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First of all, for the setting in Holocaust films, a majority of European Holocaust films tend to depict neither hellish setting, for example the concentration camps, but neutral areas, for example the countryside. (Golan, 2011, p.61) The film, The Boy in Striped Pajamas, sets in the countryside of German, yet miles away from the concentration camp. However, the image of the camp depicted is not hellish, as seen from appearance, having described as a farm by Bruno, the main character from the film, who is a German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer’s son.
In addition of the settings, the influence of propaganda is usually portrayed. For example in The Boy in Striped Pajamas, bias towards the Jews is intensified under the influence of propaganda and materials used in educating German youngsters. In one scene of the film, Bruno’s sister stated “The aim of the Jew is to become the ruler of humanityâ€¦Germans have been made poor by the Jew.” These statements reflect the biased education for the youngsters that time and it is as referred as the current syllabus. Hence, it is shown that propaganda are used to promote the hatred towards the Jews and lead to more severe prosecutions to Jews, even among children and adolescents. Furthermore, anti-Semitism was normality in German and intensified under the influence of propaganda and thus, the bias towards the Jews heavily molded citizens’ behavior. (Bajohr, 2006, p.334-335)
Beyond the influence of propaganda, sarcasms are used to reflect the horror in Holocaust during the war in films. In The Boy in Striped Pajamas, there is a scene where the Nazi officers gather to watch a short film about the lives of Jews in concentration camp. The short movie describes that the life in camp is not all work, and that there is opportunity for leisure, and they can play and enjoy the recreations in the camp. However, in the concentration camp, Jews work hard, to build new hut, to serve the officers, and as Shmuel, a Jewish boy who is also Bruno’s friend in the concentration camp, reflects that Jewish people stave in the camp and are not allow to play. They are even killed by chemicals, massively, as the final scene of the film suggests. This kind of using an imaginative, positive image to be ironic towards the terrifying truth of Holocaust intensifies the horror of the concentration camps, where people work to death or being massively killed. (Haas, 2008, p. 336)
Motifs of Holocaust Films
In recent article “Au revoir, les enfants”. The Jewish Child as a Microcosm of the Holocaust as Seen in World Cinema author Yvonne Golan shows the results of a survey made to investigate the major films which use images of children and teenagers as to portray the situation during and after World War II. In European film industries, the major theme of the Holocaust films made is almost always about child’s rescue. (Golan, 2011, p.61) However, Golan’s survey result surely underplays the variety of themes that the cinema can used in Holocaust films. As a matter of fact, the theme of The Boy in Striped Pajamas is not about a child being rescued. In the movie, the central narrative of the story is a story of a German boy, Bruno, which in a sense that he could not have helped anyone or would have been saved by someone else as he is not being treated badly and he is not even in the camp. Instead, as his father is a Schutzstaffel (SS) officer, he lives in peace and luxury, doing everything he wants. No one can really hurt him. Because of this, the theme of this Holocaust movie is to reveal the horror of extermination camps and to explore the tragic result of the camps.
While it has been suggested that Holocaust films aim at reflecting the social ideology and attitudes, which include the bias towards Jews by German, the film The Boy in Striped Pajamas also aims at the same. In the film, the bias towards the Jews from German is shown by mostly German children. “They’re in the camp because they’re evil. They’re the enemy. They’re evil, dangerous vermin. They’re the reason we lost the Great War,” from one of the lines from The Boy in Striped Pajamas, said by Bruno’s sister, Gretel. These comments illustrated the adolescent’s view on Jews as influenced by the propaganda, and what they are taught with.
In the sections that follow, the essay provides a brief account of the illustration of children images of different nationalities, including German and Jewish, in Holocaust films. Then, comparisons between their images are conducted to show the reason of why these images are used in portraying the themes of Holocaust films.
