Laurence Jarvik // Who Shall Live And Who Shall Die?

jj8-04_09-58-52.png
Who Shall Live And Who Shall Die? – Kino Lorber Theatrical – Directed by Laurence Jarvik

This penetrating documentary about America’s knowledge of the Holocaust during the Second World War dares to ask, “Could the Jews of Europe have been saved?”

Documentary filmmaker Laurence Jarvik boldly confronts this question, exploring the actions and inaction of the Roosevelt Administration and American Jewish leaders and exposing the political tradeoffs that kept the doors closed to Jewish emigrants fleeing the Nazi regime. Requests were made to bomb Auschwitz, set up a Jewish army and construct rescue havens, yet no action was taken.

Containing previously classified information, contemporary interviews and rare newsreel footage, this film is a unique chronicle of important decisions made by the American political and Jewish establishments during World War II. “Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die? provides a much needed history lesson for all who are either too young to know, or who were never told the facts.” (Neil Barsky, Jewish Students Press Service).

Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die – Wikipedia – Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die is a 1982 documentary film that asks whether the United States could have stopped the Holocaust. The film combines previously classified information, rare newsreel footage, and interviews with the politicians who were in office at the time, to tell a behind-the-scenes story of secret motives and inane priorities that allowed for the death of millions. The Los Angeles Times called it, “a devastating political story,” [1] and the New York Times said the, “unadorned” film tells a story not to be proud of.[2]

At the height of the war, dying Hungarian Jews managed to smuggle a letter to that Allies. It read, “And you, our brothers in all free countries: and you, governments of all free lands, where are you? What are you doing to hinder the carnage that is now going on?”

Through archival footage and soundbites, the documentary simultaneously reconstructs and criticizes America’s isolationist attitude during the war. Full of righteous anger, the film scrutinizes Jewish-Americans inactivity and the government’s apathetic response to the European Jews’ cry for help.

Full of biting anger, Peter Bergson of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe believes that American Jews silenced their outcries against the Holocaust because they were afraid they wouldn’t get into their local Country Clubs. Bergson argues that if American Jewish leadership had taken a more vocal and active stance against the Nazism, lives could have been saved.

But while Bergson blames Jewish leadership, other politicians are more critical of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, which seems to have been ill-advised, consumed by other issues, and dependent upon the nation’s approval. One politician quips that the truth is President Roosevelt didn’t want to be remembered for passing the “Jew Deal.”

Regardless of Roosevelt’s motives, the Commander and Chief missed opportunities both at war and at home to save Jewish lives. One of the most devastating decisions was the nation’s refusal to change its immigration policies. The tangles of bureaucracy, deep-rooted anti-Semitism, and a fear of the economic effects seem to have caused the inflexibility. One politician recognizes that “it should have been a crisis, but there wasn’t enough passion in America to let them in.” He’s still haunted by a story of a boat full of Jewish refugees who managed to escape from Hamburg, Germany, and traveled to America, only to be refused asylum. They ventured down to Cuba, where they were again refused entrance. Left with no other option—the Jews “returned to Hamburg to burn.”

The documentary points to the fact that while the Jews were being slaughtered, America refused to fully recognize the horror, but, as soon as the war was over, the nation was ready to address the inhumanity. Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die shows clips from a disturbing American propaganda film, Death Mills, which was intended to educate the German people about the crimes of the Nazi regime. Black-and-white footage shows Nazi concentration camps after their liberation. Emaciated bodies, still alive but with no chance of survival, lie motionless on the open fields. When the crematorium door is opened, showing the skulls inside, the narrator demands, “Don’t turn away! Look!” Once the evil had been committed and nothing could be done to change the awful reality, the public was ready to be shocked and horrified.

Stuart Jeffries // The Holocaust film that was too shocking to show | Film | The Guardian – Footage from his unfinished film, however, proved key to the prosecution of camp commandants at the Nuremberg and Lüneburg trials in 1945. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch recalls testifying at Lüneburg against, among others, Bergen-Belsen commandant Josef Kramer, known as “the Beast of Belsen”. Her evidence was supported by film that contradicted the accused’s defence. “Kramer had said he didn’t have the food to feed his prisoners and that was why they were in such a state. The footage destroyed that,” says Singer. Kramer and other officers from Bergen-Belsen were hanged that year.

Bernstein’s film never got the chance to be as revered as later Holocaust documentaries, including Lanzmann’s Shoah, Resnais’s Night and Fog, and Ophüls’ The Sorrow and the Pity. As Singer explains, an incomplete version was shown at the Berlin film festival in 1984 and on PBS in the US in 1985 under the title Memory of the Camps. Only recently did a team from the Imperial War Museum complete and digitise the picture.

Into the gap left in 1945 by the suppression of Bernstein’s film came another documentary, made by the great Hollywood director and exiled Austrian Jew Billy Wilder. But Wilder’s Death Mills was a hectoring piece of propaganda, keen to indict Germans, while Bernstein and Crossman had attempted to make their film a warning to all of humanity. “Bernstein’s was a work of art by comparison,” says Singer, “mainly because of Crossman’s lyrical script.”

Certainly, German audiences didn’t enjoy Death Mills. Wilder recalls that when it was screened in Würzburg, there were 500 in the audience at the start and only 75 at the end. Whether German Concentration Camps Factual Survey would have had a similar reception is debatable. It would have been anything but easy viewing, not least when Crossman’s script indicted those who lived near Dachau concentration camp but affected ignorance of the barbarism that took place there: “Germans knew about Dachau but did not care.”

%d bloggers like this: