I quote, without comment, a riveting and hugely important feature which has appeared in today's edition of The Guardian.
"A new film is roiling the waters in Germany. Jud Süss: A Film Without a Conscience was greeted with boos at a press screening at the Berlinale, the Berlin international film festival. The film is best described as a film within a film. It re-enacts parts of the most infamous antisemitic propaganda film of all times, Jud Süss, while simultaneously telling the back story, albeit in somewhat fictionalised form, about the making of this film.
"Jud Süss, whose executive producer was Josef Goebbels, premiered in 1940 at more than 80 cinemas in Berlin alone. More than 20 million Germans eventually saw it. It also won large audiences in other European countries. It depicts Jews as not only sneaky, conniving and physically revolting, but also posing a direct danger to the non-Jews around them. The Nazi hierarchy was so pleased with it that Himmler, head of the SS, compelled his troops to see it.
"Irrespective of how one feels about the film, there is a stunning irony inherent in this "remake". German law censors anything that promotes ideologies ruled to be dangerous to youth or anti-constitutional. One cannot, legally, buy a copy of Mein Kampf in Germany. Nor can one publicly display a swastika, deny that Auschwitz was a killing factory, or screen the original Jud Süss except in highly circumscribed settings. Any screening must be part of an educational or academic event and introduced by a historian. However, because this new film tells the story of the making of Jud Süss it can be shown, even though it re-enacts much of the original. Is censorship, even in the name of preventing the resurrection of nefarious ideologies, ever desirable?
"As someone with a constitutional commitment to freedom of expression, I find these strictures disturbing. Moreover, from a strategic perspective, I believe censorship to generally be counterproductive. It renders the item forbidden fruit, making it more alluring to young people. In addition it transforms those who wish to promote a hateful cause into "victims" whose free speech has been curtailed. Most importantly, it suggests that the cause being promoted cannot be countered by facts but must have the protection of the law. For these reasons I have long opposed laws outlawing Holocaust denial. I take this position despite having been subjected to an extended, complicated, and expensive libel suit in the UK by the disgraced historian David Irving for having described him as a Holocaust denier.
"And yet I understand why Germany, with its unique history, feels compelled to take such a stance. (I fully acknowledge the inconsistency of my position.) Germany is a country where virtually everyone could have known about the horrors had they wanted to. Multitudes of German citizens, possibly hundreds of thousands, played some role, however oblique, in the destruction process.
"Though only a limited number of Germans did the actual killings, many others took part indirectly – processing the victims' belongings, arranging the roundups and the deportations, or "helping" in other ways. Those involved often shared the information about what was going on with their family and friends. A German friend once told me: "When it comes to the history of the final solution my country is not 'normal' and sometimes we, the perpetrators and their descendants, have to be protected from thinking that it is."
"This debate comes at the same time that another film about the making of Nazi films is in the theatres. A Film Unfinished, by Yael Hersonski, addresses the German plan to make a film about the Warsaw ghetto and the "good life" Jews enjoyed there. Hersonski juxtaposes the raw film footage with diary entries that Adam Czerniaków, the then head of the Jewish Council, made during filming. Czerniaków immediately grasped that the Germans intended to demonstrate Hitler had provided the Jews with wonderful conditions in which to live: if Jews were suffering inside the ghetto walls it was because wealthy Jews refused to care for them. For some unknown reason the film was never completed.
"There are repeated takes of "wealthy" Jews ignoring the beggars in front of them and feasting while others starve.. There are also repeated takes of Jews being forced to run helter-skelter down a street while being beaten by Jewish policemen. Hersonski reminds us that the camera and the filmmaker are never neutral. This is the case irrespective of whether the film is a documentary or feature.
"Since the original Jud Süss and reams of Holocaust denial are easily available on the internet, the German censorship laws are, in essence, more symbolic than real. Yet, given the growing prevalence of Holocaust denial, they may be symbols that should not just yet take their rightful place in the bin".