A Cardboard “Wall”

The CBS-TV production of The Wall, based loosely on John Hersey’s magnificent novel about the Warsaw Ghetto and aired in February, demonstrates once again that the American mass media are unequal to the monumental task of portraying the Holocaust in fictional terms.

The Wall teleplay, written by Millard Lampell, captures a great deal of the horror of the German reign of terror—the round-ups, the deportations, the mass shootings, the desperate escapes. The major historical flaw is the omission of political organization from the Ghetto and the Uprising.

Dramatically, the teleplay fails because all the principals are cardboard characters with no personalities, growth or development.

To its credit, The Wall is not sexist. In fact, one of the two major characters is a woman, Rachel, and many of the fighters are also women. Unfortunately, Rachel, a highly complex person in the book, is drained of all her unique ambivalences, insecurities, flaws and idiosyncracies and left with a kind of uncompromising virtue as her entire personality.

Finally, there is precious little Jewish content in the teleplay—a few sentences and sequences crop up here and there. But Hersey’s theme of how very different Jews gradually came to grips with what it meant to be Jewish in Warsaw between 1939 and 1943—and their struggles with this issue was the most exciting thing about the book—has been lost.