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February 28, 2014  RSS feed

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Museum exhibit explores WWII, Hollywood and anti-Semitism

“My Father’s House” Jewish National Fund 1947 “My Father’s House” Jewish National Fund 1947 An exhibit, “Cinema Judaica: The War Years 1939-1949” has opened at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU (JMOF-FIU) in Miami Beach and will be on display through Aug. 14.

The exhibit looks at how Jews in the movie industry were affected by World War II and its aftermath and explores Nazi influence and the response from American movie studios.

The exhibit includes an exhibition of iconic Hollywood film posters from 1939 to1949. It illustrates how the motion picture industry countered America’s isolationism, advocated going to war against the Nazis, influenced post-war perceptions of the Jewish people and the founding of the state of Israel, and shaped ontemporary Jewish life.

“The contributions of Jews in motion pictures is well known today,” says Jo Ann Arnowitz, JMOF-FIU executive director and chief curator, “however this exhibition sheds light on the industry’s politics during WWII, not only internally, but on a national and global level.”

“It’s Fun to be Free” Fight for Freedom Committee 1941 “It’s Fun to be Free” Fight for Freedom Committee 1941 The exhibition begins with the Hollywood studios’ compliance with the Nazis’ control of the motion picture industry in Germany, the ban on Jews from employment within it, and their restrictions on the American distribution of films shown in Germany and throughout Europe. All but two of America’s eight largest studios complied with the Nazis’ restrictions.

United Artists closed down its German exchanges rather than fire its Jewish employees, but it did accept German content restrictions and arranged for its films to be shown in Germany through another distributor. Warner Bros., however, was the only studio to withdraw from the German market entirely. As Jewish characters disappeared from American films, Harry Warner and his brothers committed themselves to making anti-Nazi movies to alert the nation to the Nazi threat.

The exhibition further documents this time period and how Hollywood studios set up the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) and established a Production Code of Administration (PCA) that prohibited causing affront to foreign states, including Germany.

Thereafter, films required a seal of approval from the MPPDA. At the same time, the PCA worked with the U.S. State Department to ensure that American movies did not violate a series of Neutrality Laws enacted by the Roosevelt administration to keep American citizens safe in European and other war zones. Thus, anti-Nazi screenplays and clearly defined Jewish roles, which would not pass the certification process, were transformed through allegory, character name changes, and other disguises and glosses by Warner Bros. and other like-minded independent producers.

At the end of 1938, the PCA approved Warner Bros. openly anti-Nazi script for Confessions of a Nazi Spy, closely based on the recent historical record of the government’s espionage case. The film was released in early May 1939.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and America’s declaration of war, Hollywood produced patriotic movies, in the guise of “platoon” films, which reflected on the melting pot tradition of American ethnic diversity and helped instill a unified fighting spirit.

In addition to Confessions of a Nazi Spy, featured films include Sons of Liberty, Pastor Hall, and The Great Dictator. Also included are posters for World War II espionage and concentration camp escape melodramas set in Germany or another Nazi-occupied country, such as To Be or Not To Be, plus films about Nazi Germany’s accountability, such as Address Unknown, Tomorrow the World, and Hotel Berlin.

Following the war, were the “Exodus” films addressing the attempt by European war refugees to rebuild their lives and cultures after the Holocaust. These include My Father’s House, The Illegals, The Search, and Sword in the Desert.

Post-war Hollywood films also addressed anti-Semitism on the home front and focused on Christian Mobilizers, who blamed the Jews for the war and attacked Jewish citizens, stores, and synagogues in major Northeast cities. These films, in which an Italian American or Irish American authority figure condemns anti-Semitism, stops an assault, or solves a racist murder, include The House I Live In, Crossfire, and Open Secret, while Gentleman’s Agreement, addresses the related subject of White Anglo Saxon Protestant anti-Semitism.

The exhibition is on loan from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum.

The museum is at 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. For more information, call (305) 672-5044, or go to

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