Neither the Holocaust nor Nazism is a fun subject, makes for light conversation or big-screen fun! Nothing about them is entertainment-bound! And yet movies, like The Producers, and entertainment in general do make it easier for us to swallow hard-to-swallow stories.
There might be no harder-to-swallow story than the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was one of the most notorious of the Nazi’s death camps. And this day also marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
If you’ve educated or even edified yourself by watching a film about this subject, then you’ve probably seen the obvious, go-to films: Au Revoir Les Enfants, Triumph of the Spirit, Europa, Europa, Homicide, Schindler’s List, or The Reader.
Before those titles came, well before, was Mel Brook’s comedy movie The Producers. How do you make light of life under the Nazi’s? Well, imagination. Have you forgotten about the TV show Hogan’s Heroes? It wasn’t somber. That coterie of allied prisoners of war wasn’t in a concentration camp. But they weren’t happy campers either. At least one storytelling trait was vital to put together the idea for that show. Imagination.
That’s what distinguishes films like The Producers and others of its ilk from the somberness of other Holocaust stories is a special power.
Films about the Holocaust are almost always somber. In dealing with the politics at the heart of the arts and race, some subjects are simply somber. But some choices among Holocaust-themed stories dazzle us with remarkable imagination! That virtue lifts them beyond competence; it also makes them into something that you want to watch. That makes them special and memorable.
Some of you remember The Twilight Zone warmly because of late-night TV or nostalgia channels on cable or Hulu, etc. Its creator, Rod Serling, produced a brilliant story, Deaths-Head Revisited, that was just as compelling as it was distressing.
Here is a clip from it; this is the opening monologue from host and writer, Rod Serling.
In November 1961, this episode relates the story of the fictitious commandant of Dachau as he returns to it. Soon, he finds himself confronted by the ghosts of some of the prisoners. As with many of the episodes that Mr. Serling wrote, this one was and is…haunting. It transports you. Brilliantly.
Do you know how many times Mr. Serling’s writing dealt with this monstrosity? At least twice.
In 1960 he wrote a TV movie for a genre of television that morosely no longer exists for fictive works: Live TV. For Playhouse 90 he produced In the Presence of Mine Enemies. The New York Times summarized it thusly: “a study of members of a Jewish family in the infamous Warsaw ghetto that was exterminated by Nazi bestiality”. It’s hard to find video of the original production. But here is a link to the Times’ reporting on it.
Both of these Serling stories seem to have been forgotten to the sands of time, and in a rush for the average person to be immersed in web-centric distractions. That’s disappointing.
What is it you used to ask your mom or dad when you were a child: Tell me a story…
These are two of Mr. Serling’s best, and most imaginative! It’s a shame to pass them by. The most vital message of this anniversary of the Holocaust is to not forget.