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Thursday, June 11, 2009


The Holocaust

The Holocaust is in the news, and just coincidentally, last night IFC was broadcasting The Pianist. When it came out in 2002, despite its great reviews, for me it was just "one Holocaust movie too far," and I passed on seeing it, but last night I decided to watch it, and I'm glad I did, if for nothing else than to see the virtuoso (and Oscar-winning) performance of Adrien Brody in the title role of Wladyslaw Szpilman. There's much more to like about the movie, for sure; it's certainly well worth watching if you haven't seen it.

The movie tells the tragic story of the near-extermination of the Polish Jewish population and their existence in the Warsaw Ghetto, through the very real (though no doubt "artistically licensed" - he always seems to have a remarkable eyewitness view of key events) experiences of Szpilman. And it is an almost unbelievably tragic story, make no mistake about that. But as I was watching the film, watching its scenes of the Germans building walls around the Jewish population, and watching the Jews forced to funnel through checkpoints to get from one part of their ghetto to another and being routinely humiliated by the Germans, and watching them starve as their access to food was reduced and reduced again, of course I couldn't help but think of the Palestinians, particularly the Palestinians in Gaza, where all those scenes are repeated regularly (as photographically documented by Norman Finkelstein). As unbelievable as was the experience of the Jews of Warsaw (and elsewhere in Europe), it's just as unbelievable that their descendants, and perhaps even some of the very same people, now treat the Palestinians in much the same way.

No, it's not quantitatively the same. Palestinians are being slaughtered by the thousands, not the millions, and the Israelis don't shoot them point-blank in the head with pistols, instead they kill them from 100 yards with "tear-gas" canisters which for all intents and purposes are just huge bullets. But although I'd like to be charitable to the Israelis, and say they're just "nicer" than the bestial Germans portrayed in the movie, for all we know if the world wasn't watching, and if they wouldn't risk losing U.S. support, Israeli barbarism towards the Palestinians could rise to higher, even much higher, levels.

There are Holocaust museums all over the world. Will there ever be museums to the horrors being committed right in front of our faces, not 65 years ago, but today?

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