‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ connects a complex history to the present | CNN


Adding to Ken Burns’ legacy of groundbreaking historical fare for PBS, “The US and the Holocaust” is documentary filmmaking with a purpose, a three-night production that taps directly into the undercurrents of American society. That affected decades of long periods of white supremacy. and anti-Semitism. It is interesting as history, but serious as current events.

Directed by Burns and frequent collaborators Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, the six-plus hours intertwine American isolationism and xenophobia with brutality. EuropeWith historians detailing—to borrow a well-worn phrase—what Americans knew, and when they knew it, regarding Nazi atrocities.

Philanthropic concerns were certainly an issue for President Franklin Roosevelt. Yet they took a back seat to first England’s tacit support against Hitler and later America’s entry into the war.

Understanding America’s role during the Holocaust requires going back earlier, considering the anti-immigrant sentiment that ran rampant in the 1920s, auto magnate Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism and interest in eugenics and racial superiority. As historian Timothy Snyder notes, Hitler admired the brutality with which Native Americans were taken over their lands, seeing it as “the workings of racial superiority.”

Divided into three chapters, the first covers the pre-war period, the second 1938-42 and the third covers the end of the war and its aftermath.

American sympathy for the Jews only went so far. After the violence of Kristallnacht in 1938, it became clear that there was little hope for those who remained. GermanyCongress still rejected proposals to admit more refugees, including a call to take 10,000 children each year.

At the same time, the filmmakers tell the stories of individual Americans and government officials who tried to help Jews escape Nazi persecution, saving thousands of lives.

As is customary with Burns productions (again written by Geoffrey Ward and narrated by Peter Coyote), cleverly produced clips – such as Charles Lindbergh giving a speech in his support. America First Agendaor footage from German concentration camps – augmented by top actors speaking for key historical figures, with Liam Neeson, Paul Giamatti, Meryl Streep, and German filmmaker Werner Herzog among those lending their voices to the effort. Included.

What it really comes down to, ultimately, is how complex history is—a mix of bravery and ruthlessness, fear and hope—and the need to tell these stories, warts and all, at a time when the way American history is taught is changing. There is too much. topic of discussion.

“Even though the Holocaust physically took place in Europe, it’s a story that Americans have to reckon with,” says historian Rebecca Erbilding.

The filmmakers included footage from 2017 to drive home the message powerfully Unite the Right Rally. in Charlottesville, as well as the January 6 uprising, and a photo of a participant who “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt.

Addressing such modern examples, historian Neil Irwin Painter describes a series of white supremacy and anti-Semitism that has run through American history. “It’s a big chain, and it’s always there,” she says. “Sometimes it bubbles up, and it shocks us, and it gets slapped. But the stream is always there.”

Few have done more to make such history commercially viable than Burns, whose extensive contributions to public television — including the more focused projects recently dedicated — have done. Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway And Muhammad Ali – has continued with surprising regularity since “Civil War” in 1990.

Although such an influence is absurd in this day and age, perhaps most importantly, “America and the Holocaust” (which will be accompanied by an outreach program for students) emphasizes the importance of chronicling history in all its complexity and filth. clarifies. As Snyder said, “We have to have a view of our history that allows us to see what we were.”

“America and the Holocaust” will air on September 18, 20 and 21 at 8pm ET on most PBS stations.

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