Holocaust (1978– )
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It is the most wide-ranging, most thorough examination of what happened to central and eastern Europe's Jews between 1935 and 1945. The series focuses not on one camp: but on several (Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, Buchenwald, Sobribor - and hear much of Maidenek, Dachau, and others). We see the creation and changes in the ghetto in Warsaw (and hear of the ghettos in Vilnius and elsewhere). We see the evolution in the methods of killing Jews - and why. We see what happened to those deemed defectives at yet another camp.
With two exceptions, I found the acting (by a truly stunning cast - from Nigel Hawthorne to Ian Holm, from James Woods to T.P. McKenna, from Meryl Streep to David Warner, from Rosemary Harris to Sam Wanamaker, from Fritz Weaver to Tovah Feldshuh, Robert Stephens to Deborah Norton, Michael Moriarty) superb - truly moving and powerful. The two exceptions were the daughter Anna and the son Rudy played by Joseph Bottoms. This may not be entirely their fault - their parts are so underwritten - conventional.
The fantastic aspect of this series is its scope - you really do have a grounding in the Holocaust that would serve you well reading any history, seeing any movies set in this time.
The downside is that as fine as the acting is, the series is split among the stories of six to eight people over the course of a decade - which inevitably limits how moved the audience is by the story of each. Thus, in contrast to say, Schindler's List or The Pianist, we are not living and breathing with one person and what happens to him - we do not know these characters THAT well.
I would also criticize the series as creating such one-sidedly virtuous characters in the victims. We are interested in a character in drama only to the extent that the person seems real and we can therefore wholly identify with this real breathing person. Although we do have some feeling of how James Woods' character is different from say, Joseph Bottoms', it isn't sufficient to move the drama to the greatest heights. Actors don't come better than those in this series - so I think it's really due to the nature of the series - the need to get it all in and move around all the different experiences. This better serves our education, but somewhat reduces the sense of having suffered with each individual.
This was a great and enormously expensive production. It is very worthwhile renting - and should be shown to everyone above say, the age of 12 (I'd say that a younger age is too susceptible to the horror). NBC is to be commended highly for having developed it. It's tremendous.
It's mostly an American and British cast, typically the Weiss family and the Jews are played by the American actors and the Brits play the Germans. Some of them were well known at the time i.e. Fritz Weaver, Sam Wanamaker and T.P. McKenna . Others such as Ian Holm, James Woods and Meryl Streep would soon become household names.
It follows the fait of the Weiss family and details on an individual basis how they all coped with the changing anti-Semitic conditions in Germany and their suffering until the war was over. Also a German called Erik Dorf was added to the story who was destined for a legal career but decided to join the SS. He moved through the ranks and became one of the most enthusiastic defenders of the final solution. To some extent they were trying to rationalize how well educated people became brain washed. He was played by Michael Moriarty and did not come across as evil, certainly not at the beginning. He never personally carried out killings but just gave orders and watched from the side lines. Watching the change in him as the episodes unfolded is chilling.
Over the years there have been numerous documentaries and movies made which show the hell of the Holocaust but what this series did was tell people things that weren't widely known back in 1978. Although it was well known that the Jews were gassed and put into concentration camps most of my knowledge about this period as well as the war as a whole was based on war films and the British documentary series THE WORLD AT WAR. HOLOCAUST depicts the events that unfolded and how the Jews found themselves in such a hopeless situation! By January 1942 there was to be a fully fledged war against the Jews. The methods of disposal were seemed to be too slow and crude. More efficient ways of extermination had to be found to accelerate the process and make the policy more efficient now that Hitlers initial objectives were unraveling on the eastern front.
When I first watched Holocaust I wondered why the Jews didn't put up more of a fight, why so many of them just went to their deaths? Now watching it today two things struck me. After being dehumanized, humiliated, starved and stripped of dignity, they were simply exhausted, frightened and resigned to their fait. Also, most of them were children, old men and women who up against armed soldiers had no chance. Also their predicament was difficult, where do you hide wearing striped pajamas or a star of David on your tunic? Many escapees were betrayed by neighbors and non-Jews. Indigenous governments either through fear of because of Nazi sympathy just capitulated and cooperated with German requests for the Jews to be deported. Events such as Sobibor where out of the 600 who initially escaped only 60 survived the war, not a great success rate. Also, the Warsaw uprising which was eventually crushed in 1944 only highlighted the futility of their position!
