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WHO SHALL LIVE AND WHO SHALL DIE?

USA, 1981 (MIFF 1982)

Director: Laurence Jarvik

Made over a period of three years for a mere $100,000, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die? looks raw and unsophisticated, but the very poverty of its means allows a devastating political story to recount itself. It is a tale of American shoulder-shrugging and eye-lowering while millions were dying in extermination camps. Combining interviews with Jewish leaders, American officials and survivors, as well as newsreels and previously classified information, Jarvik probes the degree to which the Jews of Europe could have been saved if concerted action had been taken by the Allies.

The first layer of the film locates the problem in official government reaction, beginning with the refusal of the U.S. to admit refugees during the 1930s. Jarvik chronicles how the American government knew about the extermination as it was happening, and how it chose political calculation over humanitarian consideration. Finally, in 1944, a special governmental agency was established to rescue the Jews. And what did the American Jewish leadership contribute? Five hundred rabbis organized and marched on the White House — while the majority of American rabbis boycotted them. "Don't rock the boat", seemed to be the reigning attitude.

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