Ed Koch on "Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Sűss

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

[Ed Koch was mayor of NYC from 1978 to 1989. He's credited with restoring fiscal stability to the city and creating affordable housing. He's also a film buff.]

Before seeing Harlan: In the Shadow of 'Jew Sűss', I had never heard of Veit Harlan, who directed the 1940 movie Jew Sűss. While I don't know for certain, I assume he was responsible for the script in that film which the New York Times' Manohla Dargis described in her review of this picture as "one of the Nazis' most notorious anti-Semitic works." Dargis also stated in her review that when Harlan's film was shown at the 1940 Venice Film Festival, it was "excitedly received.

No surprise when you recall that the United States and most countries in Europe at the time were grossly anti-Semitic. No one rushed in to save the Jews from the assaults by Nazis and fascists which culminated in the Final Solution: death camps. Anti-Semitic acts and violence against Jews were committed not only by the people of Germany and Italy but also those throughout Eastern Europe in Poland, Hungary and even in the Soviet Union as they had in Czarist Russia....

I went to see this film, hoping for historical reasons that it would include more footage of Jew Sűss. Although that movie was used primarily as the vehicle for Harlan's descendants to defend him in this documentary, only a few snippets of the actual movie were displayed. One exception in terms of his family's defense was his oldest son who appeared to recognize his father's contribution to the deaths of so many Jews: six million is the number, not mentioned. In any event, I suggest that the comments of Harlan's family today on a 70-year-old movie do not make a film for today.

Former New York City Councilmember Henry Stern said: "The movie consisted mostly of interviews with Harlan's descendants as to how their lives had been affected by their ancestor's fame and subsequent notoriety. Predictably, their reactions varied, with Veit Harlan's son making films to atone for his father's propaganda movies shot for Goebbels. The film would have been stronger if it had more of Jew Sűss in it, although then it might have been illegal to show it in Germany, the country where it is likely to attract the most interest. Holocaust movies remind us of the horror of the events, and the roles that ordinary people played in it. The film is not a great contribution to its genre, but it is fortunate that it was made, so that the cinematic aspect of the monstrous crimes committed by Germany under Hitler is explored."

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