Program examines effects of Nazi films

Nathan Whalen

A film used by the Nazis in 1940 that compared the migration of Jews to the migration of rats was part of “The Language of Visions of Otherness and Cleansing: Racial Hygiene and the Holocaust” at Ford Hall on Saturday.
About 30 people attended a presentation about how this film, in addition to other types of visual arts, were used by the Nazis as propaganda that helped condition people to permit the Holocaust.
“It neutralized them,” said Dr. Stephen Feinstein, interim director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University, who led the lecture. “They didn’t think about it until after it was over.”
The treatment of the Jews was seen by many Germans as a means to accomplish their idea of Utopia and that the loss of the Jewish people would be seen as a chance for redemption for mankind, Feinstein added.
As well as the movies, which were shown in German theaters in the late 1930s, Feinstein talked about the oppression of the disabled and genetically inferior.
Race institutions were formed in the 1920s to identify “genetically inferior” people. After identified in a 1933 program, 600,000 people were sterilized. Later, in 1939, the T-4 program started — more than 70,000 people seen unfit were killed.
Feinstein also mentioned that there was literature produced on the subject, such as Rudolf Binding’s “Permitting the Destruction of Lives Not Worth Living,” and films that portrayed people with mental disabilities as people whose lives were valueless.
For example, “I Accuse” was produced to stigmatize mentally disabled people by portraying them in a sinister manner. Using dramatic lighting, choosing disfigured subjects and depicting them as being incognizant were all means employed to accentuate the meaningless existence of mentally and physically disabled people.
“The ability to transfer some of these experiences of demonizing people makes me a little uncomfortable,” said Randy Benham, an attorney who attended the presentation.
Many of these films Nazis produced also show a professor, or another figure of authority, who explains that if the disabled could think for themselves, they would say they want to die if they knew their condition — just like he would want to die if he were in such a position.
Feinstein said the Nazis used different forms of media to convince people of the threat of disabled people. Advertisements demonstrated that their populations were growing faster than nondisabled populations, and that these people would become a burden on the German economy.
The style of films used in the movies of disabled people was transferred into films about Jewish people with one exception: disabled people should be felt sorry for because they were born that way while there wasn’t any such sympathy for the Jew, he added.
For example, typical German propaganda such as the film “Eternal Jew,” parallels the migration of Jewish people with that of rats, specifically saying Jewish people will bring many of the same problems to the general public that rats bring.