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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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A Note on Image and Sound in Memory of the Camps (1985): Jeffrey Gutierrez


Jeffrey Gutierrez

A naked prisoner, his skeleton visible underneath his papery skin, staggering among corpses. A naked corpse dragged through the sand and tossed into a mass grave. These are among the scenes in Memory of the Camps which led Richard F. Shepard to write in The New York Times, “Far more than any fiction about the Holocaust can depict, ‘Memory of the Camps’ conveys the horror of the moment, the reality, more than the banality, of evil.”1

Memory of the Camps aimed to document atrocities witnessed at the liberation of several concentration camps, to arouse the German people against the National Socialist Party, and to negate possible Nazi denial of the camps’ existence. Still unfinished in 1945, no longer wanted by the military for “psychological warfare,” the film was abandoned and shelved in the archives of the Imperial War Museum, London. The film’s title was its location: F3080. One document among many, a sign reflective of the tattooed victims captured in its celluloid. When the film was rediscovered, it aired on Frontline, during the 40th anniversary of the end of WWII, and renamed Memory of the Camps.2 Being unfinished, the film displays a unique relationship between image and sound that incites one to reconsider the memory of the camps and how this horror can be interpreted visually.

The film begins by linking image with sound, establishing the importance of both in Hitler’s propaganda. It includes the mixing of the celebratory band, the...

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