Academic journal article Shofar

Gender and Holocaust Docudramas: Gentile Heroines in Rescue Films

Academic journal article Shofar

Gender and Holocaust Docudramas: Gentile Heroines in Rescue Films

Article excerpt

Much as the following rescue films present themselves as reflections of historical events, they seek to articulate a message for the present. Much as they seem to "reflect" historical reality, though they appear to be "about" the Holocaust as the story of the Jews' unjust suffering during World War II, they focus on the tribulations and moral victory of the gentile rescuer. It is her experience that constitutes the heart of the docudrama. The Jewish victims, whether successfully rescued or not, form a peripheral background to her drama. The drama of the woman rescuer is that of an ordinary woman caught in extraordinary circumstances. She does not seek out persecuted Jews, nor does she know much about their specific dilemma. Her efforts are focused on a single Jew, or a single Jewish family, in contrast to her more ambitious counterpart in film (e.g., Good Evening Mr. Wallenberg, Schindler's List). She tends to be both ordinary and simple. This simplicity is somehow implicated in the cultural myth of feminine goodness. Her understanding of Christianity, humanism, or patriotic duty is straightforward rather than original or heterodox. If married she is a devoted wife, if single, a model sister or daughter. Her responses are visceral rather than reflective, and do not admit the moral ambiguity and psychological complexity of male rescuers. The drama of feminine rescue unfolds within a domestic space, confined to the traditional frame of feminine action in Western culture. The heroines of rescue docudramas are pleasantly attractive, but not (usually) sexually expressive. The sexual exploits of their male counterparts have only recently been admitted into the realm of the female rescue docudrama.(2)

It is not my intention to question the motives of the historical women who have hidden Jews during the Holocaust. To the extent that all docudrama consists of documented fact and imaginative drama, it is the gender-related aspects of the drama that I seek to analyze here.(3) In my understanding of the protagonist-narrator as a female character and of her dramatized memoir as a narrative I follow Elizabeth Cowie's understanding of the documentary film as narrative. Cowie describes the difference between a "true story" and fiction in terms of the constitution of the relationship of the spectator to the knowledge of the discourse.(4) As she puts it: "It does not matter whether the knowledge is `real' or not, past or present. As a result, for example, the documentary film does not cease to be narrative film by virtue of the truth of its statement or images."(5) While the events narrated by her may indeed have taken place, they are nevertheless mediated through at least two processes: the selective work of memory and the structuring of events and actions in the body of the film. Both processes require paradigmatic (selection) and syntagmatic (sequencing) decisions. The interests of communicability and duration, the position of the camera, the lighting and the musical score are also factors that also affect the shape of the cinematic text whether or not the narrative corresponds to an actual or perceived past truth. The docudramas we shall examine here portray their heroines as embodiments of the idea of "character" as moral coherence. They use their heroines in order to articulate a moral vision powerful enough to withstand the dispiriting implications of the Holocaust. Whether they validate Christian faith, patriotism, or individualism, The Hiding Place, The Attic, and Rescuers: Stories of Courage seek to convince us of the endurance of traditional value systems and philosophies, including the myth of feminine goodness, as abiding moral visions and codes of conduct.

The Hiding Place begins with a truth claim: "This story is true."(6) The names of the actors, and various people involved in the production of the film are projected against the background of family photos representing the Ten Booms as a happy extended family. The picture of a wedding at a church evokes the past as a secure, intimate, joyous and Christian time, while the "present" context represented by the date -- 1943 -- and the place -- Haarlem -- is a time of social disintegration and ungodliness. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.