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Through a Lens Darkly

Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

Edited By John J. Michalczyk and SJ Raymond G. Helmick

While the ashes of the Holocaust were still fresh, Polish Jewish attorney Raphael Lemkin put a name to the tragedy that had decimated his family – genocide. The twentieth century was brutally scarred by the massive scale of genocide and its manifest forms of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and atrocities. We ask how these horrors can be visually translated to the screen while both maintaining their authenticity and serving as commercial «entertainment». Through an analysis of a series of poignant films on the plight of the Native Americans, the controversial Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and its legacy, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the Hutu-sponsored massacres in Rwanda, the reader can grasp the driving mechanisms of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The oft-repeated, «Never again» rings hollow to our ears in the wake of these tragedies in a post-Holocaust era. The films discussed here, both features and documentaries, are set in an historical context that sheds light on the dark side of humanity and are then discussed with the hope of better understanding our frailty. In the end, however, we ask can the «unrepresentable» ever be represented?


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Part Six: Ethnic Cleansing: “Purifying” the Land


PART SIX Ethnic Cleansing: “Purifying” the Land If the identity of a nation lies upon its memory, then the memory that makes the foundations of the Bosniak people is made of the chain of genocides and innumer- able crimes committed against it. —Smail Èekic, History of Genocide Against Bosniaks …the transfer of [Palestinian] Arab population from the area of the Jewish state does not serve only one aim--to diminish the Arab population. It also serves a sec- ond, no less important, aim which is to advocate land presently held and cultivated by the [Palestinian] Arabs and thus to release it for Jewish inhabitants. …it must be clear that there is no room in the country [Israel] for both peo- ples…If the Arabs leave it, the country will become wide and spacious for us…The only solution [after the end of WWII] is a Land of Israel, at least a western land of Israel, without Arabs. There is no room here for compromises…. —Yossef Weitz, Transfer Committees, 1937–1948, and director of the Land and Afforestation Department of the Jewish National Fund Ethnic Cleansing Raymond G. Helmick, SJ Analyzing the course of genocide in the twentieth century with the appear- ance of a new term in the discussion—ethnic cleansing, in the 1990s—calls for explanation. Precedents abounded. Stalin had “purged” the Soviet Union—of dissi- dents, for political reasons, but of the whole class of Kulaks in the 1930s. “Cleansing” had been a standard part of Nazi language as...

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