The Movie:
Hollywood is, of course, Ground Zero for glamour, glitz and artificiality. All of which makes for inconceivable incompatibility when thrust up against the unimaginable horrors of that most real evil of the 20th century, the Holocaust. Imaginary Witness is an unusually intelligent examination of Hollywood’s sometimes not so noble relationship with portraying the terrors of the Nazi regime from the earliest films of the 1930s which haltingly acknowledged the growing threat of Hitler’s order to what I guess you could call the halcyon days of such films as Schindler’s List, some sixty years later.
Originally produced for and aired on American Movie Classics, Imaginary Witness takes a more or less chronological look at the way the Holocaust has been portrayed by Hollywood, not only in feature films, but also in such associated fare as newsreels. In fact in one of the more bizarre clips featured (aside, perhaps, from a brief snippet of Laurel and Hardy actually speaking in German) is an early 30s newsreel showing Nazi Youth book burning parties, which the reel chalks up to youthful hi-jinks with an almost carefree air.

Once the documentary moves into the late 1930s and the first feature films to actually address the growing Nazi menace, like Confessions of a Nazi Spy from 1939, the tone of the piece grows substantially darker, as might be expected. It may also be surprising to some viewers to hear that it was Warner Brothers which actually was the most active at the beginning of this trend. While most, if not all, of the major studios were headed by Eastern European immigrant Jews, all of the honchos were of the “assimilate first” variety and didn’t want to be seen as espousing a uniquely Jewish point of view. This led them, incredibly, to uniform caving when Germany insisted that Jewish employees of the companies in Germany be fired. If you find yourselves disgusted by our current Congress, wait until you get a load of the mid- to late-30s version decrying Jews, including Hollywood executives, as being more dangerous to America than Hitler.