published on 2 September 2015
Last night I watched The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas for the first time. It shocked and surprised me, particularly for its ending, which I had not known about before.
It is an uncomfortable film on a number of levels, particularly so because it does not help you deal easily with the distinction between the ‘normal’ German boy with the English Home Counties accent and the seemingly lost souls of the Jewish men and boys herded into the death chambers.
On what level is the tragedy of the film? The one or the many?
I think there is enough in the film to make you realise that the heart of the story is in the simplistic, overwhelming denials of ‘living with’ a death camp on your doorstep.
But the discomfort is lingering. The industrial production of death was the most mundane of evils. And once it has been done it cannot be undone.
It made me think about a quite different film account of the holocaust. That is Conspiracy, the 2001 BBC/HBO dramatic version of the 1942 Wannsee conference on what the Nazis called the ‘final solution to the “Jewish question”’.
Conspiracy shows how Nazi Germany came to the decision to attempt to exterminate the Jewish people from history. In a short business meeting, the impossible evil became possible, required, and implementable.
What is most memorable for me about Conspiracy is the character of Wilhelm Stuckart (played by Colin Firth), a high ranking lawyer for the Interior Ministry, who was responsible for framing many of the ‘racial laws’ that implemented the persecution and exclusion of Jewish and other minorities (that is, those born outside of the community of the German Volk). …
[Photo credit: Sachsenhausen clothes courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]