web analytics
March 6, 2015 / 15 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Monitor »

TV And The Holocaust


Media-Monitor-logo

Television has long been the nation’s predominant shaper of public opinion, the supreme arbiter of tastes and trends, the ultimate barometer of what’s popular and what’s not.

And if the effects of television have been negative far more often than positive, there is still something to be said for a medium that has educated Americans about other cultures; acquainted them with previously unfamiliar ethnic groups and religious beliefs; and made them a far more tolerant and open-minded people than they were just forty or fifty years ago.

In his compelling book While America Watches: Television and the Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 1999), Jeffrey Shandler demonstrates how television over the years brought Holocaust awareness into tens of millions of homes and, presumably, even larger numbers of hearts and minds.

Shandler argues that “Since its earliest years, television has played a formative role in establishing the Holocaust as a recognizable event for American audiences.”

That of course contradicts the popular perception that the Holocaust received short shrift in the mainstream popular culture of the late 1940’s and 1950’s. But Shandler makes the case that early “efforts were…made to present this then-unnamed subject to the general American public” via “several dozen documentaries, news reports, dramas, and other kinds of programming aired on television.”

Shandler acknowledges that in the years immediately following the war, the Nazis’ systematic assault on Jews was not yet understood as a singularly distinct historical phenomenon.

In the first television presentations on the subject of wartime atrocities, writes Shandler, “Jews were not singled out as the quintessential victims of Nazi persecution, nor were Jewish responses regarded as central to the postwar understanding of this chapter of history. Moreover, the Holocaust had not yet been distinguished as an event of ultimate or paradigmatic stature, against which other moral issues might be measured.”

So there was, to be sure, an evolution of sorts in how the subject was presented, as the tendency early on was lump the all-out effort to annihilate European Jewry together with Nazi atrocities against other civilian populations.

That tendency, hardly unique to television, was corrected rather quickly: By the mid-1950’s the uniqueness of the Nazis’ anti-Jewish racial obsession was regularly at the forefront of Holocaust-related programming, particularly in the ubiquitous made-for-TV plays of the time.

Some of the earliest Holocaust-related programs centered on the ordeal of displaced persons, a subject that was discussed rather frequently on locally produced public-affairs and news shows between 1948 and 1952. (Shandler singles out New York independent station WPIX – Channel 11 – for its extensive coverage of the issue.)

One of the first nationally broadcast series to feature a real-life Jewish survivor was NBC’s immensely popular “This Is Your Life,” which on May 27, 1953 featured the story of Hanna Bloch Kohner, who as a young woman had been incarcerated in several concentration camps and was now the wife of a Hollywood talent agent.

Drama anthologies and original plays were an important part of 1950’s-era television, and towering talents like Paddy Chayefsky and Reginald Rose were not averse to using the Holocaust as backdrop or theme on programs like “Philco Television Playhouse,” “The U.S. Steel Hour” and “Playhouse 90.”

A television pioneer meriting special mention is Rod Serling, the celebrated 1950’s TV playwright who went on to create the groundbreaking 1960’s series “The Twilight Zone.” A Jew who was ambivalent about his Jewishness until the day he died, Serling nevertheless authored some memorable Holocaust-inspired stories for television, among them a 1960 dramatization of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising entitled “In the Presence of Mine Enemies.”

Serling also penned several “Twilight Zone” episodes that took the Holocaust as its theme, including 1963’s “He’s Alive” – the “he” being Hitler, or Hitler’s spirit, which Serling, in his closing narration, cast in universalistic terms:

Where will he go next, this phantom from another time…? …Anyplace – every place – where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive…so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked…. He’s alive because, through these things, we keep him alive.

Shandler points to two television events as “major watersheds” in the history of television’s treatment of the Holocaust: the Eichmann trial in 1961 and the miniseries “Holocaust” in 1978.

Not that the intervening period was exactly a wasteland; quite the contrary, writes Shandler: “The seventeen years between these two events produced no single broadcast to rival their impact, but from 1961 to 1978 the Holocaust appeared with increasing frequency on American television in documentaries, dramas, even science fiction and comedy programs.

“These telecasts played a crucial role in establishing the Holocaust as a regular presence in American public culture. In particular, the occasional appearance of the Holocaust on episodic programs – dramatic series about lawyers, detectives, newspaper reporters, or space travelers – helped establish this subject in the nation’s popular repertoire of moral concerns.”

The trial in Israel of Adolf Eichmann in the spring and summer of 1961 was filmed, thanks to an exclusive arrangement with the Israeli government, by Capital Cities Broadcasting Corp. (at the time a small New York-based operation which later would become a media powerhouse and the parent company of ABC).

Day-old footage of the trial was made available to the American television networks and their local affiliates (in those relatively primitive, pre-satellite days of international telecommunications, videotapes of the courtroom proceedings had to be transported by plane), although how much of the footage actually aired varied widely from station to station.

