In education, and in the bigger arena of pop culture, we have come to see the Jewish victims of the Holocaust as inanimate objects – pawns controlled by greater powers. This formula has been recycled and reused so repetitively that we mistake it for truth. It turns Jewish people silent interlocuters in 20th-century Europe. Their contributions to the countries and cultures in which they lived go forgotten. Their feats of heroism and resistance go untold.
Meanwhile, a door is opened for people to accuse Jews of being victims who deserved their victimhood; of being “meek little lambs” who enabled their own genocide through obedience, or who at least helped the process through confusion and hysteria. It also leads people to present the Nazis as the opposite of all that. As efficient, organized killers.
Opposite: classic depictions of Jewish people being reduced to “featureless extras” in a larger battle between good and evil; and of the Nazis as efficient, organized killers, in Schindler’s List
Historians have even criticized Steven Spielberg’s award-winning blockbuster Schindler’s List for making Jews “physically small, emotionally confused, frantic, almost featureless” extras in a larger battle between good and evil, which is played out between two Nazis. Yet this work and others like it have come to occupy central places in our thinking about the Holocaust, whether in education or in pop culture – even though Jewish organizations have repeatedly red-flagged them.
physically small, emotionally confused, frantic, almost featurelessProfessor Omer Bartov criticizes the portrayal of Jewish people in Schindler’s List
The Ninth Candle is committed to redirecting the narrative about the Holocaust. This is why our program philosophy is to start from the premise that Jews are survivors.
By the Nazis’ own calculations, over 11 million Jews lived in Europe around the middle of the 20th century. They intended to kill all of them, and they failed. Their failure owed something to Jewish resistance. Despite being subject to the biggest state-sanctioned effort to eradicate a people in history, Jewish people still found the strength to rise up in camps and ghettos across Europe. Their heroism and their ingenuity, coupled with the extraordinary bravery of some resisters and allies, helped them to survive the Nazis’ attempted mass murder.
The Nazis also failed because of the corruption and disorganization that dogged every corner of their Party. Internal chaos hindered their war effort, and it ran through their genocidal project at every stage of its development.
Our programs turn current narratives about the Holocaust on their heads. We showcase Jewish heroism, expose Nazi disorganization, and dispose of myths and stereotypes. These are just the first steps toward bringing the event into sharper focus for the 21st century.