Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust

Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust

Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust

Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust


Indelible Shadows investigates questions raised by films about the Holocaust. How does one make a movie that is both morally just and marketable? Film scholar Annette Insdorf provides sensitive readings of individual films and analyzes theoretical issues such as the "truth claims" of the cinematic medium. The third edition of Indelible Shadows includes five new chapters that cover recent trends, as well as rediscoveries of motion pictures made during and just after World War II. It addresses the treatment of rescuers, as in Schindler's List; the controversial use of humor, as in Life is Beautiful; the distorted image of survivors, and the growing genre of documentaries that return to the scene of the crime or rescue. The annotated filmography offers capsule summaries and information about another hundred Holocaust films from around the world, making this edition the most comprehensive and up to date discussion of films about the Holocaust, and an invaluable resource for film programmers and educators. Annette Insdorf is Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University, and a Professor in the Graduate Film Division of the School of the Arts. She is the author of Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kielowski (Hyperion, 1999) and Francois Truffaut (Cambridge, 1995). She served as a jury member at the Berlin Film Festival and the Locarno Film Festival, and is the panel moderator at the Telluride Film Festival. Insdorf co-hosts (with Roger Ebert) Cannes Film Festival coverage for BRAVo/IFC.


A great Hassidic Master, the Rabbi of Kotsk, used to say, “There are truths which can be communicated by the word; there are deeper truths that can be transmitted only by silence; and, on another level, are those which cannot be expressed, not even by silence.”

And yet, they must be communicated.

Here is the dilemma that confronts anyone who plunges into the concentration camp universe: How can one recount when–by the scale and weight of its horror-the event defies language? A problem of expression? Of perception, rather. Auschwitz and Treblinka seem to belong to another time; perhaps they are on the other side of time. They can be explained only in their own terms. Only those who lived there know what these names mean. And for a long time these very people refused to speak of it. “In any case, ” they thought, “no one would understand.” An ontological phenomenon, “The Final Solution” is located beyond understanding. Let's be honest: In this sense, the enemy can boast of his triumph. Through the scope of his deadly enterprise, he deprives us of words to describe it.

Having completed his masterpiece “The Blood of Heaven, ” the late Piotr Rawicz was left with a feeling of defeat. Other survivor-writers could say the same. We know very well that we speak at one remove from the event. We have not said what we wanted to. The essential will remain unsaid, eradicated, buried in the ash that covers this story like no other. Hence, the drama of the witness. He realizes, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, that only what cannot be said deserves to not be silenced. But then, what will happen to his testimony? To his deposition? To his knowledge? If he takes them with him in death, he betrays them. Will he remain faithful in trying to articulate them, even badly, even inadequately? The question inexorably asserts itself: Does there exist another way, another language, to say what is unsayable?

The image perhaps? Can it be more accessible, more malleable, more expressive than the word? More true as well? Can I admit it? I am as wary of one as of the other. Even more of the image. Of the filmed image, of course. One does not imagine the unimaginable. And in particular, one does not show it on screen.

Too purist an attitude, no doubt. After all, by what right would we neglect the mass media? By what right would we deny them the possibility of informing, educating, sensitizing the millions of men and women who would normally say, “Hitler, who's . . .

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