Piere Sauvage’s documentary on Peter Bergson’s rage towards the American government and Jewish Americans who failed to stop the Holocaust in Europe is essentially anchored around tightly edited archival interviews with Bergson’s voice and images (primarily from two filmed sources). That makes it the film one-sided, and Bergson's opponents will regard the film as propaganda, since there isn't any third party assessment of Bergson's historic role during WII besides his own.
As presented in the film, though, Bergson’s stance is actually quite simple: the knowledge of the ongoing Holocaust was present in the media, as well as in Washington and within more powerful parts of America’s Jewish community, and yet no one seemed to care enough to mount some kind of offence against a regime the world knew was evil.
Bergson’s shrill condemnations are supported by archival still and film images, plus newspaper clips from the New York Times, and statistics starkly illustrating the infrequency of front page reports on the Holocaust.
There’s also some fascinating materials that have largely been forgotten for 40 years. Among the most striking are the full-page ads placed in papers to draw attention to the active genocide, as well as Ben Hecht’s columns and pleas, including “The Ballad of the Doomed Jews,” a lengthy barbed hymn about apathy, abandonment, and complacency originally intended to be run in papers before Christmas.
There’s also a extracts from the play A Flag is Born, with Paul Muni, and audio clips from a Hollywood Bowl performance of Hecht’s We Will Never Die, a musical pageant that was performed twice at Madison Square Garden, in 1943. The theatrical troupe for the event included Stella Adler, and they performed in front of two massive replicas of Moses’ Ten Commandments.
That footage also forms the flipside of a pro-Nazi rally that was held in the same venue, and reveals a period where several political causes were vying for public support; because the Nazis wanted to set up a U.S. chapter, Bergson’s cause had to be aggressively humanistic, fueled by an increasing disdain for members of the religious and political communities who shrugged shoulders and said little more than ‘What can I do?’
Bergson’s statements – including a harsh 1978 interview - are still highly provocative, which makes Sauvage’s film sometimes tough to endure; it’s frequently an onslaught of barbed words buffered by choral extracts from the symphonic “We Will Never Die” lament, but that’s likely the point: stir up thought and action, and make those words timeless and thereby cautionary when another genocide is in play, and avoid repeating mistakes that led to millions of deaths.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan