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HOLLYWOOD & THE HOLOCAUST: FICTIONALIZING REALITY

Dr. Sheri Karmiol, metzger@unm.edu

COURSE DESCRIPTION
In May 2015, as we were touring Auschwitz-Birkenau, our Polish guide explained to me that he knew all about American life. He saw lots of movies. Then he told me he knew about President Kennedy’s assassination because he had seen JFK, the Oliver Stone film. Our guide was convinced that this assassination was a large conspiracy. He failed to understand that films, especially big budget Hollywood films, are under no obligation to be truthful. Like all transformative events, whether a political assassination or genocide, Hollywood will eventually memorize that event in film. This is also the case for the Holocaust, which has been the subject of hundreds of films and documentaries. In this class, we will examine how the Holocaust is depicted in film and how it is sometimes made more palatable for audiences and sometimes becomes the subject of historical revisionism to sell a product. By examining a selection of films, literature, and critical readings, students will have the opportunity to consider the controversies associated with filming the Holocaust.  Some essential questions include the following: Does it matters if a film is historically accurate, as long as it keeps the subject in front of the public? Do popular films feed the frenzy of Holocaust deniers, who seize upon inaccuracies in film as a way to support their agenda? Are these films influencing public perception about the Holocaust? What does it mean to “sell” the Holocaust? And what story(ies) are these filmmakers/films selling? Who owns history and who should profit from its sale?

 

READINGS AND TEXTS
Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust; selected secondary film criticisms available in a reading packet.

 

FILMS AND OTHER COURSE MATERIALS
Imaginary Witness; Max; The Triumph of the Will; Sunshine; The Nazis: A Warning From History—Chaos & Consent; Europa, Europa; Churchill: The Lion’s Roar; The Pianist; Conspiracy; Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State; Shoah; Schindler’s List; The Grey Zone; America and the Holocaust: Deceit & Indifference; Nuremberg Trial; Life is Beautiful; “Springtime for Hitler” (excerpt from The Producers);  and The Last Days.

 

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS
A film critique, class discussion leader, a final inquiry paper, which will be revised and expanded upon as a research paper.

 

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR
Sheri Karmiol has a Ph.D. in British literature. Much of Dr. Karmiol’s academic research had focused on behavioral and social anthropology and the ethical and philosophical decisions that people make to adapt to changes in their lives.  Most of the classes that she teaches have centered on issues of social inequity, prejudice, and how society marginalizes difference.  Dr. Karmiol has been honored with an award for her teaching and has received two fellowships, including one for study at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  She also teaches classes on the Holocaust and on intolerance.