|Directed By:||Jacques Tarnero||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||2000||Running Time:||96 Mins.|
|More Info:||ADL site on Holocaust denial||Category:||History & Remembrance|
Denial is the first stage of grief — it is also a dangerous way to obscure the truth. Autopsy of a Lie examines the birth of Holocaust negationism in modern France, tracing its roots to the tumultuous era of the 1960’s and 70’s, whose rebellions against old ideas of authority allowed for the possibility of denying the Holocaust.
“All our points of reference were completely mixed up,” laments sociologist Jacques Tarnero of that time. “It’s forbidden to forbid. That means no taboos, you can say what you like. And through this opening slipped a certain number of people who were driven by much more perverse motivations: the negationists.”
With a variety of interviews with Holocaust survivors and scholars who grew up in post-war France, Autopsy of a Lie is a fascinating and wide-ranging examination of the double-edged nature of free speech, and how Holocaust negationists have used it to try and revise history itself. Their aim is to blot out any suggestion of a Nazi genocide of Jews, and their attempts at whitewash take many forms.
One more subtle method of Holocaust denial is to minimize the severity of the atrocities. Tarnero points to the French film The Night Porter, which depicts a sadomasochistic relationship between an SS officer and his Jewish prisoner, as an example. The film presents a dangerous minimization of the death camp experience by suggesting that “even in Auschwitz you could get your kicks!”
The more extreme method of negationism denies that the Holocaust happened at all. Autopsy of a Lie shares a 20-year old radio interview between journalist Yvan Levai and a negationist, an experience which Levai tells us he grimly regrets, since it gave a mass media voice to ideas he calls “repugnant.”
“You don’t get genocides without denial. That’s definite,” notes historian Yves Ternon, who authored a book about the mass murder of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. He points out how genocidal acts on the scale of the Holocaust are always accompanied by a simultaneous effort of the killers to cover it up. Such efforts, he says, are aimed at making the discovery of evidence a difficult task.
However, the most damning evidence cannot be erased by negationist denials — the testimonials of survivors, like Alexandre Oler. Standing in front of a mural by his artist father, which vividly depicts the horrors of the Holocaust, he tells of how David Oler survived a death camp only to die forty years later of shame and despair–“murdered by negationism,” his son contends — and by a culture that allowed for his experiences to be dismissed as lies.
By including the voices of survivors, Autopsy of a Lie stresses the importance of the adage “Never Forget” as the strongest weapon against Holocaust denial. Book-ending the film, Birkenau and Auschwitz survivors Simone Lagrange and Benjamin Orenstein, recount their Holocaust experiences to a group of school children. “Don’t forget,” Orenstein tells them, visibly emotional at the very idea that there are others who would tell them otherwise. “If only one of you survives, tell what happened.”
Autopsy of a Lie is an effort by its makers to both examine the roots of negationism and to show its dangerous consequences. From the opening shot of the Vistula River flowing past the ruins of Auschwitz, a narrator declares, “This crime against history is an insult to the victims, whose only crime was being born. This film is dedicated to them.”