“Young people uneducated about the Holocaust will take as fact what they see in The Reader,” director Rod Lurie (Nothing But The Truth) writes on the Huffington Post. “And that would be a damn shame. For this film gives ammunition to Holocaust negationists, to the Archbishop Williamsons of the world, to the people who would tell us that the Shoah is a mass exaggeration.
“Ron Rosenbaum has already written a brilliant piece in Slate, taking the film to task for more or less exonerating the German population for their part in the Final Solution. Several others have written about the inappropriateness of trying to solicit a kind of sympathy for an SS guard. Others have attacked it for using sexuality to soften and evoke pity for the lead character.
“What I would like to explore are the film’s versions of certain ‘facts’ presented in the film that serve to diminish the culpability of the SS…if you can imagine such a thing.
“First up is the notion that Winslet’s Hanna Schmitz would ever have been allowed into the SS. In the trial portion of the film (especially well done) we learn the SS was ‘recruiting” guards and Hanna volunteered her services. (She was working in Siemens — the giant electronics company that used Jewish slave labor). Hanna is an illiterate. Furthermore, her work ethic was driven by efficiency — doing her job and duty — and not anti-Semitism.
“The problem here is every person, man or woman, who was in the SS was intimately indoctrinated into the teachings of several rabid Jew haters including Julius Streicher in Der Sturmer. In fact, that newspaper was required reading for the SS on Hitler’s orders. One was not entering a job when they came to the SS. They were turning themselves over to an ideology with cult-like obedience. This was especially true of those who were entering the Totenkopf — i.e., the ‘deaths head’ — tasked with being guards at the camps.
“Of course there were some members of the SS who were not educated (though Germany was easily the most literate European country at the time). There may have been a Hanna or two. But is that not the primary tool of the Holocaust denier? To turn the exception into the rule? I am sure the makers of this film are not deniers. But they are helping those who are.
“Because Kate Winslet‘s Hanna Schmitz character is not presented as an anomaly, those uneducated on the Holocaust will assume her character is an accurate portrayal of a member of the SS. Indeed, this depiction leads to the kind of ignorant statement made in this excerpt from a letter to the Los Angeles Times defending the film:
“‘Is it all that wrong to realize that maybe the murdered were not the only victims of that situation? To anyone watching the movie with an open mind, Hanna is a sad victim, an illiterate working as a guard, merely following orders, either her rationality suspended and/or her judgment colored by the atmosphere of the Third Reich.”
“No, Hanna is not a victim. But The Reader helps to foster the notion that she and her contemporaries may have been.
“Indeed, Winslet herself said this on The Charlie Rose Show of the people who entered the SS: ‘These were young men and women who didn’t know what they were getting into.’ And Reader director Stephen Daldry himself has said that the ‘Holocaust was started by normal people.’
“It is a shocking lack of understanding of one of the most important and horrible moments in human history.”