Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission Awareness - Education - Inspiration

What Hollywood Taught Me about the Holocaust


By THGC Admin

Stephon Vaughns, Diversity Intern in Education


Are explicit references to the Holocaust and other genocides too taboo to be shown in popular media today? On one hand, there are many who say that the details of those events are too graphic for widespread public exhibition. On the other, there are many who say that those events cannot be properly portrayed with a watered down script that only partially tells the story. Either way, there are pros and cons to both sides of the argument.

Personally, I have learned a lot more from watching documentaries than I have from reading textbooks in the classroom. Not only do I get to hear from survivors themselves, but I also benefit from the visual provided by watching videos. I would argue, however, that feature films are not as beneficial to learning about genocide as documentaries are.

While feature films often do spark the interest of the audience by calling attention to the crimes that were committed, they tend to take away from the authenticity of the experience. Although Hollywood does a great job of shedding light on some of these atrocities, it does so at the expense of the gruesome details that the public should know. Filmmakers are typically more focused on creating a hero and developing their storyline. For example, Anne Frank is only one of over a million Jewish children who were murdered in the Holocaust. Yet we do not hear about the others who also suffered because their stories may not appeal as easily to popular audiences.

Shielded from images like these when learning about the Holocaust in school, I could not comprehend the scale at which the murders occurred. 

What some filmmakers fail to understand is that they do not need an epic hero to tell the story, as long as the story is told. I prefer watching documentaries because they tend to focus more on the experience than on the characters.  While researching documentaries on the Holocaust, I came across one that depicted images never seen by popular audiences before. Night Will Fall details the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. Through primary sources and powerful imagery, Hitchcock's documentary shows the brutality endured by victims. Shielded from images like these when learning about the Holocaust in school, I could not comprehend the scale at which the murders occurred. Imaginary Witness, which details how much of their stories are sacrificed for the sake of ticket sales, is another great documentary that shows the trouble with relying on Hollywood for lessons about the Holocaust,Compared to feature films, ocumentaries are more effective at momentarily placing viewers in the shoes of those affected. As an African-American male who grew up in the suburbs of Houston, I can never fully understand what it is like to be stripped from my home and tormented at a concentration camp. However, I think it is possible for me to relate to the feeling of despair I’d get if I were the only person left alive in my family.


Personally, I think that it’s important for us as an audience to get more of the story, with as little filtering as possible. Films that do this not only move us towards a better understanding of the events that occurred, but they also help break the fourth wall that has been built on many other platforms with regard to the Holocaust and other genocides in popular media.

Tags: holocaust genocide hollywood film documentaries hitchcock


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