Hollywood and the Holocaust – Final Update

I have finally completed my research and am now putting the final editing touches on my paper and citing all my sources. It’s interesting and encouraging to reflect back on when I first was deciding what I wanted to research and now. I have learned a lot about what motivated the Hollywood Jews and the complexity of making films in such a tumultuous time. It had been fascinating to see the nuances and all the subtle things that strongly influenced the filmmakers of this time period.

I’ve also found it interesting to think about the role of film today in light of what I have learned about the Jewish filmmakers. I believe that it’s important to not just think of historical research as something in the past that one is learning about but to also contemplate what it tells us or makes us wonder about out society today.

Therefore, I thought I would share a few of the big ideas and questions that I reflect on in the conclusion of my paper.

  •  Did the Hollywood Jews still engage with the threat of Nazism effectively and to the best of their ability when they finally did engage? This is a difficult question to answer. The immediate answer seems to be no. They waited to represent the plight of their people on screen until years after the war. When they did finally engage it did not seem to be to the true best of their abilities. However, the pressure the Jewish filmmakers faced from the American people, the American government, and their Jewish communities was exceedingly significant. It’s impossible, when examining the situation from the outside seventy five years later, to either completely condemn or completely congratulate the Hollywood Jews. They tread carefully in a complex time. If they had had the courage to speak up sooner and more clearly, their films could have changed the perspectives of or enlightened thousands of Americans about the Holocaust. However, their films could also have just furthered the accusations that they were pushing American entry into the war. Perhaps the reserved way in which the majority of them engaged was truly the most effective way.
  • Did the Hollywood Jews have a moral or cultural obligation to help their brothers and sisters in Europe? I believe that we, as human beings, have a duty to not turn a blind eye to the suffering of other human beings, especially when it’s on the scale of something like the Holocaust. For each person, however, that looks different. For some it meant ensuring financial security and vouching for Jewish immigrants. For others it meant inventing technology to help defeat the Nazis. For others still it meant making known to Americans the massacre of the European Jews. For many of the Hollywood Jews it might have just meant making anti-Nazi films and supporting American patriotism so that Hitler might be defeated sooner. In my opinion, this idea of a moral obligation does not mean that the studio heads should have devoted their every waking minute, every film project, or every scrap of money to helping the European Jews, but it does mean that they should have not ignored the cause. 
  • Thus, do modern filmmakers have such an obligation to the various cultures, groups, or minorities that they may represent? It is much easier to look back on an event like the Holocaust and say that everyone should have done something about it than it is to survey the wide array of troubles and tragedies in the world today and decree that there are specific ones against which every person should take a stand. There are so many issues facing our world today in so many different areas that it would be impossible for a filmmaker to help all of the groups that they represent. I think it is also a false idea that someone who is a member of a group of people must always act as their advocate or representative – a filmmaker from a certain country, culture, or group does not need to always (or ever) make films about their country, culture, or group. I believe that the role of filmmakers (and other artists and storytellers in the world today), as I mentioned before, is to fight against the darkness and tragedy of the world how they see fit. Like it was for the Hollywood Jews, each person will respond in different ways to different aspects of that darkness. Essentially, I believe that modern filmmakers have an obligation to address the darkness of the world, but they should not be made into the representatives of the various groups they may represent.

 

With this research I have learned a lot, both about the Hollywood Jews and about researching, discerning the quality of sources, time management, and writing. I have also been left with a lot to ponder about the meaning and duties of being a filmmaker, or any kind of storyteller for that matter. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along!

Comments

  1. crsublett says:

    HI Meghan!
    Your project is extremely interesting and I think it has valuable implications for the role of the filmmaker in our modern society. You did an excellent job connecting a historical issue with it’s implications from current society. I do have a question though, perhaps you elaborated more in your final paper. To what extent did the Hollywood Jew’s understand what was happening in Europe during the war? After liberation of concentration camps the world was shocked at the atrocities that had been committed. Is it possible that those in America just didn’t understand the extent of the evil? Playing off of that though, they had to have known something was happening, even if they weren’t aware how bad it was. Are their actions more acceptable if they had a shallow understanding of the evil, or could the fact that it didn’t seem “bad enough” from the American perspective be enough to condemn their morals? Perhaps this could apply to modern film as well- do you think filmmakers have become desensitized and only consider the absolute worst evils as worthy of their attention? Sorry this is a lot packed in one post- feel free to only elaborate on a couple aspects

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