Summer 2012

Israeli Cinema: Perverting the Image of Holocaust Survivors

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A Different Kind of Lens

Dr. Liat Steir-Livny's doctoral thesis, available at the Open University library, analyzes American filmmaking and their portrayal of Holocaust survivors, which was "the exact antithesis of Israeli cinematographers." Where Israel portrayed the Holocaust survivors as negative elements in an immigrant society in order to highlight Eretz-Israel as the cure for their 'woes', Jewish-American film producers wanted to portray Holocaust survivors as immigrants who looked, acted and identified with America's values, in an attempt to help thwart anti-Semitism and allay fears about newcomers.
Of course, Dr. Steir-Livny points out that Holocaust survivors were not the only ones to be portrayed negatively by Israeli cinematographers from the 1940s through the 1980s. So, too, were homosexuals, Arabs, Bedouins, Sephardic Jews, etc. But, in these cases, the negative portrayals lasted a far shorter period of time, and were mainly cast from the 1980s onward – again due to to individuals who had a personal agenda or vision they were pursuing.

"I know I've ruined cinema viewing pleasure for my students, and I'm glad. Now they can detach themselves from the cinematic illusion, understand the difference between what they see on the big screen and actual history, listen to their grandparents' stories with an appreciation for their survival, and help educate future generations."

For Dr. Steir-Livny, viewing Israeli films about Holocaust survivors requires a different kind of 'lens.'

"Fiction films about Holocaust survivors – even today – should be viewed with the knowledge that the film's perspective is both narrow and distorted. These films possess no historical value, and have in fact, little to do with reality – in spite of the Israeli audience's great affinity for reality shows."

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