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Hunting Nazis: the new Holocaust film

by Danielle Berrin

June 1, 2009 | 1:55 pm

A new spate of Holocaust films are finally letting Jews have their revenge.

This comes after decades of Hollywood’s preferred Holocaust, in which Jews diligently parade to their deaths and evil Nazis escape to Canada. But lately, a handful of filmmakers are imagining a new ending. And this time, it’s the Nazis who are in danger.

In Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,” Brad Pitt and his cadre of Jewish-American commandos are tasked with a Nazi killing spree.

The only problem is, with the world so accustomed to Jewish victimhood, no one’s sure how to receive this new fantasy.

Some critics are praising the film for being subversive. Others condemn it for rewriting history. Patrick Goldstein from the L.A. Times quoted one of the film’s stars, actor/director Eli Roth, who called the film “kosher porn”.

“It’s almost a deep sexual satisfaction of wanting to beat Nazis to death, an orgasmic feeling,” Roth explained to Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. For his part, Goldberg criticized the film for its excessive brutality and wrote that torturing Nazis “doesn’t sound like the Jewish thing to do.”  Daniel Mendelsohn, who wrote the formidable tome, “The Lost” about his relatives who perished in the Holocaust, argued in Time that the film’s masterful accomplishment (or horrifying failure, depending on your outlook) is that it turns Jews into Nazis.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw named it a “WW2 shlocker...[that] is achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious.”

Next up is “This Must Be the Place,” written by an Italian duo that puts Sean Penn on the prowl for his father’s Nazi-killer. Penn will play an aging musician who trades in retirement for first-degree murder. (Apparently, Penn is exploring his Jewish side—he won an Oscar last February for playing the Jewish activist Harvey Milk and recently found himself lip-locked with Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman, who denied their fling.)

Whether or not these ideas gain further momentum remains to be seen. Rewriting history is no small feat. But the idea of a retroactive Jewish fantasy in which Nazis pay for their crimes is certainly welcome entertainment. After all, Hollywood itself was created by Jews who wanted to escape their pasts and live a better future.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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