JTA – Marvin Chomsky often shared a heartbreaking memory of the filming of his 1978 miniseries “Holocaust.”
While filming scenes from the series in Austria to document the massacre of Jews, both in concentration camps and in Babyn Yar, a ravine outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Chomsky explained how a young cameraman had questioned the narration of the events they were reproducing. .
“Marvin, you did this just for the movie,” the camera had told him, as Chomsky recalled in a video commemorating his career in the Guild of America. “It never really happened.”
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And Chomsky then turned to a member of the team working on the series, a German. “Is it true or not true? he had questioned.
“And all eyes were fixed on him, and he was silent.” ‘Yeah, it’s war,‘[Oui, c’est vrai] said Chomsky. “All the children, the youngest, had cried their hearts out, they didn’t want to believe it. And he hadn’t said anything else. »
Thanks to Chomsky, who died on March 28 in Santa Rosa, California, at the age of 92, “Holocaust” showed millions of people, including about 20 million Germans, that the Holocaust has become a reality.
When aired in the United States and West Germany, this four-episode series was watched by 120 million viewers and helped spark an open dialogue about the causes and consequences of the genocide of Jews in Europe. Many Germans had called on their televisions, in tears, to express their shame at the events represented and some former Nazi soldiers had confessed details of their crimes.
Frank Bösch, a German historian, told the BBC that he believed that the miniseries broadcast on German television in 1979 had been, as had been the case with the Iranian revolution and the election of the British Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher. – one of the events that helped transform the world that year.
The first major work of fiction dedicated to the Holocaust and aimed at the general public in the English-speaking world, the series featured Meryl Streep and James Woods as headliners. He had followed the lives of two families in Nazi-occupied Germany: a Jewish family and a Christian family who would eventually embrace National Socialist ideology. Covering many of the real events that took place during the genocide: the Kristallnacht, the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and the Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and Sobibor concentration camps, the four episodes had opened the eyes of many viewers. They had also been the source of controversy: survivor Elie Wiesel had claimed that the series trivialized the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.
Chomsky had taken the lead in the project (developed from a screenplay by Gerald Green), an experience he said had “traumatized” his son. He had won an Emmy for “Holocaust,” one of four he had to win in his career. Intuitively, he had felt that turning this monumental Holocaust tragedy into a simple family story would make it easier for the public to understand the events.
“I said,‘ I’m not going to do a documentary. Nor will it be docu-fiction. I will make a fiction that will interest people and if you are interested in people yourself, then you will see it “, he said during his interview for the DGA.
The son of a Belarusian Jewish couple, Chomsky began his television career while still a high school student. After college and military service, he served as art director and set designer for television programs such as “Captain Kangaroo,” moving into directing in the early 1960s.
In addition to “Holocaust,” Chomsky had also done several major television projects. He had directed two episodes of “Roots,” the 1977-sun-drenched historical series that had sunk into slavery America, and had also directed episodes of the cult sci-fi series “Star Trek.”
He had also directed some Jewish-themed projects, in particular “Victory at Entebbe,” a television film about Operation Entebbe, and “Inside the Third Reich,” another television film based on the memoirs of ‘Albert Speer, who had been Hitler’s architect. . The shooting of the film was recently cited in a controversial Israeli documentary that otherwise did not mention Chomsky’s involvement.
But “Holocaust” left its biggest cultural imprint, which has not yet faded today. In 2019, German television broadcast the series to commemorate its fortieth anniversary.
“Survivors had come to the Auschwitz trials and journalists had not even questioned them,” Bösch recalled. “Nobody cared about the victims. But that changed with the ‘Holocaust.’