The Holocaust, the First War in Lebanon, and Gaza Today

Last night a friend and I went to go see Waltz With Bashir, the animated Israeli film about memories of the First Lebanon War. The film was, in a word, extraordinary. It tells the story of director Ari Folman, who was outside of Sabra and Shatila while the massacres were taking place in 1982, but who has no memories of that day. As he interviews friends and others he knew in the army at that time he seeks to uncover his own memories, and the nightmares they’ve been giving him thirty years later. The animation is amazing, at times seeming very elemental and bold, and at times eerily realistic. If you have any opportunity to see this movie, please do.

Perhaps my one serious criticism of the film is its relationship with the Holocaust. At one point Ari is speaking with a friend of his who’s a psychologist. The friend suggests that a major part of the reason Ari is having so much trouble accessing his memories of the day of the massacre is because he was terrified of the refugee camps from the beginning. He was terrified of them because his parents were survivors of Auschwitz, and so to him all camps are in some way representative of Nazi concentration camps.

It’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure I buy it. There are plenty of reasons to be afraid of a camp full of members of the PLO without needing to harken back to WWII. At least according to the way it was presented in this film, these soldiers did not need any more reasons to be afraid. I don’t think we need to invoke WWII every time anyone experiences an extreme trauma. I don’t think all traumas are necessarily related.

That said, I don’t think the moment of Holocaust parallelism was gratuitous, the way it so often is (see: The Kite Runner). Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary–the conversations we see are real conversations between Ari and his friends (two friends didn’t want to have their own voices used in the movie, so their lines were dubbed over by actors) so when the Holocaust is invoked it’s done so by a real psychologist, not a screenwriter. And in a way that’s more upsetting to me. We have somehow created a culture where all trauma connects back to the trauma of WWII. Is that fair–to anyone?

When the movie was over–the ending in particular sat on my chest like a stack of bricks–my friend and I walked out of the theater talking about how little Israel seems to have learned from past conflicts. As the bombing in Gaza continues, I wonder if we’ll be watching another version of Waltz With Bashir in thirty years. Though I’d love there to be more movies as moving and sophisticated as this one, I don’t wish on my generation the internal anguish that affected Folman.

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