Behind the Headlines ‘holocaust’ Series Fails, to Make Major Impact on Italian Viewers

The NBC-TV production of “Holocaust, ” watered down, as some observers have charged from four to eight installments over a five-week period, has finally completed its rather weary Italian cycle. Reactions of the media and public opinion have been consistant throughout and afterwards: a reluctant acknowledgement of the didactic value for the uninformed combined with harsh criticism of the contrived “Hollywood style” plot used to tell the story; the superficiality of historic treatment; and an underplaying or “rose-colored” portrayal of the true horrors of reality, which all agreed, far surpassed the possibilities of fictional imagination.

TV documentaries and debates were broadcast in which Italian Jewish survivors testified to their experiences, at times shocking viewers far more than the serial itself. They agreed; however, that the “Hollywood” version had the virtue of containing violence within the tolerance threshold of the average viewer who might otherwise have switched channels.

The viewing-audience, though exceptionally large, did not reach the high percentage that saw the program in West Germany. Critics gave two reasons. First, many Italians lived through these experiences first hand as victims, and vicarious identification was too painful. The second reason was well stated by the Rome daily 11 Messaggero:

“Since the end of the war, 99 documentaries on Nazism were shown on German TV and no one imagined the hundredth one would have polarized the attention of the entire country. During the four evenings dedicated to ‘Holocaust’ the streets of the cities were deserted. The fact that (in Italy) our streets are deserted only on the occasion of a national soccer match (might be explained in that)…Italian anti-Semitism was confined to only a fanatic minority. The masses do not feel indirect guilt nor involvement in the horrors of Nazi (crimes) ‘Holocaust’ did not touch them as elsewhere.”

ANTI-SEMITISM DEBATED

Newspapers published various accounts on the many instances when the Italian government intervened, even under Fascism, to protect and save Jewish lives. But a running debate on anti-Semitism, past and present, has also been a news constant during the showing of the TV series.

A result of all this is that the freshly sensitized Italian awareness of Nazi crimes has perhaps added a context of deeper understanding to the words recently spoken by Pope John Paul II in behalf of Jewish victims at Auschwitz and has aroused public opinion to a stronger stand in favor of the abolition of the statute of limitations on war crimes in Germany. The Union of Italian Jewish Communities has, incidentally, requested the Italian government to send an observer to the West German Parliament for the coming debate on this matter.

Another unfortunate result, which seems to follow the psychological patterns of other countries, is that there has been a marked increase in neo-Nazi graffiti by an active if small minority. Finally, a series of movies on Nazi and pre-war Nazi Germany is expected by Italian movie makers who feel they can “do better” than the American TV producers.

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