Tag Archives: Holocaust Through Film

Holocaust Through Film Series Calls for Collective Engagement and Reflection

By: Katherine Gianni

For the past three months Boston University students, staff, and community members alike have gathered in CAS room 224 for the Holocaust Through Film Series- an engaging selection of both classic and contemporary movies focused on the Holocaust. The series itself was planned and executed by Assistant Professor of French Jennifer Cazenave and Professor of Italian and director of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies Nancy Harrowitz.  Last week, EWCJS sat down with Professor Cazenave to discuss the film selection process, the reactions from her students, and the importance of Holocaust education.

  1. How did the Holocaust Through Film series come about?

Professor Harrowitz and I research and teach in similar fields. She works a lot on Italian literature and film dealing with the Holocaust and I work on French cinema dealing with the Holocaust. We thought it would be nice for the two of us to collaborate and put a series together. Then the question was, what kind of series? Initially one of the titles we had for the series was something like, “Hollywood and Holocaust,” asking how Hollywood represents the Holocaust, and how do certain films resist Hollywood conventions. Another starting point for the series was that Prof. Harrowitz teaches a course on Holocaust and Cinema. Instead of students watching these films on their own, she thought why not have an actual film series.

  1. What was the process of choosing the films like?

We went back and forth with a lot of films. We added ‘1938: When We Found Out We Were No Longer Italian’ at the end because Dean Kirchwey was able to bring the director to campus. Once we dropped the Hollywood title, there was a sense that we needed some classics. Claude Lanzman’s Shoah is a classic documentary. Our Children is also a classic because it was made in 1948, only three years after the war ended, and because it’s in Yiddish, which is really crucial because the disappearance of the Yiddish language is also a kind of extermination. People were exterminated, but also an entire culture disappeared with them. It was important for us to include a film in Yiddish. It’s such a unique film. I also think the theme of children, and of children surviving and making sense of trauma, was important to show. Prof. Harrowitz and I also thought it would be important for the younger generation to think about how can we continue to represent the Holocaust? There are now so many Holocaust films now. You know, for me, for my generation, it was Schindler’s List. I remember being 14 and seeing Schindler’s List, so every generation has a film or has had a film…but maybe that’s less so today. We have films, but I feel like there’s not that one, where if we interviewed BU undergrads they’d be like, “Oh, it’s this particular film.”

  1. How did your students respond to the series?

I think they loved it. I think The Matchmaker was their favorite, I think because of the story it tells and the characters, and the way in which it tries to present the Holocaust in ways people have not seen because again if you go on Netflix you will find I don’t know how many Holocaust films, but there is also a general genre of what a Holocaust film looks like, but then you have these kinds of films that try to do it completely differently. The ones that stand out will be the ones that try to find a new form.

  1. Did you have a favorite film out of the six that were shown?

People always, always ask me. It’s always hard for me to have a favorite. What I really liked about 1945 is that it’s minimalist, it’s beautiful, but you get so much emotion, especially seeing the villagers’ perspective and then seeing these two men. I just loved the simplicity and the way the filmmaker builds on this idea that we don’t know what’s in the casket that they bring with them to the train station and that they’re carrying throughout the film. In cinema, you have this idea of the offscreen…so you have your frame and then anything that’s outside of it is the offscreen. So Shoah, for example, plays with the offscreen because you don’t have archival images. So you have this sense that there’s something looming. It’s not like what you don’t see doesn’t exist. On the contrary! French film theory says that the frame actually conceals as much as it shows. Great films are films that play with the offscreen. And that’s what I loved about 1945.

Six films were shown during this spring's Holocaust Through Film Series, ranging from classic to contemporary.
Six films were shown during this spring’s Holocaust Through Film Series, ranging from classic to contemporary.

