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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 Balkan Conflict and Its Psychological Ramifications: Charles David Tauber, MD

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Charles David Tauber, MD

A great deal has been written about the latest war in the Balkans. Films have been made which, in some sense, give a better impression of the human tragedies and dilemmas than can words. Yet, almost everything that has been written and filmed has had strong biases, which in general, are not stated beforehand. These biases, and the sensationalizing of the events and feelings associated with them, sometimes have led to misrepresentation, sometimes in extremis. Certainly, among the best and least biased of these films (although it inevitably still has a few) is John J. Michalczyk’s Prelude to Kosovo: War and Peace in Bosnia and Croatia (1999) which gives a reasonably good picture of the situation up to 1999.

Accordingly, in this first section of this essay, I wish to state my own biases. I have lived and worked in eastern Croatia and traveled extensively in the region since June 1995 as the head of a Dutch-registered organization working on psychological assistance, non-violent conflict transformation, civil society, and independent thinking, with a dose of human rights thrown in. I am a physician and believe in the power of people to heal themselves, frequently with support. I am the child of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who grew up in the US in the 1950s and 1960s. My parents were strongly socially engaged and cared passionately about people. They transmitted that to me. I care especially about people who have suffered from war,...

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