Past Event

Film Screening: The Holocaust: "What the Allies Knew"

March 23, 2016
5:30 PM - 8:00 PM
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The Italian Academy

A documentary film written and directed by Virginie Linhart and produced by Fabienne Servan-Schreiber and Cinétévé. Could the information available to the Allies have saved some of Europe’s Jews from the Nazi death camps?

Through the analysis of declassified records and media excerpts, the film challenges accepted assumptions about the motivations and possibilities of humanitarian intervention. Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and De Gaulle opposed and put an end to the Fascist and Nazi regimes, but the information available to them on the destruction of European Jewry did not spur a plan to stop the massacre.

Avoiding the classical documentary format of witnesses and experts, the film is entirely constructed of archival footage accompanied by historiographical narrative. By juxtaposing film footage of the Allied leaders and photographic stills from the extermination machine, readings of official documents and readings of the personal correspondence of Jews trying to flee Europe, it conjures the dilemmas, obstacles, and challenges that ultimately led to the demise of a coordinated humanitarian intervention. Evidence of what information circulated are presented by year and include the first notes from the British secret services to Churchill during the summer of 1941 revealing how many Jews had been shot by the SS death squads; a note addressed to General De Gaulle in London on how the extermination of Jews in France was being organized; a telegram dated August 1942 from Gerhard Riegner to Stephen Wise, President of the American Jewish Congress in the USA, which confirmed how the extermination of the Jews was set up “in order to resolve, once and for all, the Jewish question in Europe.”

This program addresses the relation between the spreading of information and international humanitarian intervention, using the historical perspective of World War II.

Umberto Gentiloni (University of Rome and author of Bombardare Auschwitz?, 2015)
Yasmine Ergas (Columbia University)

While it has been generally accepted that the world learned about the mass murder of the Jews only in the wake of the final victory of the Allies, in 1945, historical research has determined that information about these mass killings began to circulate as early as 1941, and that – by 1942 – leaders of the democratic world, as well as the Vatican, had extensive knowledge of the extermination project. These mass murders, along with those of the Armenians and the Roma, led to the coining of the term “genocide,” a category of crime that had not before been fully defined.

Our attempt to understand the experience of persecution during World War II resonates in part with current political situations. Today, citizens at all levels of society hear of world events as they happen. Violence, refugee crises, and war unfold before everybody’s eyes.

Yet the challenges of intervention remain, or are at least similarly divorced from the knowledge of facts. A panel of historians, media experts, and human-rights scholars will discuss the question of intervention in support of Jewish refugees and against the extermination project, as well as the ways in which that experience informed – or failed to inform – democratic societies in the post-war era.

For more information and to register, please click here.

This event is co-sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S., Centro Primo Levi, and the Alliance Program.