  1. Why do you think Holocaust education through film is important?

I think film is a great medium for history in general and it’s constantly evolving. At USC in LA they have a Shoah Foundation that Spielberg started following the success of Schindler’s List. He pledged to collect 50,000 testimonies of survivors. So it became the biggest repository of oral histories. But now the big question is how do we maintain the memory of the Holocaust, as survivors are dying. And so what USC has been doing is to make holograms, which basically means that someone is filmed over the course of three days. They have to wear the same clothes, sit in the exact same way, and are filmed. And then you can actually interact with the survivors…they’ve been placing these interactive holograms in museums around the country to test them. There’s a thick binder with all of the questions so I tested one at the Holocaust museum in DC. It’s more interesting to see young children react to this because they think it’s Skype or Facetime.

However, there is something about film, whether it’s a movie or an interview that creates a personal connection. Books do that as well, but there is a way in which you may be marked by images or you might get more attached to characters if you see them. For me there is really something about the memory of the Holocaust being dependent upon film and there’s something that film can salvage. I also like the collective experience because when you read a book you may come to class and discuss it, but it was something else to have our students and people from the community come for Shoah and then being able to present the film and answer all of these technical questions. There was something about it. I think the collective aspect, which we’re losing more and more, was really important. There’s something for me about the experience and being more moved by that. Books can also be extremely moving, but I think the topic lends itself very well to being experienced through film.

Curtain Closes On Holocaust Through Film Series With US Premiere Screening

By: Katherine Gianni

Pietro Suber does not shy away from difficult conversations. Instead, the award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker has built his career on sharing challenging subjects and stories. Tuesday, April 29, was no exception, as Mr. Suber joined members of the BU community for the U.S. premiere of his latest film, ‘1938: When We Found Out We Were No Longer Italian.’

“The film came out last year with many accolades and positive reviews, and it’s a really special opportunity for us to be able to see it in the presence of the director,” said Professor of Italian and director of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies Nancy Harrowitz in her welcoming remarks. Mr. Suber was joined by Italian film expert Claretta Tonetti and distinguished journalist Alexander Stille for a panel discussion following the screening.

The documentary served as the culmination of the Spring 2019 Holocaust Through Film series that Professor Horowitz organized with Jennifer Cazenave, assistant professor of French and author of a forthcoming book on the outtakes of Claude Lanzman’s Shoa. The film explores stories of survival from Italian Jews who lived through height of fascism under Benito Mussolini and the subsequent rise of the Italian racial laws of 1938. Once enacted, these laws imposed racial discrimination in Italy towards Italian Jews.

Promotional poster for '1938: When We Found Out We Were No Longer Italian.'
Promotional poster for ‘1938: When We Found Out We Were No Longer Italian.’

The venue was packed with hundred plus guests who watched attentively as various survivors appeared on screen, speaking candidly of their experiences. Emma Alatri, an Italian Jew, described the pain and embarrassment she endured as a young student when she found out she was no longer allowed to attend her public school. Italian Jews were barred from many educational institutions, one of many measures imposed by the regime’s anti-Semitic turn.

Racial exclusion involved the denial of employment opportunities, restrictions on travel, the stripping of financial assets, and slashing of civil rights. Mr. Suber divided the documentary into several subsections, each of which focused on a different aspect of the law and its effects on the lives of Jewish Italians.

The film was also attuned to issues of the present, namely the legacy of the laws and the Manifesto of Race, the rise of CasaPound Italia, a  neo-fascist political party, and the “divided memory” of the past between Jewish and non-Jewish Italians.

In one scene a Jewish survivor questions the past actions of her non-Jewish friends. “Did our neighbors betray us because they believed the ideology? Or was it opportunism on their part?” she asked solemnly.

To this day, in Italy, there are many statues, squares, and streets meant to memorialize and celebrate those who pushed an anti-Semitic agenda. During the post-screening talkback, Ms. Tonetti explained that the current Mayor of Rome, Virginia Elena Raggi, has been vocal about removing memorials to people associated with anti-Semitism. Mr. Suber agreed, that there has been a greater call to action for removal in recent years.

One audience member asked whether Mr. Suber had considered creating a fictionalized version  to share the  history of Jewish Italians under the Fascist regime. Responding in Italian, Mr. Suber emphasized  the power and importance of stories as told by their actual  protagonists. “Pietro said, he thought about that in terms of the narrative structure, but he has dedicated himself to documentaries,” Ms. Tonetti translated. “He feels it is his duty and that his professional research should be by directly contacting these people and sharing their personal stories.”

We thank Professors Harrowitz and Cazenave for bringing the Holocaust Through Film Series to Boston University and hope we will see more in the future!

Does Love Really Conquer All? Ask The Matchmaker

By: Katherine Gianni

Matchmaking can occur in a variety of places—on a subway ride, in a crowded bar, or now most commonly, through a few clicks on the Internet. Avi Nesher’s film The Matchmaker chronicles many love connections in the city of Haifa, Israel during the summer of 1968, decades before the invention of dating apps and the phenomenon of “swiping right.” In the movie, prospective lovers rely on the expertise of matchmaker Yankele Bride (Adir Miller), to find their next romance. However, the story is not as much a quest for love as it is for acceptance, understanding, and survival.

The film was shown last Monday in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences as the third installment of The Holocaust Through Film series. Professor of Italian and director of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies Nancy Harrowitz and Assistant Professor of French Jennifer Cazenave worked together to organize the series this year.

Associate Professor of Hebrew, German, and Comparative Literature Abigail Gillman provided an introduction to the film and its director. “The Israeli film industry has really taken off quite recently, starting in the 2000s,” she explained to the group of students gathered in CAS 224. “Avi Nesher has played an essential role in the entry of Israeli cinema onto the global stage.”

According to Professor Gillman, Mr. Nesher’s 2018 film, The Other Story, was the most seen movie in Israel last year. The Matchmaker was released eight years prior and also saw a large success. On-screen, audiences are introduced to many characters in the city of Haifa, which is divided between “the Carmel,” or upper echelon neighborhood, and “the low-rent district.”

Yankele resides in the low-rent district with many other Holocaust survivors. Arik Burnstein (Tuval Shafir), his teenage counterpart, comes from the Carmel. The two form an unlikely bond after Arik’s father, Yankele’s childhood friend and fellow survivor, decides his son would benefit from working for the matchmaking business for the summer. At first, Arik is suspicious of Yankele, his place of business, and those who work around him. But as the story develops, so does their friendship.

Others from the Carmel remain wary of Yankele’s character. Meir (Dror Keren) concocts a scheme to destroy Yankele’s business and his reputation after a failed match. This, Professor Gillman said, hits upon a much larger theme within the movie.

Dror Keren plays a scorned lover in the film. He will be at Boston Playwrights' Theatre on Saturday, March 30 at 4pm for a world premiere staged reading of his new play What Life Wants.
Dror Keren plays a scorned lover in the film. He will be at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre on Saturday, March 30 at 4pm for a world premiere staged reading of his new play What Life Wants. To reserve free tickets click here.

“There’s this idea that anyone who survived the Holocaust must have done something really horrible to survive. There was this suspicion of survivors in Israel,” she said. “They were marginalized and very much living onto themselves. That was the norm.”

While Arik is successful in protecting the matchmaker from malice, he can do little to save him from a broken heart. “Towards the end you see love kind of leading to destruction in a way,” Professor Gillman said in a question and answer session following the screening.

“How true is everything that happened?” one student asked. “Is the film based off of real events?”

“It’s based on a novel by Amir Gutfreund called When Heroes Fly,” Professor Gillman said.

“And now it’s actually a series on Netflix,” another student added. “It’s really another incredible story about survival.”

The Holocaust Through Film series continues on April 1 with a screening of “1945.” This event is free and open to the public. For more information visit http://www.bu.edu/jewishstudies/calendar/events/.