History or entertainment?


Kevin Doonan

For decades World War II has captured the imagination of thousands of people. Few events have ever inspired as many movies and books and it is understandable because there really are no other periods of history that have matched the 1940s in sheer scope. World War II was the largest global conflict the world has ever seen and it is still hard to fathom.

The Holocaust has also often been explored, both as a part of World War II and as a subject all to itself. Yet ironically it has in many more ways than World War II remained largely enigmatic subject. Famous movies such as Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” meshed the firsthand accounts into a deceptive narrative that misleads audiences into the belief that one of the most complicated and difficult to understand events in all of humanity’s history can be so relayed so easily. I watched “Schindler’s List” for the first time during a film course. The professor reminded the class more than once that we were watching a work of fiction masquerading as a historical document. I found this particularly irritating especially since I was just fresh out of a Holocaust class. I appreciated Spielberg’s use of details from famous Holocaust accounts to create the semblance of reality. Nonetheless, it had never occurred to me to take a movie from the man who brought us “Jaws” and “E.T.” as anything more than an entertaining blockbuster that is in no way a historical document.

One of the reasons the memory of the Holocaust has remained prevalent, despite the fact that many veterans and Holocaust survivers are passing away, is because it is an episode in human history that still leaves even the most hardened of historians perplexed and unsettled. Millions of average individuals actively participated in the extermination of people who at times they had known all of their lives. It is unsettling indeed to dispassionately compare today’s U.S. to the Weimar Republic. I found that the more I learned about the Holocaust, the more I felt that only a thin line separates civilized society from acts of organized and publically sanctioned barbarity.