‘The Last Days’ screening at SMC
Approximately six million Jews were killed during World War II. Adolf Hitler’s ‘Final Solution,’ was a program executed by the Nazi party to systematically persecute and murder Jews because they were seen as inferior to the Aryan race.
In honor of the victims, SMC participated in the annual Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day, which paid tribute to the people who died in the Holocaust. On April 19, through the sponsorship of the Communications Department, film studies professor, Josh Karin presented the documentary entitled ‘The Last Days.’
Directed by James Moll, and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, ‘The Last Days’ won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1999
The documentary was produced by the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which was established by Spielberg in 1994. The original aim of the foundation was to film survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, in order to capture their stories and their accounts for future generations. According to the foundation’s website, they conducted 52,000 interviews between 1994-1999.
Carried out in several stages by the Nazis, the genocide included not just Jews, but other groups such as homosexuals, disabled people, Romanians, Slavic people, Polish and any political or religious opponents to the party’s ideals. As a result, the total number of Holocaust victims fell between 11 and 17 million people.
“We attempt to fight against ignorance with education, and against disbelief with proof,“ said Kanin, before the screening of the documentary.
The documentary followed the story of five Hungarian Jews, and their fight for survival during the Holocaust. A detailed account, which shows every stage of their lives – the story starts before the Holocaust, moves to their persecution and deportation, to their lives during the war, and finally surviving.
“You were a hunted animal 24 hours every day,“ said Tom Lantos, one of the survivors in the film. Lantos was a democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from 1981, until his death in 2008, and was the only Holocaust survivor to have served in the United States Congress.
According to the film, a total of 450,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in World War II, which was around 70% of the total Jewish population in Hungary at the time.
The documentary left a profound emotional impact on the audience, and when Kanin asked how the film made people feel, the auditorium responded with words like ‘horrified’ and ‘heartbroken.’
English department professor, Carol Davis co-hosted the post-screening discussion with Kanin.
“It is a truism that if one does not study history, it will reoccur, but the study of history is crucial. As survivors die out, the link to the Holocaust through first-hand stories disappears.“ explained Davis.
Davis taught courses in Holocaust literature at St. Petersburg Jewish University in Russia, and worked with the Holocaust center in Moskow on developing Holocaust curriculum for Russian schools.
“I think that Holocaust education has changed quite a bit for the better since I was a child,“ said Davis. “One of the good things in American education, is how many schools have come to incorporate Holocaust curriculum from very young grades, in ways that are appropriate for different age groups.“
Kanin explained that the Holocaust Remembrance Day is a fairly new holiday in the Jewish calendar. There are no set rules or rituals, but the day is usually filled with candle lighting, speakers, poems, prayers and singing.
“Most educators, including myself, agree that the Holocaust provides one of the most extensive documented subjects for pedagogical examination of basic human issues,“ said Kanin. “The Holocaust study assists us in developing an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping in any society.“