The other point and this arouses controversy is that more people died in the war itself, why concentrate on the holocaust? It's true that many others, political prisoners, and other ethnic groups were massacred too. Also, more money and lives were spent and lost during the war than the killing of the 6 ½ million Jews, why the distinction?
Firstly, the Jews were the largest ethnic group that were killed despite being dispersed all over Europe. Secondly their treatment started way back in the 1930's and of course accelerated up until and in some cases even after the German surrender. Jews were being Killed, massacred and forced on death marches right up until the end of the war. Thirdly, the Germans got the art of killing these none combatants down to a fine art, they industrialized death and suffering in such a way that I don't know if there is anything historically to compare with it? Every step of the way they took away hope and there was a cruel deception right the way down the line, all able bodied were concentrated and enslaved until no longer useful and the others were killed quickly or slowly, which ever suited . By the time they realized what was going on it was too late! They simply never believed the Germans would do such a thing!
It was cruelty towards an ethnic group, whole familys which included, the old, the sick and children were all tormented. The perpetrators of this policy and it's executioners took delight in what they were doing, yes, a sense of delight is the right word. I watched a documentary a couple of years ago where a survivor of a camp a Dutch Jew, I think his name was Joseph Greenberg learned a year after the end of the war that his family were probably all killed on the same day they arrived at the death camp. It still haunted him all these years later. This is the enduring legacy of the perverse and twisted war against Europe's Jews. Well worth watching!
The story deals with the Weiss Family of Germany. They thought that they were true Germans never believing that they would be caught up in the madness of Hitler's Nazi Germany.
Despite the warnings of Dr. Weiss's patient,Dorf, who quickly rises in the Nazi hierarchy, the Weiss Family remains in Germany as Hitler seized power and the nightmare for the Jewish people begins.
This series made stars of Michael Moriarty.(Dorf) He plays the character drawn into the Nazi party with a chilling unfeeling for humanity rarely seen in movies. Dorf would be the typical character who would have said that he was forced into doing what he did since he was caught up in this period of frenzy. His ambitious, evil wife also helped push him into this way of life. Meryl Streep and James Woods also became well known as a result of this masterpiece production.
Nothing was hidden in making this grand production. You see the kosher butcher stores fall victim to Kristallnacht-the night of breaking glass. You see victims being marched off to the gas chambers.
This was certainly movie making at its best. Even the mini-series of todays are lacking in contact, interest and boldness of production.
Shot in standard 70's television fashion--too much lighting, no ambiance, tight shots, poor acting, complete with "happy" ending--this historical drama looked more like an episode of "Little House" than a feature film, like "Schindler's List." Cheesy production, opening credits and acting aside, it was an important moment in American television.
Consider that just two decades earlier, very few Americans even spoke of the horrors of the Holocaust. This was a turning point in the general American consciousness about the "Final Solution" mercilessly carried out by the Nazis.
For its flaws and triteness, the movie does attempt to be historically accurate and culturally relevant. It touches on the growing anti-Semitism in 1930's Germany as the Nazis rose to power. It shows a meeting of the Einsatzgruppen Death's Head Chiefs discussing the Russian campaign, then their "Special Action" Commandos carrying out the grueling mass murders in ditches and ravines. It touches on the gas van killings and the gradual intensification of gassing pogroms. It shows the SS-initiated Wansee Conference where the Final Solution was discussed in detail. It gives glimpses into the Zyklon-B gassing operations at Auschwitz, and the Warsaw ghetto uprising. None of it is shown as gruesome as it must have been.
Throughout the 5-part miniseries (it is 5 parts on the DVD release), neither the ghettos, camps or work details are realistically portrayed. The actors are never shown in overcrowded, lice and disease-infested quarters or bordering starvation. On the contrary, Dr. Weiss is a well dressed and coifed physician throughout his stay in the Warsaw ghetto. Even when he and Mrs. Weiss board the deportation train, they look like they are off to a medical convention instead of a death camp.
The worst part was the cheesy, feel-good ending with Rudy Weiss giving pointers to a group of Greek Jewish orphans playing soccer in a field. The expression on the actors face at the end smacks of "Mary Tyler Moore" and many other 70's sitcoms. This was NOT a situation comedy. It should have been darker, drearier and more realistic. Not once did it evoke any strong emotion. I understand it having to be sterilized for a mass Western audience, but it was way too cheerful.
