The Holocaust in Israeli Films

Shadow cinema.

Reprinted with permission of the author from an essay that first appeared in Independent Jewish Film: A Resource Guide (The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival).

Holocaust representations in Israeli cinema appear primarily in the period right after World War II and again after 1978, marked by the production of Wooden Gun (Ilan Moshenson, 1978). The "new wave" Holocaust related cinema consists of a small number of feature films such as Hide and Seek (Dan Wollman, 1980), Tel Aviv-Berlin (Tzipi Trope, 1986), Because of That War (Orna Ben-Dor Niv, 1988), The Summer of Aviya (Eli Cohen,1988), and New Land (Orna Ben-Dor Niv, 1994).

Early Holocaust Films

Post-World War II films show the Holocaust survivor arriving in Jewish Palestine as a candidate to join the ranks of the pioneers.

In these films the mentally broken survivor becomes fit for pioneer settlement by means of group training in an established kibbutz [communal settlement] that concludes with an initiation rite. In both My Father’s House (Herbert Kline,1947) and The Great Promise (Joseph Leits, 1947), Holocaust survivors undergo personality regression; resurrected from the ashes they are reborn identifying with the Zionist project in Palestine.

This short-term therapy reflects the Zionist leadership’s perception of survivors as the last human reservoir for pioneer settlements, and for the Israeli armed forces in the 1948 War of Independence. For example, Out of Evil opens and ends with a sequence in which the narrator, a Holocaust survivor, stands in a fortified position overlooking Jerusalem under siege in 1948, aiming his rifle at the Arab enemy.

Out of Evil suggests that unlike the Holocaust victims, we the New Jews will not be going like lambs to the slaughter. Becoming a fighter has always been considered by Zionist ideology as the necessary corrective for the endemic reluctance of Diaspora Jews to take up arms, even for self-defense.

New Jew/Old Jew

The metamorphosis of the Diaspora Jew to the New Jew has been a major objective of Zionism ever since its inception. It was claimed that the New Jew would supersede the Diaspora Jew of Eastern and Central Europe. The now-notorious coinage shelilat ha-gola, literally meaning "negation of the Diaspora," expresses this Zionist attitude. The destruction of the European Jews by the Nazis may have accelerated the accomplishment of the Zionist program in Palestine, but at the same time it meant the disappearance of Zionism’s principal human reservoir.

Thus, as a result of the Holocaust, converting Diaspora Jews in Europe to the New Jew in Palestine practically ceases. In 1943 David Ben-Gurion [the first Israeli prime minister] stated that the Jewish question in Europe will be resolved in one of two ways: "Either Hitler or Palestine. And the most horrifying and tragic meaning of this dilemma is that maybe Hitler will solve the problem…" (Weitz: 103).

When the European Jews were destroyed, transformed to ashes and not converted to the New Jew, conceptually speaking, half of this Zionist scheme was accomplished by the Nazis–the Old Jew ceased to exist. The tragic entanglement of Zionism with Nazism, on the conceptual level, has unremittingly blemished the relation between the children of Zionist Utopia and the memory of the Holocaust. Guilt and its social manifestations in relation to the Holocaust occupy the 1980s Shadow Cinema.

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