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The Emotional Impact of the Broadcast of "Holocaust," an American TV Miniseries, in the Federal Republic (1979)

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Anti-Semitic statements that came in through the lines were given special attention by the editorial staff. That was not always easy, since it was often the case that anti-Jewish reservations were not expressed directly, but rather in a veiled fashion. The statements were very diverse. One viewer might complain about the “pro-Jewish tendencies” of the film, or another might say that Jews had financed the film, Jews had produced the film, and Jews had made sure that the film would be broadcast in the Federal Republic in order to hurt the image of Germans throughout the world. This viewer asked, “When will the harassment finally end?” Some calls were much more explicit: “The brood of Jews should finally be forgotten.” Or: “Auschwitz existed and was necessary. . . .” There were callers who explained that Hitler and Heydrich were actually Jews. What quietly stood behind such statements was the absurd notion that the Jews themselves were responsible for their own annihilation. It was revealing that most of these calls were anonymous, that is, the callers were not willing to provide any personal information when asked. One of the statements (“All the Jews should have been killed”) was cited by the show’s moderator in the subsequent discussion. For days, people continued to call in saying that they could not believe that someone could have said something like that in 1979. It was apparent, however, that the number of statements characterized as “anti-Semitic” decreased from one segment of the mini-series to the next. Many callers had difficulty dealing with the term “Jew” at all. Callers often asked “What is a Jew?”, “Where does anti-Semitism come from?” or “Why were the Jews persecuted?”

Over the course of the four evenings on which “Holocaust” was broadcast, there were more and more voices who claimed not to have seen, heard, or known anything. Some were ashamed, blamed themselves, some cried. [ . . . ] The strong emotional feelings, the obvious emotional burden that many viewers felt, found an outlet in the
calls [ . . . ].

It was astounding that a large part of the “Holocaust” viewing audience did not turn off their televisions after the film, but continued watching (on four evenings until midnight). The number of calls did not decrease, even during the subsequent discussion forums. [ . . . ]

After four evenings in Studio E of WDR, after roughly 10,000 incoming telephone calls, I had the feeling – and I still do – that something was set in motion. For many people in the Federal Republic, “Holocaust” was an emotional introduction, the first encounter with the almost incomprehensible horrors of the Nazi regime. More than just a few became aware for the first time that they had repressed the murder of the Jews that was committed in the name of the German people and had previously avoided dealing with the past. Did the Hollywood film “Holocaust” signal a turning point in these attitudes? Only the future will tell.

Source: Julius H. Schoeps, “Angst vor der Vergangenheit? Notizen zu den Reaktionen auf ‘Holocaust’” [“Fear of the Past? Notes on the Reaction to ‘Holocaust’”]; reprinted in Peter Märtesheimer and Ivo Frenzel, eds., Im Kreuzfeuer. Der Fernsehfilm ‘Holocaust.’ Eine Nation ist betroffen [In the Crossfire. The Television Film ‘Holocaust.’ A Nation is Moved]. Frankfurt am Main, 1979, pp. 325-27.

Translation: Allison Brown

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