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America and “Holocaust”. Popular and scholarly discourse/knowledge pre- and post- the miniseries. Popular knowledge of the Holocaust pre-miniseries. General knowledge from reporting during the War The Diary of Anne Frank (1952) Highly edited Eichmann trial (1961)

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america and holocaust

America and “Holocaust”

Popular and scholarly discourse/knowledge pre- and post- the miniseries

popular knowledge of the holocaust pre miniseries
Popular knowledge of the Holocaust pre-miniseries
  • General knowledge from reporting during the War
  • The Diary of Anne Frank (1952)
    • Highly edited
  • Eichmann trial (1961)
  • Nazi Imagery in science fiction, literature, film and plays in the 60s
    • I.e. Dr. Strangelove, The Deputy (Rolf Hochhuth play), Judgment at Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer film, nominated for 11 Academy Awards)
intellectual discourse on the holocaust pre miniseries
Intellectual Discourse on the Holocaust pre-miniseries
  • Significant academic discourse, mostly by Jewish scholars, on the Holocaust from 40s through 70s mostly in the form political analogies to critique American system
  • Often in ways that would would seem inappropriate or offensive in discourse today
  • 40s-50s: commenting on USA racial policies, reacting to McCarthyism, Cold War policies
    • Defiance/wariness of bureaucracy, conformity, and mass society
    • specifically comparing Nazi camp system to American society
  • 60s-70s: civil rights movement, Vietnam
    • Analogies enthusiastically received by American right as appropriate and poignant to US politics of the day
the tone of discourse
The Tone of Discourse
  • These intellectual/political discourses on the Holocaust did not treat the Holocaust as a specifically Jewish tragedy, instead used universally applicable themes
    • Dehumanization, conformity, alienation, moral conscience

The focus is on Hitler’s system and politics

  • The Holocaust as a term did not really exist in American vocabulary until the 60s
  • Yet many scholars producing these analogies were Jewish
    • Jews were beginning to be especially integrated into American intellectual society

Scholars came of age during Holocaust and knew of other feelings of anti-Semitism in the World

-Jewish identity was a marker of difference, Jews focused on integration into American society

viewership of holocaust
Viewership of “Holocaust”
  • 65 million people saw first episode
  • 27.1% of all homes with a television were tuned to NBC
  • 43% of everyone watching television was watching “Holocaust”
  • Viewers increased each night
  • Overall, more than 100 million people watched the series
  • A survey conducted by Public Broadcasting revealed that viewers consistently responded that “Holocaust” specifically left an impact on them
controversy response to holocaust
Controversy: Response to “Holocaust”

Although the show was watched by millions, thus earning high ratings, the reaction was varied and intense, sparking continuous controversy played out most notably on the pages of the New York Times.

elie wiesel responds trivializing the holocaust semi fact and semi fiction
Elie Wiesel Responds:“Trivializing the Holocaust: Semi-Fact and Semi-Fiction
  • Criticizes name as dramatic and over-the-top
  • Insensitive: tries to capture what cannot even be imagined
    • Adding special effects completely inappropriate
  • Not thoroughly researched; number of inaccuracies
  • Stereotyping Germans and Jews
  • Focused on two naïve themes in Holocaust study: passivity and heroism
  • “Too much drama, not enough documentary”
  • Tries to cover too much: “Far too much happens to one Jewish family and too much evil perpetrated by one German officer…whatever happened anywhere, happened to this family”
    • All infamous events and places are experienced by two families
  • Danger in mixing genres of fact and fiction
  • Danger in thinking we now understand and have this be the authority on Holocaust knowledge
  • TV as inappropriate medium
author of series gerald green responds in defense of holocaust
Author of Series, Gerald Green, Responds: “In Defense of ‘Holocaust’”
  • Wiesel’s language is extreme
  • Jewish leaders saw series/read script and approved
  • Combining fact and fiction is effective tool to bring history to life
  • Characters are human and personable
  • Historical characters and events thoroughly researched
  • Criticizes Wiesel for wanting Holocaust limelight
  • Teaching tool, spreads awareness
john j o connor criticizes nbc holocaust art versus mammon
John J. O’Connor Criticizes:“NBC ‘Holocaust,’ Art versus Mammon”
  • Criticizing commercials
  • Business exploitation of tragedy to make profit
  • Inappropriate juxtaposition of commercials and show
    • “The effect can be shocking in its insensitivity”
    • Lysol after gas chambers


Combined genres

Insensitive to survivors


Effective medium of television

Reached and educated millions

Must try to express

The Public Responds-High Ratings, generally well received-NBC got 700 phone calls 1st night: 390 praised, 370 complained-New York Times received unusually high amount of letters to the Editor





Women’s influence

“Just following orders”

Why didn’t the Jews leave sooner?

Desk murderers

  • Constantly questions why more Jews didn’t fight back
  • Belittling of the millions of “passive” victims
  • “The Jew who fights back is the one that survives” (Judith E. Joneson)
  • “let’s not hand Hitler any more victories” (Fackenheim)
  • (clip)
israel and zionism
Israel and Zionism
  • Holocaust as justification for the necessity of the State of Israel
  • “the holocaust, then, accounts for the importance of Israel and serves to explain Israel’s political and military actions”
  • (clip)
creation of holocaust myth and jewish identity
Creation of Holocaust “myth” and Jewish Identity
  • Myth of destruction and then redemption of European Jewry
  • “Without Zionism, the Holocaust is unbearable and to be avoided…the myth of the Holocaust is complete only in the redemption of the Jewish nation.”
  • Creating Jewish identity through the Holocaust
    • “for Jews, the watching has about it the quality of a religious obligation”Moment
historical inaccuracies
Historical Inaccuracies
  • Jewish refugees who crossed the Russian border before the German invasion were not allowed to go free but were arrested, interrogated and jailed
  • Auschwitz inmates were not allowed to keep suitcases, family pictures and music-sheets
  • Jews do not wear prayer shawl at night
  • Everyone in extermination camps look well-fed and clean
  • There is a blessing for Torah-reading and another one for weddings—the rabbi who recites the wedding in the film recites the wrong blessing
  • Mordechai Anielewitz, the young commander of the Warsaw uprising, is shown as a caricature of himself
  • Exaggerated emphasis on the brutality of Jewish ghetto-policemen and Jewish kapos
  • Tried to tell too much
  • De-racialized
  • “Holocaust, a TV medium and drama. Holocaust, a work of semi-fact and semi-fiction. Isn’t this what so many morally deranged scholars have been claiming recently all over the world? That the Holocaust was nothing else but an invention” (Elie Wiesel)