In an age of Jojo Rabbit and romanticized and cartoonish Holocaust-themed movies and television series, the line between fact and fiction is becoming blurred. From The Man in the High Castle to Inglorious Bastards, to Hunters now playing on Amazon Prime, we are confronted with alternate possibilities mixed with reality.
It’s not only in film. Numerous Holocaust-related novels are published and sold each year – including the latest best seller The Tattooist of Auschwitz. The Guardian says that the Auschwitz Memorial disputes the love story (the tattooist fell in love with a girl he was tattooing), claiming “the book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements.” The publisher maintains “every reasonable attempt to verify the fact against available documentation has been made.”
Some people argue these are nevertheless important alternative ways to educate about the Holocaust. That may be true. In Hunters, Holocaust survivor and lead fiction Nazi hunter Meyer Offerman (played by Al Pacino) goes to see Simon Wiesenthal for information about a Nazi. Wiesenthal eloquently lectures Offerman, advising him that Jews do not seek violent revenge – that killing will change our moral character and the very essence of who we are as a people. This was Wiesenthal’s truth post-Holocaust. Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal dedicated his life to bringing Nazis to justice, not to the alternate reality presented in the show.
Alternate realities presented in mass culture threaten to diminish the Holocaust. Already we are seeing signs of this cultural shift. If it is acceptable to reinterpret the story of the Holocaust in differing modes of entertainment production, can we be surprised by its perversion last week at the Campo de Criptana festival in Spain? That city’s annual parade featured dancing Nazis with guns, scantily clad women dressed in concentration camp uniforms and waving Israeli flags, a float being driven by a Nazi on a motorcycle, crematoria motif and worse, along the parade route Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been” blasted for the Nazi actors and the crowds lining the street to dance to.
The organizers say that the parade was actually meant to memorialize the Holocaust! In an age of warped satirical cartoonish mass cultural entertainment – for this town and its organizers, in their mind, this perversion of the Holocaust was perfectly reasonable. Consider the months and months of preparation of dance routines, costume design and float construction. Hundreds of people were involved in creating this Holocaust “entertainment” piece. Did anyone think it would be construed as antisemitic? It was.
The same satire is derived from pure antisemitism found at the Aalst Carnival in Belgium. Over the last two years, stereotypical depictions of Jewish people have been exhibited in the parade. This year, a group walked around the parade dressed up like insects with fur hats worn by ultra-Orthodox men. These depictions are helped by the seeming mass acceptance of Holocaust revisionism coupled with a growth of antisemitism.
The Shoah is very personal and belongs to its victims, its survivors and their children. Preserving its historical truth and the memory of its six million Jewish victims and millions of non-Jewish victims is paramount now more than ever – especially in an age of alternative truths. As educators, it is our responsibility to educate with truth in hand, with survivor testimony and with expert analysis. Alternate reality can be entertaining and maybe serve our alter-ego, but let this be a warning: the road from revisionism to denial is very short.