What changes in your life, what happens to your soul, when you are dealing with those who have committed heinous crimes, such as those inflicted by the Nazis against the Jews in the concentration camps? In the espionage thriller The Debt, three young Israeli Mossad agents set out to find Doktor Bernhardt, the "surgeon of Birkenau," in order to bring the notorious Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen) to justice. He escaped after the war by assuming a new identity as a fertility expert named Vogel. The movie has Dame Helen Mirren as the older Rachel Singer, looking back 30 years at her younger self (played brilliantly by Jessica Chastain), one of the agents on Vogel's trail.
This breathtaking action movie asks the question how much humanity should be accorded monsters like Vogel. It's a particularly relevant question today as we ponder the use of capital punishment in the wake of recent executions in Georgia and Texas (see my previous blog "Capital Punishment Punishes Everyone"). The film also focuses on a lie told by one of the Israeli agents and illustrates what happens when we fail to live our own truth.
Two other films I have seen recently also bring the Holocaust back into awareness. Sarah's Keyis a drama starring Kristin Scott Thomas as a modern-day journalist, Julia Jarmond, who is assigned to write an article about the Vel d'Hiv roundup of the Jews that took place in Paris in 1942. She discovers that the apartment her husband's family has owned since the war had been owned by Sarah's family. Sarah, 10 years old at the time of the Paris roundup of Jews, was the only member of her family to survive. It brings up, once again, how we can't shut our minds about what happened in the past. Just as I discuss in my book, Truth Heals, we need to recognize and acknowledge our own history in order to live a healthier present.
The third Holocaust-themed film I saw was Berlin 36, based on the true story of a Jewish woman athlete in Germany and the male (or intersex) high-jumper who is forced by the Nazis to join the Olympic team as a woman in order to handicap the Jewess and promote the Aryan ideal.
I am not Jewish. I had no relatives who perished in Nazi concentration camps. But I understand the importance of the truth. What happened to minorities when the Nazis were in power can happen to any minority group at any time. There have been many genocides since the Holocaust, such as the 1.7 million Cambodians killed under Pol Pot, the 2-300,000 Bosnians killed under Milosevic's rule, and the 800,000 who perished in Rwanda.
Yet there are those who deny that the Holocaust even happened, that 6 million Jews were killed, that the Nazis used extermination camps and gas chambers for mass murder, or that the Nazi government had every intention of exterminating the Jewish population. These "historical revisionists" say that the Holocaust is a hoax, a conspiracy to spread a myth created by the Allies to demonize Germans and to get support for the state of Israel. Some Arab leaders, pro-Palestinian Middle Eastern media, and those who consider Israel a political enemy (or simply folks like Mel Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, a Holocaust denier) have taken up the cry of the "Holocaust lie." But the truth cannot be buried or denied. As the three films I mention above show, we need to remember how horrible it is when human beings treat other humans the way the Nazis did, stripping their victims of their humanity and their life.
All three films will help you to remember to examine your own past, to ferret out the truth of your own self-betrayals, your own extermination of the parts of yourself you'd rather not accept. I hope you get the chance to see at least one of them!