“Holocaust”‘s Real Lesson

A recently released American Jewish Committee study revealed that more viewers than non-viewers of the television mini-series “Holocaust” “reacted negatively to what was seen as Jewish passivity.”

The study, “Americans Confront the Holocaust,” by A.J.C, staff research analyst Geraldine Rosen-field, was based on telephone interviews conducted in early May, 1978 with 822 respondents from across the nation. Of these, 411 had seen all or part of Holocaust, while 411 had not.

While noting that the sample of non-viewers included more people who are “uncaring or uneasy about Jews and their concerns” than the sample of viewers, Rosenfield nevertheless concluded:

“Contrary to what might have been expected, viewers were somewhat more inclined than non-viewers (25 percent as against 17 percent) to put the blame for what happened primarily on the Jews. Moreover, of those viewers who faulted the Jews, 47 percent said they did not fight hard enough, whereas only 22 percent of the non-viewers took this position.”

Among viewers aged 18 to 29, some 30 percent held Jews as mostly or partly at fault for their own persecution.

What accounts for the distressing fact that one out of every four viewers—after watching some or all of Holocaust— concluded that Jews were mostly or partly at fault for their destruction? In her summary, Rosenfield suggested:

“There are indications that, despite the scenes dealing with the Resistance, [Holocaust] made the victims of Nazism seem totally unresisting and without spirit. This may explain why viewers were far more likely than non-viewers to lay some of the blame on the victims for not fighting back.”

Readers of LILITH will recall that Aviva Cantor focused on this dangerous distortion in her review essay on “Holocaust” in issue #5.

It must be emphasized that the overwhelming majority of viewers (75 percent) thought that Holocaust gave an accurate picture of how the Nazis treated Jews. Thus, many viewers may well have accepted as true certain historical inaccuracies and misleading stereotypes presented in the mini-series — including the image of Jews as weak, passive, unresisting victims.

Unfortunately, none of the survey questions focused on the pervasive sexism of Holocaust. In Gerald Green’s male version of history, the “domineering” Jewish mother, Berta Weiss, refuses to allow her family to leave Germany-and most of them are killed. The “ambitious” German wife, Marta Dorf, coaxes her apolitical husband into joining the Nazis— and he becomes an architect of the Final Solution.

One can only wonder how many viewers —after four nights of such messages—might have held women (both Jewish and non-Jewish) to be “mostly or partly at fault” for the mistakes, misdeeds, and geno-cidal crimes committed by men.

Copyright Bob Lamm, 1979. Adapted from an article first published by the Jewish Student Press Service, April, 1979.