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TV And The Holocaust


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.

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