studio productions, including Exodus, Ship of Fools, Julia, and others, made decisions to depict the Holocaust in their films. Many American movies described the most terrific realities of Nazi period, including ghettos, deportations, and concentration camps, that were aimed at destroying the Jews as a nation. Many postwar fiction and nonfiction movies, such as Judgment at Nuremberg and The Diary of Anne Frank, remain extremely popular nowadays. Besides, there are huge numbers of the other prominent films that will definitely be kept deep in people’s hearts. The list of films that depict the horrific themes of Holocaust is extremely large (Insdorf, 2003).

For example, the movie A Call to Remember, produced in 1997, deals with the topics of survivors of the Holocaust and second generation survivors. The film plays an important role in the history of the Holocaust as it touches the theme of sharing the experience among generations. This movie is aimed at convincing people that witnesses of this tragic event should not hide information from young generations. Moreover, survivors of the Holocaust are obliged to disseminate truthful information about the horrific event in order for the offspring to know the story of the Holocaust (Insdorf, 2003).

The Diary of Anne Frank depicts the story of the family of Otto Frank, who lives in Nazi-occupied Holland. The main topic of the movie concerns the prejudice and considerable persecutions against the Jewish people (Doneson, 2002). One more movie, called Divided We Fall, informs the viewers about the victims of Nazi regime. This film is very useful as it reveals complex relationships among the victims of German occupation. The movie Everything Is Illuminated, that depicts the story of Jewish American who decides to fly to Ukraine in order to find his grandfather’s life-saver, will provide the viewers with a great opportunity to learn more about the Jewish history, to increase the awareness of the Holocaust peculiarities, and to analyze the attitudes of people towards the Jews (Insdorf, 2003).

The Grey Zone, directed by T. B. Nelson, describes the events of 1944 that happen on the territory of extermination camp. According to the plot of the film, Jewish prisoners are required to dispose the bodies of the Jews in order to receive provisions. It is rather important to note that the film is criticized because of divergences among the original plot of the book and the plot of the film. Experts argue that the description of the Holocaust is distorted in The Grey Zone (Rosenberg, 2011).

The film Into the Arms of Strangers includes information about the transportation of children to England. The decision of the leadership of England to provide a shelter to Jewish children saves the life of more than 10, 000 Jews. Children that suffered from the Nazi oppression are offered a shelter in foster homes, asylums, and hostels. Parents of Jewish origin are ready to entrust their children to completely unknown people in order to save the lives of their offspring. This movie makes an attempt to prove that no nationality is superior. Furthermore, there are many kind-hearted, good-natured, and sympathetic people, who are willing to peril their life with the purpose of saving the life of others (Rosenberg, 2011).

One more movie about kindertransport is called My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransport. The main themes of the movie include separation of children from parents and relatives, and eyewitnesses of the Holocaust that secrete their terrific experiences of the Holocaust event. This film is extremely extraordinary and unique, as it involves the interviews provided by rescuers and witnesses of the Holocaust as well as numerous archival documents and photographs. The movie The Pawnbroker, released in 1965, is considered to be one of the first films that portray the influence of concentration camps in Germany on the fate of its survivors. Furthermore, this film tries to explain that many survivors of the Holocaust suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (Rosenberg, 2011).

The Pianist, produced in 2002, describes the life story of a young Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. The entire film embraces the theme of Nazi regime and its brutal attitudes towards the Jewish population in Poland during the World War II. The Pianist as the “masterpiece of art” may be described as a human triumph and tragedy (Metzger, 2012).

One more documentary film about the Holocaust survivors is 7th Heaven – I Hate You. The leading purpose of the film is to describe the feelings of misery and hate that live inside the hearts of Holocaust survivors. The plot of the movie depicts the true story of Elisabeth Mann, who manages to survive in the period of the Holocaust (Rosenberg, 2011).

The extremely long movie Shoah (1985) is a documentary illustrating the period of the Holocaust. The shooting of the movie excludes even a single frame of archive footage. The filmmaker makes a decision to interview not only eyewitnesses and survivors but also ex-Nazis. The filmmaker of Shoah reveals every detail of the horrific humiliation and persecution of the Jewish population (Rosenberg, 2011).

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The great number of fiction and non-fiction movies about the Holocaust explains the popularity of films on this topic. Scientists estimate that the primary purpose of the Holocaust films is to educate the viewers. Each film that describes a serious event in the human history changes the thoughts, methods of thinking, and attitudes of people towards many controversial issues (Doneson, 2002). In this sense, every movie on the Holocaust serves as a teacher or as an educator. Using fiction and nonfiction movies can be considered to be extremely effective, as it ensures the long memory of the heartless mass brutality and annihilation of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime. Consequently, Holocaust movies, including documentaries, possess a great potential to educate the future generations. As a result, large numbers of Holocaust movies should be understood as emotional lessons the purpose of which is to analyze, to teach, and to make conclusions in order to avoid similar disasters in the future. These films are aimed at explaining people that the Holocaust should be preserved in people’s hearts. It should be stated that the educational purpose of Holocaust films is as important as the historical one.

The Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust

The hatred of Jews or anti-Semitism is characterized by centuries-long history not only in Germany but also throughout Europe. However, the peak of persecution of the Jews was reached during the Nazi epoch. Everyone who resisted the Nazi regime was cruelly treated, imprisoned, subjected to tortures, and severely murdered. Consequently, millions of Jews were destined to death because of the fact they were born Jewish. They were doomed to annihilation not because of something they did or supported or even obtained but because of who they were. Because of their origin, the Jewish daughters and sons were killed collectively and individually.

The rescue of Jewish people during the period of Nazi regime was considered to be a relatively rare behavior. The majority of German population remained passive and indifferent as providing the refugees with a shelter was qualified as a serious crime. However, even being under the Nazis, there were numerous courageous opponents of the regime that provided the Jews with the shelter. Holocaust rescuers lived in many different counties, including Netherlands, Greece, Poland, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, and many others (Shulman, 1999).

Mordecai Paldiel, one of the rescuers of the Jews, confesses that the Jews were annihilated by the Nazi “killing machine” because of the inferior blood in their veins. The rescuer emphasizes that he could not bear the murder of Jewish children and infants in the German-occupied territories (Shulman, 1999).

Despite the establishment of the Nazi regime in many occupied countries, on the territories of Germany and Austria, there were few individuals who put their life at risk in order to save the Jewish people. According to the statistics provided by Yad Vashem, more than 300 Germans and 80 Austrians were recognized as rescuers of the Jews during the Holocaust (Shulman, 1999).

Scientists estimate that the opportunity to save people of Jewish origin was bigger in Western Europe than in the east. The reasons that explained the possibility of the Jews to survive in Western Europe are as follows:

  • The general population was characterized by relatively small numbers of Jewish people.
  • The Jewish population was more assimilated within society.
  • The escape to more neutral societies was a greater possibility (Shulman, 1999).

For instance, the inhabitants of some regions of France, including Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, rejected the Nazi Empire because of its cruelty and brutality. The farmers and peasants of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon provided a shelter to thousands of Jews escaping from Nazi regime, putting their life and the safety of their families at risk. One citizen, Phillip Hallie, told that more than sixty refugees were kept in his private house. Furthermore, he confessed that, despite the threats of arrest and numerous persecutions, he hid the Jews, fed them, and plucked the Jews out the deportation groups (Shulman, 1999).

Magda Trocme, the wife of a pastor, provided numerous explanations in order to persuade the rest of the society to protect the Jewish people from Nazis. She believed that all people are brothers. Furthermore, Trocme was sure that all human beings on the Earth should be provided with basic human rights, and no nationality is superior over the other one (Shulman, 1999).

Hanne Liebmann was one of those lucky, who were protected by kind-hearted citizens of Le Chambon. The woman was greatly surprised by the kindness, frankness, and generosity of her lifesavers. In one of the interviews she told that the rescuers shared the food with the refugees (Shulman, 1999).

The documents provided by Yad Vashem prove that the Jews were out of the danger till the end of the war on the territory of Italy. It is estimated that approximately 85% of the Jews in Italy managed to overcome the tragic period of the Holocaust. Italian Jews constituted only 10% of overall population. That is why kind-hearted Christians were able to protect the Jews more easily. One more reason why Italians ensured a shelter to the Jews was the absence of anti-Semitism in their society (Shulman, 1999).

During the Holocaust, more than 5, 000 of Poles participated in rescuing the Jewish people from the Nazis. As a result, many innocent people were protected from starvation, maltreatment, and ghettos. The prominent Polish man Jan Zabinski succeeded in saving many Jewish people in Warsaw. He was a zoologist, and because of the absence of animals in the zoo, he made a decision to use the cages as hiding places for the Jews. Moreover, dozens of Jewish people were hidden in his private house. Zabinsli was supported by his wife and son (Paul, 2010).

David Kitterman, the author of the article “Those Who Said ‘NO’ to the Holocaust,” explains that during the Holocaust there were many German families that, despite the systematic terror and threats, rejected the cooperation with the government and managed to survive. The author provides examples of Germans’ sympathy towards the Jews in the period of the Holocaust. One of the brightest examples in his article is Albert Battel, who successfully saved the lives of hundreds of the Jewish people. This man can be treated as a real hero because, despite his position of army lieutenant, he used the Nazis troops with the purpose of preventing many Jewish people from being transported to the extermination camps. Kitterman insists that that lieutenant should be rewarded for such a heroic act. In most cases, the names and personal information of Holocaust rescuers is unknown. However, historical documents registered more than one hundred documented files about German soldiers, participants of SS, and policeman, who refused to murder unarmed and innocent Jews (Kitterman, 1991).

