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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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The Complicity of the French in The Roundup (La rafle, 2010) and Sarah’s Key (2010): John J. Michalczyk


John J. Michalczyk

When Marcel Ophuls “tarnished” the myth of the vast extent of French Resistance and disclosed the evidence of widespread collaboration of the French during WWII in his 1972 documentary The Sorrow and the Pity (Le chagrin et la pitié), some were at first shocked at this smearing of the national reputation of France, an ally in the struggle against Fascism. Yet, well-received, Ophuls’s film served as a balance to the glorification of the Resistance over the years in his honest assessment of the role of resisters in bringing down the Nazi Occupation of France.

Since June 1940, the Nazi government occupying France had created a state of oppression, marked by curfews, rationing, beatings, imprisonment, and executions. Anyone resisting the Third Reich’s orders suffered immeasurably, but the Jews soon became the primary target. In July 1942, orders were given to round up Jews for “relocation,” in essence, deportation and ultimately extermination.

When on 16 July 1995 then President Jacques Chirac offered a full acknowledgment of and a sincere apology for France’s role in the deportation of Jews, he, like Ophuls, asked his fellow countrymen to come to grips with their past. He stirred them from their amnesia or denial and brought before them their failure to protect their own—the numerous Jews being deported to Nazi death camps—many of whom were already well assimilated into the population. Chirac used the famous Vel d’Hiver sports winter cycling stadium roundup on 16 July...

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