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Through a Lens Darkly

Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

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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The Architecture of Doom (1991): Blueprint for Annihilation: Melanie Murphy


Melanie Murphy

Hitler’s passion for the arts—especially painting, with which he had little success, architecture which he practiced, and sculpture, which was his preferred medium for depicting the racial aesthetic of his regime—is presented in the 1991 documentary The Architecture of Doom as the defining element of his character, personality, and aims. Love of the arts was shared by approximately half of the top leadership of the Third Reich. The film asserts that an aesthetic drive for beauty, cleanliness, and splendor was the essence of Nazi ideology, behind Hitler’s monumental building projects, his genocide, and indeed, all that he did and planned. When Frederic Spotts, in his 2003 study, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, states that conventional politics had no attraction for Hitler, that he was most happy to be studying paintings and plans for his museum in Linz, that he loved and excelled at political spectacle, and that he was never too busy to give attention to the arts, his views are in concert with the thesis of The Architecture of Doom. But, Spotts writes, “many of Hitler’s key policies—such as racial genocide and the military domination of Europe—did not grow out of his aesthetic ideals. Hitler the ruler and Hitler the artist sometimes coincided, sometimes not.”1 To the contrary, The Architecture of Doom presents Hitler the artist and Hitler the ruler as indeed one, and contends that to understand Hitler as an artist-prince who did not, in fact, could not,...

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