Does the truth lie in a film, a tattoo or free speech?
October 12, 2007
First off, I should admit I haven’t seen the film everybody is screaming about these days, titled “Judea Declares War on Germany: A Critical Look at World War II,” although I probably will. In fact, I hope to, on GrassRoots TV, the community-access cable station in Aspen that is trying to decide whether or not to air it.It’s not that I think the film says something I need to hear, it’s just that anything that kicks up this much dust is worth a look.For anyone unfamiliar with the film, it apparently questions some of our assumptions and beliefs regarding the Holocaust, which is the shorthand description for the outrages perpetrated by the Nazis in World War II.I am not a “Holocaust denier,” the moniker given to anyone who questions anything about the accepted story about millions of Jews, Gypsies and others killed by Adolph Hitler’s minions.While I was a teenager living in a blue-collar suburb in Maryland, our neighbor across the street was a family named Weber. Joey Weber, my buddy, was a Mick Jagger wannabe with sufficient parental support to have an electric keyboard and a sound system, and I was the rhythm guitarist in his band.Mrs. Weber was a Holocaust survivor. She had been in one of those camps, and she bore the tattoo on her arm as evidence, as well as some deep-seated psychic scars that manifested in weird ways. Like, every stick of upholstery in the house was covered in plastic, and the carpet was protected by plastic runners placed along strategically outlined routes all through the house. Not that anything ever could have gotten dirty, since we kids were banned from being in the house at all, except for a small room in the basement where we honed our rock ‘n’ roll fantasies.Mrs. Weber never talked about her tattoo, and we were too tongue-tied to mention it to her. Joey didn’t talk about it either, beyond acknowledging that, yes, it was what we thought it was.In fact, Mrs. Weber never talked about much in my presence, and I always suspected she never said much to anyone, ever, anywhere, outside of her immediate family and a very tight circle of friends. She had a haunted demeanor about her that, in the blindness of youth, I never tried to figure out beyond determining exactly how I fit into her scheme of permissible activities. I heard enough evidence of her temper through the walls of their house and ours, across a 35-foot street, to not want to ever cross that lady.But that tattoo, which I saw only occasionally, spoke volumes to me. The letters and numbers (I vaguely recall there were both in the string of symbols) were a worn-out blue in color, indistinct around the edges. It looked as though it must have been painful when applied, and I was intrigued at how little it had faded in the decades since. I never touched it, but often wondered if the texture of the tattooed skin might be different, or whether it might burn from the smoldering rage over her treatment at the camps, her deeply personal losses that no amount of time could assuage.But, in any event, I was a self-centered little stoner trying to figure out how to use a guitar to catch chicks, and Mrs. Weber’s tattoo was a subject beyond my depth at the time, though I wish now I had talked to her about it.As for the film that’s causing such a stir, I think GrassRoots TV should go ahead and air it. My friend Charles has been reporting on the controversy, and he says it is a badly made bit of propagandistic bile. As such, it is not likely to sway anyone one way or another about the veracity of the Holocaust, and I get nervous any time I hear someone talk about controlling what I can and cannot see, hear and say.It seems to me that this film is no more dangerous than, say, a documentary about masturbating into a hole in the desert as a statement on the vagaries of life, which is another example of homegrown filmmaking that aired not too long ago, and thankfully not too often, on GrassRoots.That’s the glory of GrassRoots, you see. The station is there for no other reason than to permit those of us so inclined to get our ideas, however loonie, insubstantial or misbegotten, out there for all to see and judge.And if we don’t like what we’re seeing, modern technology has made it all to easy to change the channel or, heaven forbid, pick up a book instead.