Kitterman adds that many German soldiers relied on various methods and excuses in order not to kill helpless people. For example, many soldiers resorted to nonviolent methods. The big number of soldiers and other proponents of Nazi regime simply refused to carry out an order to shoot. Some soldier tried to convince the leadership that they could not fulfill the orders because of poor emotional and mental health. A few refused to kill the Jews on the basis of moral values, religion, and ethics. Kitterman provides one more example of German officer who let one of the Jews run away as his German colleague was not at work. Besides, there were many Nazis who intentionally threw out or lost the weapons (Kitterman, 1991).

The refuses, according to the notes of the author, might lead to terrible consequences. However, 58% of German soldiers, who refused to participate in the murder of the Jews, suffered no negative impacts. It was estimated that less than 8% of German soldiers were imprisoned and sent to concentration camps. In most cases, German soldiers were deprived of salary or downgraded. Furthermore, various types of reprimands and transfer to a combat unit were typical for that period of time (Kitterman, 1991).

As a result, despite the mortal danger, threatening, and persecutions, numerous heroes said “No” to the Nazi regime. All the stories provided by Kitterman prove that many German soldiers, despite the constant pressure from authorities, rejected participation in Holocaust killings and murders.

The movies Pianist (2002) and Schindler’s List (1993) as the Best Examples of Germans’ Sympathy towards the Jews during the Holocaust

The movie The Pianist, based on the autobiographical book about a Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman, depicts the traumatic events during German occupation on the territory of Poland. Szpilman, who works for Warsaw radio, becomes the eyewitness of the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II. After that, the composer goes home and listens to the news that the war has been declared to Germany. Despite the terrific events, the pianist believes that the war will end soon without negative consequences (Stein, 2004).

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However, because of German occupation, Jewish families on the territory of Poland face hunger, humiliation, maltreatment, murder, tortures, and the fear of death. The Nazis are described as extremely brutal, heartless, and sadistic. In order to avoid beating, burning, and killing, the majority of Jewish families are obliged to live in hiding (Stein, 2004).

The main topic of The Pianist deals with the horror and inhumanity, demonstrated by the Nazis. Nevertheless, the Captain of German army, Wilm Hosenfield, is the so-called symbol of human dignity and honor. The captain puts his own life at risk with the purpose of saving the young pianist from starvation and death. Hosenfield exercises a kind-hearted, moral, and good-natured behavior. The captain decides to hide Szpilman from his own unit. Such type of conduct is extremely dangerous as it threatens the life of a captain. Moreover, Hosenfield regularly visits the composer and supplies him with some food and water. Besides, he offers a warm coat to him and shows a more reliable place to hide from the Nazis. It is rather difficult to estimate why the captain decides to save the life of the Jew who has been hiding from the death for a relatively long period of time. According to one hypothesis, the captain decides not to kill the pianist because he is a person that lives according to the code of ethics and moral values. In reality, he is not a loyal proponent of Nazi regime because he does not understand how the Nazis are able to commit such heartless crimes against the Jews. He is sympathetic to these armless and innocent civilians. Furthermore, the captain is disillusioned and confused at the end of the war. According to the second hypothesis, the captain saves the life of the pianist because he is deeply impressed by his talent. The German soldier does not know who Szpilman is, but, in spite of it, he decides to give him an opportunity to start over. As a result, conclusion can be made that the German captain appreciates people more than the war, changes, his occupation, and even official duties (Stein, 2004).

It should be stressed that the movie The Pianist is based on real personal stories of Wladyslaw Szpilman and Wilm Hosenfield. The young composer and pianist Szpilman is regarded as a person who possesses extraordinary mixture of good faith, courage, patience, and luck. He has to be grateful for his escape to the German captain. The story of Wilhelm Hosenfeld is not fictitious as well. The documents provide information that the German captain was born in Hessen, Germany. In 1944, he was involved in the interrogation of prisoners (Stein, 2004).

According to his biography, Hosenfeld joined the Nazi party in 1935. However, in a short period of time, he became disillusioned with the Nazi regime as he had an opportunity to witness enormous numbers of murders, violations of dignity, burnings, killings, and humiliations of the Jewish people. It is proved that the captain had a personal diary, where he noted the most horrible and heartless attitudes towards the Jews in the course of his military service. He was terrified of the brutality and inhuman behavior of German soldiers that were his colleagues. In one of his notations, he compared the Nazi officers with animals that were deprived of feelings and should be ashamed of their behavior. Moreover, the captain wrote that the followers of the Nazi regime should get no mercy and compassion. Hosenfeld was convinced that the Nazis betrayed the thoughts and ideas of many soldiers. The strategies of Nazi regime did not correspond to the ideas of religious and democratic freedom. The Nazis, according to Hosenfeld, destroyed the peace and security in the world and the task of the proponents of this inhuman regime was to bear responsibility (Stein, 2004).

