Showing of Nazi Propaganda Film Splits Jews and Censorship Parley Organizers
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Showing of Nazi Propaganda Film Splits Jews and Censorship Parley Organizers

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A public dispute has erupted between the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the organizers of a conference on censorship over the withdrawal of a Nazi propaganda film from the conference.

The conference was scheduled to present the viciously anti-Semitic film, “The Jew Suss,” but canceled the showing after the German holder of rights to the film withdrew permission.

The conference organizers, the Anti-Censorship Action Group and a left-wing weekly newspaper, The Weekly Mail, included three Jews — editor Anton Harber and journalists Pat Sidley and Stephen Laufer — who met with the board on the issue.

Laufer was scheduled to present the film in its historical context at the conference, which was funded by the German Foreign Ministry and the German F.W. Murnau Foundation, holder of the rights to the film.

The foundation has laid down strict rules for showing the film, which is banned in Germany and screened in rare instances for purposes of scholarly study only.

Outside Germany, the foundation guidelines call for closed screening to preselected audiences. Tickets must not be sold directly to the public and the screening must be preceded by a lecture on the film and followed by comment and debate.

Ivan Levy, a member of the Board of Deputies and a campaigner against anti-Semitism in his position as deputy president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the board would not have objected to the screening had the organizers complied with the stipulations of the foundation.


Levy stated that the terms under which the organizers were entitled to screen the film had been breached since the showing had been widely advertised and tickets were being sold to the general public without restriction.

“One does not object to freedom of speech insofar as it propagates the truth — our objection is to anything that disseminates lies,” Levy said.

Immediately after being approached by the Board of Deputies, the Murnau Foundation withdrew its permission to screen the film, saying the organizers had not complied with the conditions for screening.

Seymour Kopelowitz, national director of the board, said: “It is absurd to suggest that the board was attempting to censure the debate itself. The board asked no more or no less than that all the screening conditions be observed.”

Sidley, a conference organizer, said the film was chosen because it would encourage debate, “but we were shut up before it could take place. We believe passionately in no censorship.”

The conference said it had followed the screening conditions laid down by the foundation.

The film itself is a distortion of an anti-fascist book by the Jewish author Leon Feuchtwangler. It was directed in 1940 by Veit Harlan, who later stood trial on charges of spreading Nazi propaganda but was acquitted. It has been referred to as “the most notorious film of the Third Reich,” portraying the Jew as a rapist and extortionist and promoting genocide.

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