Perspectives of German Children
For instance, in world cinema, the central narrative of the Holocaust and the reflection of the war and its horror are usually portrayed by the images and stories of children and adolescents, so as to illustrate the good vs. evil and the struggles during the brutal can cruel war time. (Golan, 2011, p.53) Beyond that, a new format of narrating the horror of the Holocaust life in concentration camps has been shown in recent Holocaust films as a minor trend. It is to focus on German children narratives, which is to view the cruelty of the camp life through a German, rather than the Jewish children’s stories. As illustrated in the film, The Boy in Striped Pajamas, the central narrative is the German child, Bruno, whose father is a Schutzstaffel (SS) officer. Through the innocent eyes of the enemy of Bruno, the German boy, the lives of Jews in camps contrast with his peaceful and enjoyable childhood, and hence intensify the horror in Holocaust.
Perspectives of Jewish Children
Having said that the minor trend is to portray the cruelty of the camps through the narratives of German children, what is the major trend then? The major trend is, as stated in the result of the survey conducted by Yvonne Golan in “Au revoir, les enfants”. The Jewish Child as a Microcosm of the Holocaust as Seen in World Cinema (2011), to base on the stories of Jewish children, who are being badly treated in concentration camps. (Golan, 2011, p.53) In The Boy in Striped Pajamas, there are narratives on the cruelty of extermination camps through Jewish children, which are based on the stories of Shmuel, the Jewish friend of Bruno who is in concentration camp. He has revealed some of the realities in the camp, such as people suddenly disappear after being sent to work, which is thought to be killed by the poison shower, and the fact that they need to work to build new huts and stave every day. By using the perspective of Jewish children, it proves the first person experience on the life in Holocaust, hence, increases the reliability and makes the film more realistic.
Perspectives of Adults
While the trend of narratives in Holocaust films are mainly focused on the children’s stories, especially Jewish youngsters’ (Golan, 2011, p. 54), nevertheless, the movies, also, portray the perspectives of adults on Holocaust and extermination camps. In film, The Boy in Striped Pajamas, different adult characters have reflected their personal opinions onto the situation, where Jewish are being massively killed and picked on throughout the normal German society. For examples, Bruno’s father, a Schutzstaffel (SS) officer, regards the action of burning the corpses of Jewish as “burning rubbish”; Kurt, one of the soldier comments Jewish as “cretin”; while the tutor of Bruno and his sister suggests that there is no such thing as a nice Jew on Earth. These reflect the bias and negative comments on Jews, which has been completely decontextualized and stereotyping, without any special proof.
Furthermore, as within the perspectives of adults used in Holocaust movies, they can be divided according to gender, into women’s and men’s.
First, for men’s, as mentioned above, they are mostly supportive towards the massive killings of Jews. In The Boy in Striped Pajamas, Bruno’s father and grandfather see the genocide of Jews as a vital part of war, which will make the country stronger. This illustrated the general German men’s thought towards the Holocaust. Yet, there are little amount of men who are negative towards the Nazi’s approach to Jews. For example, in The Boy in Striped Pajamas, Kurt’s father left the country as he has disagreements with government policies. However, this kind of action is regarded as betrayal to the country and those people with non-supporting minds with the government are seen as cowards and traitors. Also, there is a policy among the army, which requires the soldiers to report to their seniors if there are any male traitors in family, while female traitors are not necessarily reported. It illustrates the perspective which males are more powerful in affecting the development of government policies and supportive towards the government, either it is sincerely or forced.
For women’s, they are less engaged in supporting government policies, as well as, more emotional and empathic towards the victims, no matter what their identities are. In The Boys in Striped Pajamas, Bruno’s mother and grandmother are against the genocide of Jews. After knowing the fact of burning Jews corpse in the chimney, Bruno’s mother is disgusted and shows empathy towards the Jews; for Bruno’s grandmother, she is against the fact that the soldiers are killing innocent people, but not defending the country. Also, she thinks the uniforms of soldiers do not have any specialty and are the representation of killing machines. These reflect the perspectives women are relatively more empathy and conscientious towards the massive killings of Jews, because of the fact that women think more emotionally and empathically. (Toussaint & Webb, 2005, p.679)
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