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Joseph Krukowski
Tonya Wertz-Orbaugh
UWRITE 1102-009
April 15, 2015
Searching for Justice in a Box of Old Movies
The Flint and Steel that originally sparked my interest in further exploring the
Holocaust, came from a class that had introduced the idea of misrepresentation of Jewish
Holocaust Victims and their oppressors, in film and media today. As my research progresses, the
lens I saw the Holocaust through in high school is fading away, and the need to critically think
about and analyze the sources of information for academic work is increasing. My recent
research has focused on the generalization of Jewish victims and the lack of humanizing features
in films depicting them. The idea is that today, some films try to tell the story of an unrelated
figure, who's only relationship with the Jews is through the generic ones they encounter in their
story. In this paper, I will discuss two articles describing the current state of film and T.V
concerning the Holocaust and Jewish affairs: The Schindlers List Effect and Absence as
Presence, Presence as Parapraxis. Each describes the consequences of how the Holocaust is
portrayed in movies of The U.S and Germany after 1945.
A prime example of a relatively-modern film with this problem of generalization, is the
award winning Steven Spielberg movie: Schindlers List. Former Professor of Literature at UC
Berkeley, Michael Bernstein wrote of these occurrences in what he calls: The Schindlers List
Effect. Bernstein describes the film as not only flawed, but A work that manipulates the
emotions raised by the enormity of its historical theme in order to disguise the simplistic

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melodrama of its actual realization (Bernstein 1), or in laymans terms, it takes advantage of the
sadness of the Holocaust to add more story and emotion to a relatively small part within it.
According to him, the movie is guilty in depicting the Jews as an anonymous group with
unidentifiable characteristics, rather than pieces of identity like names and internal conflict. He
points out that the line of Good and Evil in the movie is too black and white, showing only the
struggle of the Jewish sympathizer Oskar Schindler, and the Camp Leader Amon Geoth
(Bernstein 2). At no point in the movie are Jews shown struggling against each other, only
working together as a whole, because showing conflict within the Jewish prisoners might draw
attention away from the good deed that the main character is doing. At the end of his article, the
author tells a story of Castlemont High School in California. When 60 students were taken to a
showing of the film, they were kicked out for continuous noise and laughter during gruesome
scenes in the movie. Thought to be the cause of a lack of representation of black victims in the
film, the director Steven Spielberg visited the high school to endorse a class created called The
Human Holocaust: the African-American Experience (Bernstein 4). This relates to my inquiry
as a film in a modern day industry that changed details in their version of the Holocaust, to make
their movie better, and profit from it.
Thomas Elsaesser, a Professor in the Department of Media and Culture and Director of
Research Film and Television at the University of Amsterdam, discusses the role of Jews in
German films of the 1970s and after in his article Absence as Presence, Presence as Parapraxis.
Before this period, in the immediate postwar period of the 1950s and 60s, there were few
instances of the Holocaust even represented in films. It wasnt until the 1970s that Jews began to
reappear in Film. Elsaesser states that the German-Jewish relationship in film can

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be described as A different kind of mourning work, somewhere between the acting out of
melancholia, and the working through of mourning (Elsaesser par. 7). He goes on to sum this
up as the mourning process of Remembering, and Repeating, and what he describes has a
Presence of Parapraxis. Parapraxis, by definition, is essentially an unintentional slip-up that
was done because of hidden intentions, or an underlying dislike towards a person. The main
point of his article however, is not how well these films properly mourn, but how it is often
spectacularly misdone and misinterpreted as something even worse. The example of a popular
German book writer is given when during an award acceptance, He spoke of Auschwitz as the
moral stick that the world was still beating Germany with, meaning to give his respects, he
instead sparked confusion and backlash from a head of a National Jewish council (Elsaesser par.
10). The author also goes on to say these Parapraxis are part of the remembering and repeating
process that, as he states, The effects together constitute a kind of mourning work-in-progress,
an ongoing return and repetition around something which, perhaps only now and certainly only
with hind-sight, can be read and deciphered differently (Elsaesser par. 11). It is interesting that
mistakes can be beneficial to the mourning of an international community of mourning Victims
and Witnesses alike. It stands out to me that in German film, an area much more close to the
heart of the Massacre, may have more of an issue of underlying resentment towards Jews; yet
perhaps presenting the harshness of the reality of the Holocaust is a better way to teach future
generations of the not so distant massacre of an entire peoples.

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To wrap up, these articles are consistent with other work I am finding in my research that
points to the American film industry in being partially guilty of bending Holocaust truths to
further make a point in the story. Similar to films such as The Boy ion the Stripped Pajamas, and

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The Devils Arithmetic; Schindlers List is one of these guilty movies. Whether or not this is
morally wrong and unjust to those who survived the Holocaust, is not for me to decide. As a
student inquirer, I feel it is not my place determine this, but to simply point it out as unbiased as I
can. It is the readers job to determine whether or not this fact is worth applying, next time you
are watching one of these movies.

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Works Cited
Bernstein, Michael A. "The Schindler's List Effect." JSTOR.org. The Phi Beta Kappa Society, 1
June 1994. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
Elsaesser, Thomas. "Absence as Presence, Presence as Parapraxis. Project MUSE. N.p., 2007.
Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

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