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!
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"?
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.
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.
Spoilers- At first we meet a fine, upstanding German family, the Weiss family: father Joseph, mother Berta, sons Rudi and Karl, and daughter Anna. Joseph is a doctor, Karl an artist, Berta a pianist. Berta's father was a decorated veteran of the German Army in World War I. Karl is married to Inga, a christian-born. The Weiss family is loving, prosperous, and doomed by their religion.
We also meet Erik Dorf, a lawyer with his own family: Wife Marta and a son and daughter. Dorf is out of work and downcast. He is the son of a baker who worked his way through law school. Marta is a patient of Dr. Weiss and an ambitious woman.
We watch as the restrictions on Jews grow. At first it is subtle, then things become more overt. Dr. Weiss is dismissed from the hospital, Karl has had no commissions and can find no other work. Meanwhile, Dorf has become a member of the SS and aide to Heydrich. Dorf is a master of using semantics and cold, twisted logic to justify oppression of Jews.
Eventually, Karl is arrested and sent to Buchenwald, while Dr. Weiss is deported to Poland. The grandfather is beaten and his shop destroyed during Kristallnacht. Rudi runs away and Anna is raped by a group of Nazis. She loses her tenuous grip on her sanity. She is taken to a "sanitarium" where she is suffocated via carbon monoxide poisoning.
Berta eventually joins her husband and his brother in Warsaw. Karl is transferred to another camp where he creates images of the horrors of the camps. His hands are broken and he is beaten severely. He is briefly reunited with his wife before being sent to Auschwitz, leaving her and their unborn child. He dies while creating a final piece of art.
Dr. Weiss and Berta end up in Auschwitz, after plotting to help some people escape from the trains, in Warsaw. Berta dies first, later followed by her husband.
Dr. Weiss' brother, Moses, helps lead the Warsaw uprising, but is shot by the Nazis.
Young Rudi escapes first to Czechoslovakia, where he meets a beautiful Jewish woman, Helena, and they escape into Russia. They eventually join with a group of Jewish Partisans, but, Helena is killed. Rudi is captured and taken to Sobibor. He takes part in an escape and eventually finds freedom.
Rudi is reunited with Inga and meets his nephew, Joseph; Karl's son. His family will live on in Joseph and Rudi. He is offered a job to help smuggle Greek Jewish children into Palestine.
This series was wonderfully written and is filled with great performances. Meryl Streep and James Woods were coming into their own as actors. Great character actors like Fritz Weaver, Sam Wannamaker, David Warner, Ian Holm, and so many others bring life to this production. Fans of "Spider-Man" will recognize actress Rosemary Harris (Aunt May) as Berta Weiss. Michael Moriarty's normal cold performance is especially chilling and effective here. He seems so lifeless as life is destroyed around him. Deborah Norton, as Marta, is even more horrifying, as she encourages her husband to be bold and seize his opportunities.
This series should be required viewing by students, along with "Schindler's List" and "Night and Fog." People everywhere should see it and remember the words, "Never again!"
A wonderful breakthrough chilling performance by Michael Moriarty who plays the good Aryan lawyer boy "Dorf" turned bad when he joins the SS. We see this family man with 2 children evolve into a vicious monster.
The story of the Weiss family is followed. Dr Weiss, his wife and 3 children (Rudy,Karl and Anna)and how they struggle to survive as their family is torn apart and lives changed forever as a result of the Third Reich.
Wonderful early performances by Meryl Streep and James Woods. Woods plays Jewish Karl Weiss married to a beautiful Christian woman Inga played by Meryl Streep. Inga has to witness her husband and his whole family being taken away from her and hauled off to camps.
Nothing is sugar coated here. Some scenes such as beatings and executions are very hard to watch. There appears to be actual archive footage of disturbing photographs that the SS guards watch as slide shows.
By far one of the best movies on the Holocaust. Highly recommended. I believe it won 8 much deserved Emmy awards.
I rarely give a perfect 10 but this case I'll make an exception.
Chomsky's "Holocaust" stands as the best mini-series ever made in my book .The performances are uniformly good,from Meryl Streep to Joseph Bottoms and from James Wood to David Warner.All have to be praised.
The actors were so involved Michael Moriarty (who portrays Erik Dorf) said that he cried after playing the Xmas party scene .Marta Dorf (Deborah Norton) epitomizes the Neo-Nazi we may encounter even today:she never believed that her husband was wrong "let's light a candle for his soul ,children" and she never will ,whereas Dorf perhaps understood his crimes when he saw the photographs in the American officer's office.
"Holocaust" is full of great scenes ,but I think it should be reserved for students over 12,because some moments are unbearable .It should be shown in every secondary school in the world.A deeply moving sequence shows Berta Weiss (the marvelous Rosemary Harris) saying goodbye to her pupils :she urges them to become educated persons ;she leaves them with sweet memories of "the taming of the shrew" and with a song she could not even sing one last time with them.
If you should see only one mini-series,it would have to be this one.A must.
Before "Schindler's List" pulled at my heartstrings, there was "Holocaust," the story of 2 families during the rule of Hitler: The Weiss family, who are practically destroyed by the Jewish massacre, and The Dorf family, whose father, Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty) works with Heydrich (David Warner) to exterminate the Jewish population in Europe.
The film is incredibly painful because of how the family is systematically destroyed (The grandparents take their own lives, the baby sister that is raped and eventually gassed, the artist son that is imprisoned and tortured because of paintings depicting the Nazi crimes.) and how many people fought to survive the horrors. Kudos to a young Meryl Streep as Inga, the German woman that marries a Jew and does everything in her power (including sleeping with a sleazy friend of the family that works at the concentration camp that her husband is in) to hold onto him, James Woods as Karl the artist that, despite the horrors inflicted on him, refuses to surrender, Rosemary Harris as Berta, the strong willed wife of Dr. Josef Weiss (Fritz Weaver), whose refusal to believe in the growing horror that will destroy the family, and Joseph Bottoms as Rudi, the young son that runs away from home and, along with his Helena (Tovah Feldshuh), joins the resistance and witnesses the horror of the Nazi Army.
The film,even after 25 years since I first saw it, is still chilling. It makes you understand why many people did not leave when the nightmare first occurred. Who would believe that such horrors would happen?
Well, oddly enough, maybe. The reason is because, when the film is shown to audiences both in West Germany and the US, it creates an incredible impression because, for perhaps the first time, people in both countries get to see something resembling the holocaust come to life. It provokes an extraordinary culture-changing debate in West Germany, and helps mold late 20th-century Jewish identity elsewhere.
Does this make the film good? I don't know. I suspect the answer is no-- Wiesel is spot-on complaining that you just can't really do it right on TV--put the Holocaust on a 48-inch living room screen for real, and we would all be heading for the bathroom to throw up and cry for days. And yet, the performances and story are compelling, the issues are there for us to grapple with, and, at least in some measure, we see it. Maybe seeing it at least in some fashion might help us avoid it in the future- -anyone who visits even this sanitized version would never want anything to do the real thing.
And then again, maybe I'm wrong. Wiesel is smarter and wiser than me. Watch and decide, hopefully I have given you the parameters of the issue. I don't feel qualified to really judge this one.