Hollywood and the Third Reich first crossed paths during a screening of the anti-war motion picture “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
A mob of brown-shirted Nazi supporters stormed into a movie theater showing Lewis Milestone’s 1930 classic, and trashed the place.
That is just one of the stories Rabbi Isidoro Aizenberg, scholar in residence at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, includes in his written introduction to the center’s newest exhibition, “Producing Silence: Hollywood, the Holocaust, and the Jews.”
The show, now on view at the Kupferberg Center on the Queensborough Community College campus in Bayside, examines the impact the Nazi Party and anti-Semitism had on the Hollywood film industry.
“The largely Jewish owners of the big Hollywood studios of the time were confronted by a new German reality and a grayed business relation beyond their control,” Aizenberg wrote. “Jewish moguls witnessed how the Nazis’ rise brought about the implementation of increasingly oppressive anti-Jewish policies without internal or worldwide protest.”
Aizenberg said the exhibition is an attempt to look at the way Hollywood manuvered the political tensions from 1930 - 1942.
Although the industry was aware of its potential to influence public opinion, it submitted to American and German governmental pressure to dance gingerly around the subject of Nazism until about a year after the United States entered the war, Aizenberg said.
The 1928 appointment of Joseph Goebbels as the Nazi Party’s propaganda director, and Adolf Hitler’s own predilection for the movies early on set the tenor for absolute control of thought in print and film in Germany.
On display is a shot from the 1933 Warner Bros. cartoon, “Bosko’s Picture Show,” which includes one of the earliest depictions of Adolf Hitler in an American movie.
The cartoon is a parody of the old-time newsreels that ran before the main feature in movie theaters.
As the short opens, it shows a peace conference in Geneva, where the world leaders gathered are engaged in fisticuffs, with an announcer providing a blow-by-blow account of the action. That is followed by a shot of Sunkist Bathing Beauties in California, where one unattractive woman sits on the beach during a snowstorm.
There is fun poked at Jack Dempsey, as the boxer prepares for a comeback fight in Reno. The boxer is depicted as an old man with a cane.
The final scene takes place in Pretzel, Germany, where Hitler, shown as a lederhosen-wearing buffoon swinging a meat cleaver, chases comedian Jimmy Durante down the street.
“This is only the beginning folks, only the beginning,” Bosko says as the cartoon closes.
Other objects on display include images with a connection to the Third Reich.
Included is the poster from the 1944 film “Tomorrow — The World!” which refers to an often ascribed, but never documented, threat made by Hitler about his plans to take over the world, and a 1934 street poster calling for the boycott of theaters screening films that included Jewish actors, and the elimination of Jews from the film industry as a whole.
“Most of the students enrolled at Queensborough Community College are from countries without a Holocaust Museum,” Dan Leshem, the center’s director, said. “Students are a captured audience as they have resources for classes that relate to the Holocaust as well. They abstract lessons from the past and use the knowledge to effect behavioral change to prepare themselves for leadership in the world. What pressures do we face that we can’t stand up to? The exhibit focuses on people who knew what the damages were and chose to use their medium to confront it.”
As part of the exhibition, several screenings are planned.
“Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” will be shown March 30, at 12:10 p.m. “To Be or Not To Be,” starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, plays April 6, at 12:10 p.m. And Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 movie “The Great Dictator,” where the Little Tramp portrays a Hitler-like character, will be shown May 11, at 12:10 p.m.
Eventually, the exhibition will go on tour.
“We want to serve beyond this community to help people identify with the experience,” Leshem said.
If you Go
“Producing Silence: Hollywood, the Holocaust, and the Jews”
When: Through early June
Where: Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, Queensborough Community College, 222-05 56th Ave., Bayside
Contact: (718) 281-5770
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