America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference
“The film, America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference, is about America’s involvement in saving the Jewish population from being subjected in the Holocaust. The film succeeds in persuading its audience, America and its citizens, that America could have been more active in saving the lives of many Jews. The film focuses on revealing the anti-semitic environment present in America during the early 20th century, biased immigration laws, and absolute indifference towards rescuing European Jews.
Martin Ostrow, the director of the film, accuses America for prioritizing war and political motives such as forming allies future benefits rather than saving the diminishing Jewish population. Ostrow uses many filmmaking techniques to provide his subjective point of view on Roosevelt and the American government that decided to take no urgent action despite being aware of the situation in Germany and the Final Solution. This film uses interviews, the experiences of a Jewish refugee, archival footage, visuals, still shots and cutaways to persuade the audience of the validity of these accusations.
One of the strategies used is the freeze frame technique. This technique allows the film-maker to freeze the action on the screen to enhance the scene and capture the audience’s attention. The technique is used numerous times in the film to captivate the audience’s attention by freezing official photos, political cartoons, newspaper stills, and other important visuals. In the beginning of the film, photos of anti-semitic signs in New York are displayed to show the anti-semitic motives of many American citizens when Hitler came to power in Europe. In the film, the director zooms in on a bookstore in New York that reads Aryan Bookstore, and freezes at this sign for few seconds, so the audience is forced to stop and ponder on this still shot. This technique is used when newspaper clippings with shattering headlines are presented in the film as well. An example of the freeze frame is the headline Jews Defile Our Christmas, from National American Newspaper. Another example of such headline is Refugees Warned to Wait. These newspaper stills prove that America was busy winning the war, and chose to suppress the voices of many Jewish organizations that wanted Roosevelt to take action.
Another example of FDR’s lack of interest in assisting the Jews is the freeze frame of Roosevelt’s hand writing on a much debated 1930 congressional bill to rescue 20,000 German Jewish children: File No Action. FDR. The film then cuts to a footage of a ship full of children singing in English that are immigrating to America. Throughout the film, many newspaper headlines and official document freeze frames are used a still shots to expose the muddy political behavior and anti-semitic immigrations laws. Furthermore, the film uses the emotional story of a Jewish refugee, Kurt Klein. Ostrow uses Kurt Klein as a medium to portray the difficulties faced by the European Jews who wanted to immigrate to America to escape the Holocaust. The director interviews Kurt Klein and uses mini interview clips throughout the film to keep the audience attached by presenting a personal story of a Jewish immigrant trying to save his parents and bring them to the haven of America. The audience is provided with an actual personal account to follow through rather than just still images and video footage of the biased immigration process. Klein’s story is able evokes sympathetic and tragic emotions among the audience that the still images can not. For example, the audience feels the sadness that Klein feels when he reads the letter granting his parents’ immigrant visa two months after they have been deported.
One can feel the sorrow and pain, and see oneself standing in his shoes. This strategy is successful in keeping the audience emotionally connected and strengthens Ostrow’s argument that the American Consulate was biased and granted more visa to Britain and Ireland citizens than Eastern and Southern Europe. An important technique used in this documentary is the Ken Burns Effect. The film uses many photographs as evidence to show that America watched and waited to take action until after the political motives were met. This effect gives action to still photographs by zooming in on the subjects of interest and panning over important details of photographs. Ostrow uses this technique to transition from one photograph to the next. This technique is able to keep the audience visually engaged because it is easy to lose attention when the photographs are presented in an non-motion format. Another purpose of using this technique is to create dramatic effect. The film uses this strategy while opening with the horrifying images of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. In one of the photographs, the camera zooms out from a broken glass window to a view of the entire destroyed Jewish business shop.
