Summer 2012

Israeli Cinema: Perverting the Image of Holocaust Survivors

In spite of the remarkable personal stories of many Holocaust survivors – stories which could have been the bread and butter of countless films – rarely were these portrayed by Israeli cinematographers. Indeed over the past six decades, Israeli fiction cinema has largely presented a perverted, unsympathetic, even cruel image of Holocaust survivors. Dr. Liat Steir-Livny, lecturer at the Open University, makes some startling revelations in her new book, "Two Faces in the Mirror: The Image of Holocaust Survivors in Israeli Cinema: 1945-2009."

When the State of Israel was established, one of every three Jewish citizens had come from Eastern Europe. Many had survived the concentration camps, lived in hiding or fought among the partisans. Each individual – more than a quarter of a million people – had an extraordinary story to tell, a harrowing experience to share, a narrative of a life that had been miraculously spared.

The miracle of each individual's survival was epic in nature. In any cinematic environment, these stories would have constituted an endless bounty of inspirational films. Yet, none of this found expression in Israeli cinema.

According to Dr. Liat Steir-Livny, Open University's Coordinator of the M.A. Program in Cultural Studies and lecturer in the Department of Literature, Language and the Arts, in her newest book: "Two Faces in the Mirror: The Image of Holocaust Survivors in Israeli Cinema: 1945-2009," Israeli fiction cinematographers in the past and the present "used the stories of the Holocaust survivors as tools to further their own agenda, and ended up portraying Holocaust survivors as negative stereotypes."

So, in spite of the many stories about Jews during the Holocaust that have made their way into the public consciousness, very little has changed on the Israeli screen in the past sixty years.

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