Two Films Dealing with Anti-Semitism

Two recent movies, 24 Days and Woman In Gold, are a reminder that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the 21st Century.  Overall, anti-Semitic attacks surged worldwide in 2014, with the highest number of incidents occurring in France, according to an annual study published in Israel on Wednesday.  The films depict how hatred against the Jews manifests in many different ways, whether with Islamic extremists, neo-Nazis, traditional assumptions, or museums of art.  The movies' potency lies in showing that many have not learned much from the history of the Holocaust.

Viewers watching 24 Days, which will debut this month in the U.S., will feel they are watching an intense thriller.  Sadly, this story is not fiction.  It is based on a memoir written by the victim's mother.  The film chronicles the period in which Ilan Halimi, a French Jew in his twenties, was kidnapped and held captive in Paris.  Those holding him were known as the "Gang of Barbarians" and included neo-Nazis, Islamic immigrants, and Africans from the Ivory Coast. 

On January 20, 2006, Ilan was targeted solely because he was Jewish.  A woman of French-Iranian origin lured him to a café.  His three-week ordeal torture by starvation, severe beatings (including his testicles), being stabbed, and being burned with acid.  When found on February 13, 2006, he was burned to the point of not being recognized, had multiple broken bones, and had one ear missing. 

During this time period, the parents were also tortured emotionally.  They received nearly seven hundred calls, ransom demands that constantly changed, insults, threats, photos of their tortured son, and e-mails.  The criminals used technological means to maintain their anonymity.  E-mails were sent from internet cafés, and wire transfers were requested.  In effect, the criminals never really needed to put themselves out there in the world, since the world of digital technology allowed them to do everything remotely.

Ilan's story is significant because it brings into focus the dangerous wave of anti-Semitism sweeping France, the country with the largest Jewish community in Europe.  The French police dropped the ball during the course of the investigation because they did not believe that anti-Semitism was a motive.  Yet, subsequently, they attributed to the kidnappers a culture of a "poisonous mentality that designates Jews as enemies along with other 'outsiders,'" citing anti-Semitism as an aggravating circumstance.  The crime was motivated by the desire for money and the anti-Semitic hatred of the abductors.  They assumed the typical stereotype of Jews, that all are wealthy, and figured they would be able to obtain the ransom money.

But the circumstances laid out in the movie will show that those holding Ilan had no intention of releasing him.  The mother pointed out that in an e-mail, the captors emphasized that they were holding "a Jew."  She believes that "Ilan was chosen because he was Jewish.  He was tortured because he was Jewish."

The other movie, Woman In Gold, is based on the true story of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee who, in her twenties, escaped to America at the start of World War II.  She and her lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg, fought the government of Austria to reclaim a famous painting by Gustav Klimt, a portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, along with other landscape paintings.  These paintings were confiscated from her relatives just prior to World War II by Austrian Nazis.  Because she could not afford the expensive Austrian filing fee, she dropped the case in the Austrian court system.  However, in 2000, she filed a lawsuit in the U.S., which ended up in the Supreme Court.  The ruling stated that Austria was not immune from being sued in America.  It was in 2006 that Austria agreed to an arbitration panel that found in Altmann's favor. 

Altmann's lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, told American Thinker, "The movie is very authentic and is a reminder of a horrific time that the WWII generation experienced.  I hope people understand that the Nazis took away Maria's identity, traditions, culture, and possessions.  Through the eight-year court process I realized that too many Austrians think their job is to fight Jews from recovering their property – thus on the side of the Nazis.  They ignored that it was not theirs and do not seem to care that they are on the wrong side.  I emphasized this during the arbitration hearing when I said, 'Since the end of World War II, there have been two Austrias.  There is the Austria that opposes restitution to the victims of Nazism … but there is also an Austria that recognizes the injustice committed against Austria's Jewish population and seeks to rectify it. … Even neutrality is a position that is opposed to the moral and legal obligations to do justice to the victims of Nazis.'"

Schoenberg has become the president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.  He believes that education is an important element in making sure there is not a resurgence of anti-Semitism, especially since many Holocaust victims are dying of old age.  Hopefully both movies will alert public opinion to the dangers of anti-Semitism, which can take on many forms.  Never again cannot be just a slogan.

The author writes for American Thinker.  She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.