Zooming out from the shattered glass windows to the entire photograph gives the audience a theatrical, surreal sense of what the environment was like for the Jewish population affected during that night. This same effect is used when official records are presented as well. For example, the camera pans over the official document sent from Geneva that Department of State stamped as Do Not Send. This document was sent by Reigner to alert Rabbi Wise in America of the devastating conditions the Jews were facing in Europe. However, Wise did not received this document because the Department of State dismissed the report and called it a wild rumor. The camera zooms out of the whole document and pans over to the writing that reads Do Not Send. This technique allows the audience to remember only that part of the photograph that the filmmaker wants to emphasize. Ostrow uses this technique because he knows that period photographs are the only other visuals other than interviews and archival footage to grab the audience’s attention. Still photographs without zooming and panning can make the film monotonous. A persuasive element that attracts the attention of the viewer is the creative use of music. This documentary relies heavily on music to add dramatic effect to the photographs and interviews presented. For example, the sound effect of shattering of glass during the Kristallnacht scene adds dramatic effect to the visuals presented on the screen. The same goes with footage of cattle trains loaded with Jews accompanied with music of train moving on a railroad. These dramatic sound effects can evoke fear from the audience.
The interviews of Kurt Klein reading heartbreaking letters from his parents describing the situation in Germany uses gloomy background music. This music with low tempo and minor mode adds to the sadness of the situation. The music allows the audience to feel the tragedy that Klein and his family went through. Furthermore, the purpose of the music is to enhance the emotions experienced by the interviewers. The film uses many interviews of Jews sharing their anti-semitic experiences in America. One of the interviewers speaks about not being hired for a position because she is Jewish. The background music has a melancholic tone. With the same music in the background, the film cuts to a document listing stores and the religious preferences for hiring employees in Queens, NYC. Ostrow uses the same background music to transition from an interviewer’s personal account to factual evidence that backs up the interviewer’s personal story and Ostrow’s point of view of anti-semitic America.
Ostrow uses the testimony of David Wyman, a leading U.S. scholar, to reinforce his claim that America deliberately suppressed the information that European Jews were slated for genocide. Wyman describes and analyzes the official documents, archival footage, and photos that Ostrow uses in this documentary. Wyman outlines the true motives behind Breckinridge Long exaggerating the problem of America’s National Security. In the film, after the footage of Long accusing immigrants of being a threat to America’s safety is presented, Wyman illuminates on the true motive behind this action was to enforce anti-alien policies and postpone immigration of the Jews. Wyman makes multiple appearances and tries to decode the information presented in the video footages and photos. Ostrow uses Wyman as a medium to express the his views, but from a historian’s perspective. Besides Wyman, the film contains many interviews of other political figures that were in-office during this time period. All the interviews revealed one important thing that America purposely ignored the Final Solution and considering the matter non-urgent. John Pehle, the Treasury Department lawyer exposes the State Department’s alleged cover-up of the Holocaust, and the complete disregard about the refugee problem. By interviewing credible persons, Ostrow presented a persuasive case the U.S.’s lack of insolvent in assisting the Jews.
Another important technique is the formatting of the film. The film has many diverse methods of introducing evidence that helps persuade the audience of the accusations. The film is full of visuals such as archive footage, official paper records such as bills and interviews that keeps the audience engaged. It is easy to grab and hold onto the audience’s attention when the interview is presented in chunks so that the audience can keep up easily. The same goes for presenting official records or still photographs for a long period of time. Furthermore, the utilization of certain archive footage shot from different camera angles is visually attractive and helps captivate attention as well. One example is the crane shot of Auschwitz camp when Ostrow shows how Allied heavy bombers attacked an I.G. Farben fuel factory five miles from Auschwitz but never received orders to bomb the death camp. The formatting of the film such as the sequence of the visuals plays a role in captivating the viewers’ attention. The film, America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference, is a subjective documentary that accuses America for being selfish and apathetic to meet its political motives by prioritizing war. It attempts to persuade the citizens, the viewers, of America’s the lack of involvement and deceiving the truth during the Holocaust. Ostrow uses many persuasive film-making techniques such as Burns Effect and freeze frame technique to strengthen his claim. Furthermore, the film is loaded with visuals to contradict the viewers impression of ideal America and present them with the actual, anti-semitic America.
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“The film, America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference, is about America’s involvement in saving the Jewish population from being subjected in the Holocaust. The film succeeds in persuading its […]