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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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Srebrenica: Graves Cry Out: John J. Michalczyk


John J. Michalczyk

With an iron fist in a velvet glove, and with a desire to create “socialism with a human face,” Marshal Josip Broz Tito held together a Yugoslavia comprised of diverse ethnic and religious groups. Within a decade after Tito’s death in 1980, Slobodan Milosevic set out to create a new nationalistic “Greater Serbia.” Yugoslavia had already begun to disintegrate, and soon it would divide into separate independent entities: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the “rump” Yugoslavia (Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Vojvodina, and Kosovo.) Bloodshed, rape, destruction, and displacement scarred the bodies and minds of a formerly united Yugoslav people resulting in serious physical and psychological trauma.

The town of Srebrenica, in Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, perhaps like Auschwitz or Dachau, may only be remembered for the genocide that took place within its shadow.1 For some, it may also be considered the location of an act of gendercide, not unlike the Massacre of Innocents by Herod of Jewish male babies under the age of two. In the case of Srebrenica, in the lethal 72 hours of July 1995, it is the male Muslims, young and old, who were among the innocent 7,000 to 8,000 massacred by Serb forces and buried in mass graves. The town, ten miles from the border of Serbia, was held hostage by the Serbs in the dream of expanding their boundaries and cleansing the town of Muslims.

Leslie Woodhouse’s PBS documentary, Srebrenica: A Cry from the...

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