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Film / Genocide (1981)

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"Small wonder then, that the 9.5 million Jews who still lived in Europe at the end of the First World War looked forward with great hope to the new world, the world of Democratic Europe, the world President Wilson promised would be made safe for democracy."

Genocide is a 1981 film directed by Arnold Schwartzman.

It is a documentary about The Holocaust. Taking a straightforward narrative approach, the film starts by telling of the art, culture, and history of the Jewish community in Europe. Antisemitism in Europe is mentioned, grounding the Holocaust in prejudice against Jews dating back centuries. Then the film turns to the rise of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler's violent persecution of German Jewry. After the outbreak of World War II and the Nazi conquest of most of Europe, Hitler's program turns from the oppression of the Jews to their physical extermination by organized mass murder.

Elmer Bernstein composed the music. Orson Welles and Elizabeth Taylor provide narration.


  • Art Shift: An animated sequence illustrates a poem, read by Elizabeth Taylor, of a person seeing a butterfly in the ghetto.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The opening narration is the Cain and Abel passage from the Book of Genesis, specifically the story of Cain and Abel, with Cain saying "Am I my brother's keeper?"
  • Book Burning: Stock footage of a Nazi book-burning rally.
  • Call-Back: The allusion to Cain and "Am I my brother's keeper" mentioned in the opening narration is recalled at the end when Simon Wiesenthal writes "I am my brother's keeper" on a piece of paper and puts it in the Wailing Wall.
  • Large Ham: Elizabeth Taylor is very hammy when reading eyewitness testimony. It contrasts with the dry, straightforward narration delivered by Orson Welles.
  • Propaganda Machine: The entire antisemitic Nazi propaganda machine, with many disturbing examples, like the children's board game where the goal was to kick six Jews out of town.
  • Shout-Out: A clip from Orson Welles's The War of the Worlds ("October, 1938. The war scare was over...") is used to introduce Kristallnacht. Welles, of course, was a narrator of this film.
  • Spinning Paper: A Spinning Paper reports when it stops spinning on the attack on Pearl Harbor and American entrance into the war.
  • Split Screen: Used many times in the film, like the sequence discussing Kristallnacht that shows multiple clips of the 1938 pogrom that involved anti-Jewish violence and destruction throughout Germany.
  • Staggered Zoom:
    • Onto a still photo of a large Jewish wedding party, ending with a tight closeup of the bride and groom. This is the segue to Kristallanacht, emphasizing how Jewish life in Germany changed forever after that.
    • Later there's a tight closeup on a single photograph, and then a staggered zoom out showing it's on top of a pile of photographs, symbolizing the human toll of the Holocaust.
  • Stock Footage: The entire movie, minus the intro and outro with Simon Wiesenthal, as there are no other Talking Heads and no other original footage. Beyond newsreel footage there are also clips from Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda films Triumph of the Will and Olympia.
  • Talking Heads: Simon Wiesenthal is shown in the opening scene outside a preserved concentration camp, saying that the Holocaust happened and he was a witness, and at the end paying respects at the Wailing Wall. Other than that Talking Heads are eschewed, as the entire rest of the movie is stock footage.
  • Voiceover Letter:
    • Elizabeth Taylor reads a letter from a woman describing a slaughter in her town.
    • Later Taylor, whose part of the narration consists of reading various eyewitness testimony, narrates a letter from Mordecai Anielewicz, commander of the Jews who rose in revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto.