Jewish Praise for Inglourious Basterds

by Kevin Jon Heller

Eight Oscar nominations and accolades at the Museum of Tolerance — not a bad week for Mr. Tarantino:

Last night at a special community screening at The Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, internationally renowned rabbi Marvin Hier addressed the film’s growing cultural significance among a panel that included Tarantino, ‘Basterds’ producer Lawrence Bender, actor Eli Roth and media entrepreneur Dan Adler, who organized the evening in honor of his recently deceased father Mayer Michael Adler, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“Let me explain why I think it was a great idea to sponsor this film,” Hier said, addressing concerns from Holocaust survivors who were troubled by some of the film’s subject matter. “Not every film on the second World War has to be about the Holocaust.”

No one would argue that “Inglourious Basterds” is a traditional Holocaust movie, but it does presume a sophisticated knowledge of the Holocaust in order to grasp its emotional impact. Hier, who is an Oscar-winning filmmaker himself, said that historical accuracy is not a necessity in harnessing the power of cinematic fantasy. “This [film] has a certain release factor,” he said. “If only we would have been privileged to see the Nazis defeated early on; imagine that they were all gathered in a theater and we didn’t have to roll the clock until 1945 to find out that 6 million Jews plus millions of other individuals were killed by an insane man named Adolf Hitler.”

For many Jews, including Hier, the fact that ‘Basterds’ permits not only historical revisionism but also deep seeded Jewish revenge is psychologically satisfying. “I find it to be quite exciting,” Hier said. “The plot I thought was quite ingenious.” Though he did point out that there were, historically, several failed attempts on Hitler’s life, so the idea of an assassination mission is not implausible. Hier also spoke of Pinchas Rosenbaum, the son of a rabbi whose family was killed in Auschwitz and who successfully infiltrated the SS to avenge them.

I know this is not a uniform reaction — many Jews, particularly here in Melbourne, thought that the film made light of Hitler and the Holocaust.  Readers are no doubt aware that I rarely like Holocaust movies.  But I loved Inglourious Basterds, for the same reasons as Rabbi Hier.

I’m just starting to write the “Aftermath” chapter of my book, which discusses the gradual erosion of the US’s commitment to the war-crimes program following the end of the NMT.  The villain in the story is John J. McCloy, the High Commissioner of Germany — who in addition to setting nearly all of the NMT convicted free by the early 1950s, was also one of the US officials who had turned down Jewish requests to bomb Auschwitz on the ground that doing so was “impracticable” and would divert necessary resources from “decisive operations elsewhere.”  Recent research indicates that, contrary to McCloy’s position, Allied bombers could have reached Auschwitz and the rail lines leading to the camp any time after June 1944 — and that an attack could have considerably slowed the killing process, saving perhaps some 400,000 Hungarian Jews.

If only McCloy and the other US officials had shown Tarantino’s creativity…

4 Responses

  1. I was surprised by it when I saw it and thought it was great.  The SS guy (do not remember his name) was an extraordinary character and I hope he wins an award.  Glass of milk? Brilliant.

  2. The main nazi character was great, especially in that opening scene… but the movie on the whole was pointless imho. I can’t imagine what jews see in it and I’m very suprised to hear them tell me “of course we liked it!” and wonder how I couldn’t feel the same way. If they want to feel this kind of vengeful glee, they can stick a picture of Hitler on a wall and throw darts at this. It’s definitely not Oscar material. It’s the usual tongue-in-cheek geek cross-referencing Tarantino has been doing way too much since Kill Bill. We get it Quentin, you spent years in a Video Club watching all the movies made since the invention of electricty…

  3. How ironic that Jews are praising the movie in which Jews torture and kill prisoners of war, and where a Nazi is the most likable character. We have certainly come a long way.

  4. Christopher Waltz did a fantastic job as Col. Landa, the kind of Character with so much charisma, it’s hard to hate him.
    I wouldn’t say that Col. Landa is the most likable Character though. 
    Melanie Laurent’s character Shosanna Dreyfus is easily my favourite.  A very understated, and well written character.

    For some, the liking of the movie (like any fantasy) helps with the vindication they never felt they got maybe?
    Doesn’t make it a bad thing, but brings about ways of coping?

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