Imaginary Witness: The Holocaust Before Sophie’s Choice

  This dutiful documentary has less to do with Hitler and Himmler than with Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner. Narrated by Gene Hackman, the film lays out how studio bosses, most of them Jewish, were initially reluctant to sacrifice the German market for their wares by mentioning you-know-what in the late '30s. Commentators including Neal Gabler (An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood) describe how newsreels, also produced by Hollywood, were also vetted and censored by our government, which helped keep the Final Solution from becoming big news. What's news and interesting here is how the studio's cheap, quick B-movies were allowed to address the Holocaust—but with a wink and a nod, it seems: The studios wanted the truth to sneak out the back doors of their soundstages. Mayer, Warner, and company toured the death camps following World War II; ironically, the harrowing footage shot there later turned up in an indie feature, Stanley Kramer's 1961 Judgment at Nuremberg. Perhaps the most fascinating footnote, however, is how the studios' TV operations, like Playhouse 90 and This Is Your Life, actually addressed the Holocaust first and most frankly—before The Pawnbroker or The Diary of Anne Frank, and long before Schindler's List. By comparison today, it's hard to imagine American Idol broadcasting live from Darfur.

 
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