HOLOCAUST, THE


HOLOCAUST, THE, NBC television film The Holocaust, by Gerald Green, first shown in United States in April 1978. It became a focal point for discussion and aroused considerable controversy. Appearing just one year after the mini-series Roots, it marked the expansion of Holocaust consciousness into diverse segments of the population. Unexpectedly, the viewing audience was vast. So enrapt was the audience in New York City that when commercials came on the water pressure in the city dropped. Among those critical of the film was Elie *Wiesel, who referred to it, inter alia, as "untrue, cheap, offensive, soap opera and trivializing." On the other hand, Rabbi Irving *Greenberg, one of the most distinguished scholars of the Holocaust in America, called it "a breakthrough." He wrote:

Ten of millions will see with their own eyes and experience in their own homes a shadow of the incredible and unprecedented total assault on Jews and humanity. It is a challenge to our consciences and to our teaching and learning ability that we study along with it, in order to deepen our understanding of the incomprehensible.

In retrospect, both Wiesel and Greenberg were correct. The mini-series, which has not stood the test of time as a work of art, did have major impact, expanding interest in the Holocaust, moving it beyond the boundaries of an area of concernto Jews alone, triggering interest in Holocaust survivors and in the telling of their stories, sparking the creation of Holocaust memorials and museums and making the Holocaust a focal point of discussion. It also increased interest in the Holocaust on college campuses and in the teaching of and research on the Holocaust.

The decision to show the film in Germany (January 1979) met with violent opposition, and extreme neo-Nazi groups threatened to attack the television stations from which it was telecast, and there were bomb blasts at two regional transmitters during its showing. It nevertheless had a profound effect. It was estimated that no less than 60% of the population viewed it and that it had an effect on the vote in the Bundestag regarding the cancellation of the statute of limitations for those charged with Nazi atrocities. A cruel joke told in Germany at the time is indicative of its effect: "It had more impact than the original." In 1981 the Germans decided to rescreen The Holocaust the following year.

The film has been shown in numerous countries throughout the world, including Israel, England, France, Belgium, Denmark, Brazil, Austria, Australia, and Japan.

Most importantly, it demonstrated that there was a vast, international audience for portrayals of the Holocaust in the popular media. This enabled other television shows and movie broadcasts to be shown. It is no exaggeration to say that the mini-series of the Holocaust, problematic as it may have been, was a turning point in Holocaust consciousness in the last quarter of the 20th century. Much of what has been achieved can be attributed directly or indirectly to the doors opened by this successful television series.

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.