I don't want to detract from it's cultural significance in 1978, but watching it in 2010, it just smacks of "Starsky and Hutch" cheesiness. I knew as soon as I saw the opening credits what I was in for. Did they simply burn one of the leftover houses from "Little House on the Prairie"?
It would be considered one sided and biased.
BUT as a person into WWII history I personally feel it was very well documented and was more realistic than one thinks.
This movie was to true to life in some areas that it makes one think of Shindlers List.
One gets the sense that the war was more personal with hitler than one think.
When the Captain finally realizes that hitler is not playing with all oars in the water is the part of the movie that really makes sense.
The problem with this juxtaposition is that the historical moral ambiguities involved were so profound that they cannot be satisfyingly analyzed, let alone brought to a sound conclusion, within a cinematic space. Schindler's List contains this problem by focusing primarily on Schindler himself. Charting 2 competing moral universes, and giving each one equal time (so to speak), inescapably makes Holocaust too diffuse.
If there is one overriding criticism, it's that too many characters, while portrayed by actors who went on to greater things, are only moral puppets. Few of them take fire as convincing individuals and too often that happens only with minor characters. The one towering exception is Fritz Weaver's utterly credible Josef Weiss, the Polish-born Jewish doctor who practices in Berlin where his family is one of the film's main foci. As his wife Bertha, Rosemary Harris is statically, even snobbishly, serene even walking into a gas chamber at Auschwitz. Meryl Streep's Inga, the Weiss' Christian daughter-in-law, is nobly devoted to her husband Karl but petulantly defiant with her parents, who resent the danger to which her marriage has exposed them.
Such improbabilities plague the film throughout. The final episode deals abruptly and simplistically with too many threads, as if the writers launched so much material that they had no time in the final episode to bring any of it to a believable conclusion. The worst is the final encounter between Rudi Weiss (Joseph Bottoms) and Inga. The 2 almost casually bump into each other at Terezin; they have not seen each other for 7 years, the family has been decimated and Rudi had never seen his nephew Josef, his only living relative. Yet Rudi and Inga chat for only a few minutes and take leave of each other as if they will meet for lunch next week; but the dialogue implies they may never see each other again. This does not ring true, given the heroic efforts by most camp survivors to find living relatives.
The writers dispose of Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty), a once-idealistic lawyer corrupted by Nazi ideology, in a puzzlingly opaque manner. Dorf witnessed the death camps' operations and personally shot Jews; yet only in the office of a US Army interrogator, as Dorf looks in rather too detached a fashion at photographs of the camps and their victims, does he abruptly (and in that sense, inexplicably) realize what he has become. He pops a cyanide pill and leaves an ambitious, equally corrupt widow and deeply confused children to deal with his dark legacy as best they can.
Near-perfect sets, costumes and music can't quite compensate for the flawed achievement that is "Holocaust."
Particularly good performances are given by Meryl Streep as the aristocratic German wife to a Jewish artist, Karl Weiss, played by James Woods. (Did you know that Woods can be as good as a good-guy as he can as a bad-guy?) Karl Weiss is the eldest son of a prominent Berliner Jewish family. We follow him into the concentration camps, including Treblinka (the "show" camp) and eventually to Auschwitz (Oswiecim). Streep follows, sacrificing everything to try to stay with him, or at least near him, and to keep him alive.
Grandpa Weiss is a Jewish German patriot who fought for the Kaiser during WWI and is proud of it, and never can come to terms with the betrayal of his fellow patriots. Fritz Weaver is Papa Weiss, whose story takes us through the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto as he attempts to create some kind of order and safety in the midst of chaos and doom.
David Warner is remarkably sinister and urbane as Reinhard Heydrich, who came up with the legal gobbledygook to create the "Final Solution." Michael Moriarity plays Heinrich's assistant Erik Dorff, a former student and friend of the Weiss family. Moriarty chillingly portrays the seductive nature of National Socialism for the intellectual: He is given the choice of becoming a Nazi, and later Heinrich's assistant, or becoming cannon fodder on the Russian Front. He chooses the former, and goes about his task of carrying out the annihilation of the Jews, including his former good friends the Weiss', with cool logical efficiency. This may be Moriarty's finest hour as an actor.
Other actors of note include the actor's actor Ian Holm, former Brittish grand dame of the theater Rosemary Harris, Joseph Bottoms, Sam Wanamaker and Tovah Feldshuh.
This is entertaining history at its very best. Don't miss it.