As Shandler describes it, “All three national commercial networks featured reports on the case in their nightly prime-time news programs over the course of the proceedings, and all three presented a variety of special programs dealing with the trial near the time of its opening and closing.

“Of the three networks, ABC offered the most extensive regular coverage, broadcasting weekly one-hour summaries nationally and presenting nightly half-hour highlights of the previous day’s proceedings to viewers of its flagship station, WABC (Channel 7) in New York City… ‘Daily videotapes’ were also presented in New York on WNTA (Channel 13), which advertised ‘the most complete coverage’ of the Eichmann trial.”

More than a decade and a half later – by which time Americans had seen a number of Holocaust-related themes on programs ranging from “Star Trek” to “All in the Family” to “Lou Grant” – NBC presented “Holocaust: The Story of the Family Weiss,” a nine-and-a-half hour miniseries broadcast over four consecutive nights in April 1978. Domestic viewership exceeded 120 million for a television event that to some observers marked the height of Holocaust consciousness in America.

(For all its commercial success and generally favorable press notices, “Holocaust” came in for heated criticism as well, with Elie Wiesel reflecting a widespread view when he complained in The New York Times that the miniseries transformed “an ontological event into soap opera.”)

As Shandler illustrates in the book’s final chapters, television’s fascination with the Holocaust only grew stronger after 1978.

Such by-now familiar titles as “Playing for Time,” “Skokie, “ “Return to Poland,” “The Wall,” “The Winds of War,” “Shoah,” “War and Remembrance,” “Miss Rose White, “ and “Liberators” (Shandler includes a detailed account of the controversy surrounding the latter documentary) form just a partial list of Holocaust-related material televised in the century’s closing decades.

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “TV And The Holocaust”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, calling for rejection of a bad nuclear deal with Iran, on March 03, 2015.
Post-Bibi Bipartisanship May Result in Congressional Ability to Review Iran Deal
Latest Indepth Stories
Ron Prosor

Values at the very heart of the UN are threatened by extremist ideologies targeting our way of life

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Anti-Semitism today focuses on Israel and the quest to delegitimize it.

Ballots for elections "made in Samaria."

Any Jew who ties his fate to Israel should be able to vote in Israel’s elections-even before aliyah

A young Moshe Meir Weiss introduces his mother, Mrs. Agnes Weiss Goldman, to Rav Moshe in 1979.

There were no airs about him. Rav Moshe was affectionately known as the Gaon of Normalcy.

Israel’s full sovereignty over a united Jerusalem is the only path for true peace in the region.

Just like Moses and Aaron, Mordechai decides to ruin the party…

The president has made clear – I can’t state this more firmly – the policy is Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.

Obama has an apparent inability to understand Islam in particular and Mid-East culture in general

Pesach is a Torah-based holiday whose fundamental observances are rooted in Torah law; Purim is a rabbinic holiday whose laws and customs are grounded in the rabbinic tradition.

In honor of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s successful speech before Congress.

Mr. Spock conveys a message with painfully stark relevance to our world today, especially in the context of PM Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

Obama created the “partisan politics” by asking Dem. party members to avoid Bibi and his address

Enough is enough. The Jewish community has a big tent, but the NIF should have no place in it.

I vote for the right and get left-wing policy. Every. Frigging. Time.

More Articles from Jason Maoz
Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, both outspokenly critical of Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Congress, were wowed by him in 2011.

Note also the response to the speech by the top Democrats in the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, both of whom have been outspoken in their criticism of Netanyahu’s upcoming visit.

Comptroller DiNapoli celebrates Sukkot with Crown Heights Jewish community leaders at the sukkah of Rabbi Chanina Sperlin of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council.

The New York State comptroller manages the state’s $180.7 billion pension fund, audits the spending practices of all state agencies and local governments, oversees the New York State and Local Retirement System, reviews the New York State and City budgets, and approves billions in State contracts and spending.

While not all criticism of Israel stemmed from anti-Semitism, Podhoretz contends the level of animosity towards Israel rises exponentially the farther left one moved along the spectrum.

When you grow up in a home where your parents went through what my parents went through, you realize that life has to be meaningful. You have to be there for other people.

“It’s a lousy column and a dishonest one,” Halberstam wrote. “So close it. Or you will end up just as shabby as Safire.”

Wye would be seen to have set the groundwork for the creation of a Palestinian state

These are not necessarily the best all-around biographies or studies of the individual presidents listed (though some rank right up there), but the strongest in terms of exploring presidential attitudes and policies toward Israel.

The Clintonan “engagement” liberals remember with such fondness did nothing but embolden Arafat and Hamas and Hizbullah as they witnessed Israel’s only real ally elevate process ahead of policy.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/tv-and-the-holocaust/2007/10/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: