A Tale of Two Secrets-Part Three – The Horror – how to get it right


The horror is on the inside [©2010 ]

The horror is on the inside – A Film Unfinished                          [©2007 Sophie Dulac Productions ]

The horror, the horror…

The vocabulary is literal.  So, the problem becomes for the movie maker, how do I take this literal vocabulary and find a representative image for something that is so outside the realm of any human experience? ~Sidney L. Lumet, director of The Pawn Broker [17]

In this installment of my three part series we will continue the discussion of the evolution of the media depiction of the Holocaust via a comparison and contrast of two recent European films: Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s 2010 movie Sarah’s Key and Nicolas Klotz’s Heartbeat Detector by bringing to our attention the dramatic use of horror as a quality necessary for the effective portrayal of the Nazi [in particular] crimes against humanity of the Second World War.

Spoiler Warning!  [CCA Tim Davies]

Spoiler Warning! [CCA Tim Davies]

[This is your fair warning, a certain amount of the two movies Sarah’s Key and Heartbeat Detector will be revealed, that you might not want to be revealed if you haven’t watched the movies]

There is a certain quality that any movie that attempts to take on the subject of the Holocaust seriously must poses if it is not to fall flat, to fail in its responsibility to its audience, that is horror.  The horror the film maker is aiming for needs to be a type of psychological horror that the audience can perceive strongly enough to be able to distinguish what was truly unique and unprecedented about the holocaust, that it was something so vast and evil we could ordinarily never have conceived of it, from the more ordinary and human tragedy that we see in other subjects filmmakers turn their lenses to. The holocaust was something so horrific, only horror can shed light on it.  At the same time we also need to be shown that there are patterns and traces of the holocaust permeating history right up to the present day, and back further through history.

Hard to do.

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A Tale of Two Secrets – Imaginary Witnesses: one that got it wrong and one that got it right


The Unknown Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem               [Avishai Teicher, PikiWiki]

Movie reviews are the last refuge of those who cannot write, and at least in this case, those who cannot buckle down to finish writing something he would rather not, long after the original élan for the project has left.  So, this is what you are going to get instead.

So to strike while the iron is still hot enough to strike without significant risk of it becoming overwrought [in the metallurgical sense of the word] here we go.

Actually, we do not do movie reviews as such here at MemeMerchants – we are not that sort of a blog – what we do on occasion is watch movies and then comment upon what ever we find interesting, noteworthy, or worthy of commentary or critique.  Atani is usually the one who tackles commentary on cinema and ‘the arts’, but in this case since the subject at hand intrudes upon one of my own departments and a set of topics near and dear to my heart which is: Nazism, the holocaust [in its broadest sense], and the difficulties of post-war European society in dealing with their collective responsibility for it, I’ve decided to take this one on myself.  I’m also looking for a good excuse for not dealing with finishing the piece I’m supposed to be writing – other than watching movies.

The question for today is:  what do we do about what our parents or grandparents did, or did not do during the holocaust?  What a question?  How do you deal with something that really can’t be dealt with?  How do you ‘deal with’ guilt or remorse?  What is the appropriate verb here?  The Germans have an especially great word for this process, vergangenheitsbewältigung‘processing of history’, or ‘the struggle to come to terms with the past’.

The German language, gotta love it, I cannot pronounce it properly, but they’ve got such great words.

For newcomers to this blog, this vergangenheitsbewältigung is a subject that I have written about on several occasions here at MemeMerchants, most recently:  Poison in the Well of Culture-slightly off topic reflection on Collective Guilt, and also:  The Rosenstrasse ProtestsVictims of Their Own Oppression, and The White Rose of Munich.

The subject of today’s essay was stimulated by watching Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s 2010 movie Sarah’s Key, which is based upon the best selling novel of the same name [Elle s’Appelait Sarah in the original French] by Tatiana de Rosnay, which deals with the subject of the July 1942 Vel’ d’Hiver Roundup and the deportation of some 13,000 Jewish men, women, and children from Nazi occupied Paris – by the French police.

Well, that ought to be interesting.

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A Tale of Two Secrets-Part Two – Escape Hatches & Errata – locking the escape hatches of Sarah’s Key


Writing the suicide note, older Sarah [© Canal+, Studio37 - 2010]

Writing the suicide note, adult Sarah [Charlotte Poutrel]                      [© Canal+, Studio37 – 2010]

In this installment of my three part series we will continue the discussion of the evolution of the media depiction of the Holocaust via a comparison and contrast of two recent European films: Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s 2010 movie Sarah’s Key, and Nicolas Klotz’s 2007 film Heartbeat Detector by bringing our attention to what I consider to be a number of ‘escape hatches’ and other errors that the plot of Sarah’s Key was written around that dramatically limit its usefulness as a means of bringing its audience to terms with the reality of its subject matter: the July 1942 Vel’ d’Hiver Roundup and the deportation of some 13,000 Jewish men, women, and children from Nazi occupied Paris – by the French police.

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Poison in the Well of Culture-slightly off topic reflection on Collective Guilt


The Fifth Labor of Heracles, cleansing the Augean Stables – [The Twelve Labors of Hercules, 1808, colorized by Atani]

I’m a little OT today.

Richard Landes, who is a professor of history, particularly millennialism, at Boston University wrote recently at his blog The Augean Stables on the phenomenon of lethal narratives in the reporting of the conflicts between Israel and her neighbors, particularly the Palestinians in a post Poison in the Middle East Conflict.  Richard seems to have been touched off in this case by two cartoons by Chappatte, which you can find at the top of his post or at Chappette’s website.

Landes, in my opinion, though his research and scholarship are impeccable, can be a little touchy about these sorts of things, understandably being a Jew, and deeply concerned about how Jews, Jewishness and Israel are portrayed in the media [meaning often neither fairly nor accurately].  Personally I found the first cartoon which referenced the [absurd] allegation that Yasser Arafat was poisoned with Polonium by Israel [“we have found traces of poison… in the Israeli Palastinian relationship”] ironic, but not particularly lethal.  The second cartoon, which referenced the talks between Hamas and Fatah, I found a bit of an eye-roller, neither funny, nor instructive in any way.  I didn’t find either of them particularly malicious, though Landes took some umbrage at Chappette over them.

Landes proceeds to elaborate on the nature of lethal narratives within the context of the Israel Palestinian conflict, most notably the Al Durah Affair, one of the seminal events of the Second [Al Aqsa] Intifada.  Landes has made a formal investigation of the circumstances of the September 30, 2000 death of Muhammed Al Durah and subsequent media depictions which he describes as, “The first blood libel of the 21st century,” at his more scholarly website The Second Draft.  Which, by the way, if you think you know anything about what happened during the Second Infitada, have never heard the term Pallywood, or accept at face value anything coming out of the main stream news media from that part of the world you need to check out The Second Draft.

On any other day I would have followed the topic more closely as Landes continued [my bold].

The most powerful lethal narrative, the Muhammad al Durah story, was a nuclear bomb of cognitive warfare. It aroused Muslims throughout the world; it filled Israelis with horror and sapped their ability to defend themselves against accusations; and it thrilled various groups, primarily Europeans and Leftists, who saw it as a “get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free” card, which freed them from any commitment to be fair to Israel.

However, the “’get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free’ card” bit nearly tipped me out of my chair laughing.  I commented:

I absolutely loved your, “’get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free’ card…” comment – I would pay for the copyright to that one – and so true.

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The White Rose of Munich-Naiveté, The Futility of Sacrifice and the Unanticipated Value of Martyrdom


Grab von Sophie und Hans Scholl und Christoph Probst, Weiße Rose, Friedhof am Perlacher Forst in München

Graves of the White Rose: Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst - source Wikimedia

I almost let this important anniversary slip by last Wednesday the 22 February, which marked the sixty-ninth anniversary of the executions of three members of the Nazi era White Rose resistance organization:  Hans Scholl, his younger sister Sophie, and Christoph Probst at Stadelheim Prison in Munich on that date in 1943.

I commemorate that event each year, usually by rewatching Marc Rothemund’s excellent 2005 film Sophie Scholl: the final days,  as a way to refresh my memory and my sense of moral outrage at the sad and tragic termination of one more example of German resistance to the Nazi regime under the heavy blade of the fallbeil.  As it turns out I spent that evening watching for the first time Margarethe von Trotta’s 2003 film Rosenstraße which depicts the events surrounding the 1943 Rosenstrasse Protests.  I’ve spent the last few days doing some reading and trying to put those two event into some kind of a context.

I’m going to try to keep this from turning into a couple of movie reviews, though obviously the direction of my thinking has been significantly impacted by the two films.

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