Oscars for Holocaust films, but Israeli movie loses

LOS ANGELES (JTA) – A Holocaust-related short and Kate Winslet playing a former Nazi won Academy Awards, but an Israeli film again came up short.

"Toyland," a 14-minute German film that was four years in the making, won the Oscar for best live-action short in ceremonies held here Sunday. Set in a small German town in the winter of 1942, the film follows the friendship between two 6-year-old boys, the Aryan Heinrich and the Jewish David Silberstein.

When the Silberstein family is about to be deported, Heinrich asks his mother where his friend is going. She tells him that David is taking a trip to Toyland. An intrigued Heinrich sneaks along for the ride when the town’s Jews are packed onto a train.

"Well, it was a drama, but it was a story I really wanted to tell — a film about ignorance, truth and the history of my country," director and producer Jochen Alexander Freydank told Moving Pictures magazine. "Shooting this film was one of the most rewarding experiences in my film life.

"Growing up behind the Berlin Wall, I always dreamt about making films. But I never, ever thought that a film of mine might be nominated for an Oscar one day. It still feels a bit unreal, I must say. But makes me very, very happy."

Winslet won for her role in "The Reader," in which she plays an illiterate former SS concentration camp guard whose teenage lover is unaware of her Nazi past. Some observers have panned the film for trivializing the Holocaust.

"Essentially it takes a woman who serves in, is responsible for, is complicit in, you pick the words, in the deaths of at least 300 Jews — and her big secret shame is that she’s illiterate," Mark Weitzman, head of New York’s Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The New York Post.

"Waltz With Bashir," Israel’s hopes for its first Oscar, failed to win for best foreign film. It was the eighth time that an Israeli film was nominated for an Academy Award but did not win.

Ari Folman’s animated masterpiece, a psycho-historical investigation into one man’s inability to remember what he did during the 1982 Lebanon War, won this year’s Golden Globe for best foreign film, and critics and audiences in Israel and around the world have embraced the film.

Sean Penn, the son of Jewish director Leo Penn, whose own parents arrived as immigrants from Lithuania and Russia, won the Oscar as best actor portraying a gay Jewish politician in "Milk." Veteran comedian Jerry Lewis received the Jean Hershholt Humanitarian Award, recognizing his philanthropic efforts to aid muscular dystrophy victims.

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