As a result, Hosenfeld should be treated as a real hero and rescuer. Instead of shooting the pianist or murdering him, the German soldier helps him satisfy the basic human needs. Hosenfeld respects all people, despite the race, religious view, and nationality. Therefore, the name of Wilhelm Hosenfeld should be respected and honored because such people as Hosenfeld create the history and become its heroes (Stein, 2004).

One more Holocaust drama film, directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, is Schindler’s List, released in 1993. The main theme of the well-known movie is based on the biographical data of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, who successfully saved the life of thousands Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. This film may be referred to as a perfect example of the positive attitudes and sympathy of the Germans towards the Jewish people. According to the plot of the film, Schindler is a member of a Nazi party and successful businessman who is willing to make profits in severe times of the war. At first, he decides to own a factory and to provide the military forces with enamelware. Furthermore, Schindler is enthusiastic about his successful moneymaking scheme and enormous profits. However, in a relatively short period of time, the so-called metamorphosis or transformation happens to the businessman, and his attitudes towards the life change (Adelman, 1996).

Despite the fact that the main topic of the movie is the description of the Holocaust, the movie investigates the oppositions between the good and the evil. Schindler is considered a good German, who succeeds in rescuing hundreds of the Jews. He is a supporter, rescuer, and a hero of the Jewish population. Because of his heroic action, Schindler should always be remembered and respected by new Jewish generations (Adelman, 1996).

According to official data, Schindler was s good employer as he made endeavors to protect his employees from starvation, diseases, and abuses. Moreover, his workforce was supplied with extra clothing and food. It is rather important to note that his wife, Emilie, always supported him. They successfully set up a secret medical clinic that played an important role in the fate of the businessman as well. Besides, during the Holocaust, Schindler saved the Jewish workers from tortures, murders, and executions. The workers appreciated his positive treatment and care. Furthermore, they started to refer themselves as “Schindler Jews” (Adelman, 1996).

The “protective” behavior of Schindler was potentially dangerous and caused many troubles not only to his reputation but also to his life and the life of his family. He was arrested several times, but with the help of bribery, he successfully managed to escape public justice. Schindler may be characterized as a brave, clever, risky, and generous personality.

He lived according to the belief that “when you are familiar with people, you are obliged to treat them as human beings, not as animals.” Scientists estimate that it was a ghetto massacre that motivated Schindler to save the lives of innocent Jews. According to official documents, after the war Schindler lost courage because his business affairs started to deteriorate and brought no profits. For several times Schindler got financial aid from the Jewish people, whose life he saved during the Holocaust. Moreover, Schindler was granted the title “Righteous among the Nations” for his protection of the Jews in the process of severe and brutal massacre during the Holocaust (Adelman, 1996).

Many Jews treated Schindler as a god-like figure. Even after the Holocaust, they tried to do their best in order to support Schindler morally and financially in the times of hardships and difficulties. According to historical data, Schindler spent more than four million German marks with the unique purpose of ensuring safety of the “Schindler Jews” who were kept by Nazis in the death camps. Schindler was pleased with the idea of saving the life of innocent Jews. As a result, Schindler should be treated as a hero in the history of the Holocaust as he supported the Jewish people in the time of sicknesses, murders, tragedies, and starvation. He may be characterized by the highest level of generosity, kind-heartedness, and humanity. His respect to human life and dignity contradicts the strategies and principles of Nazi regime. Good treatment and sympathy towards the Jews provided the Jewish people with the second chance in their lives (Doneson, 2002).

By nature, Schindler was a sentimentalist, who was fond of simplicity of doing good. Not all people in this world are ready to put their lives at risk in order to save more than 1000 Jews. It is usually said that Schindler not only saved the lives of the Jews but also preserved the faith in humanity. Despite the fact that Schindler was a multimillionaire, money meant nothing to him. Jewish generations will remember him for his charity, generosity, morality, and humanity (Adelman, 1996).

Holocaust films successfully portray the terrific realities of Nazi regime, including mass persecutions of the Jews, murders, tortures, and killings. The role of fiction and non-fiction movies is extremely important in the history of the Holocaust, as it should be regarded as a truthful reflection of Nazi epoch. It should be emphasized that such well-known movies as Schindler’s List, The Pianist, The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Grey Zone have stimulated the integration and penetration of the Holocaust into cultures and traditions of many nationalities around the globe. As a result, Holocaust films influence the consciousness and attitudes of people towards the Jews.

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