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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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Nanking (2007): “A Question of Righteousness”: Jeremy Clarke, SJ


Jeremy Clarke, SJ

The title “righteous among the nations” is conferred by the state of Israel upon those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the terrible reign of the Third Reich.1 These resistors to the Nazis’ horror have their names inscribed at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, which is Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Shoah. The objective criteria for earning this honorific are both stringent and assiduously researched. One’s name has to be put forward by a Jewish party (which presupposes that the salvific act was successful) and the activity had to have been the provisioning of substantial or repeated assistance, without any desire for financial gain.

What is surprising is that even after all these criteria have been met, to date there have been 23,788 women and men from more than 45 countries who have had this recognition bestowed upon them.2 This represents 10,000 authenticated stories of protection. That is, each of these lives was saved by the courage of another, often at great personal risk to the one doing the protecting. For this, the title “righteous” is fitting indeed.

While the identities of some of these protectors have become well known, and in the case of Oskar Schindler preserved first in a book and subsequently in a film, most have not been.3 This is not to say, of course, that their endeavors were less worthy than the...

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