THE BLOG

Defending The Reader

02/20/2009 10:31 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As Oscar weekend reaches its ultimate moment with the pageantry of awards announced and feted, I feel once again compelled to take issue with others writing on The Reader's take on the Holocaust. I agree, for example, with filmmaker Rod Lurie's cogent argument for The Huffington Post that The Reader is well-made and beautifully acted. In fact, this movie deserves the Best Picture accolade just for generating this volume of discourse on the Shoah.

I find it hard to believe that viewers see the Hanna character as anything more than complex in her simplicity, unredeemed because she remains ignorant of her crime, and unredeemed anyway because the situation of racism, blatant murder of a person or millions for simply being who they are is unredeemable. She is a character who exists merely to raise this issue again and again.

Let us realize that she is a creation of an educated German writer, Bernhard Schlink, whose book The Reader is mandatory reading in German schools. Does she exist because Germans can now feel better about this hideous historic era, even victims themselves? No matter how you interpret the Hanna character, I do not see how this misreading is possible.

As to Lena Olin's character, I must ask, why do people insist upon seeing their Holocaust survivors as nightmare ridden variations on Rod Steiger's Pawnbroker in Sidney Lumet's classic film? When Olin reaches for the tin box, the gesture suggests volumes about what she has repressed in order to survive.

As a child of Holocaust survivors, I recognize many of the people who I've known all my life in her: Jews, smart and prosperous who would not give in to Hitler's plan to annihilate the Jewish population by being anything other than triumphant after the war.

And by the way, not all of Hitler's -- eh, Germany's-- victims were marked with tattoos. My mother, a survivor of Auschwitz and Stutthof, spent much of those war years incarcerated in the Lodz Ghetto, working as a slave laborer in a rug fabrike. By the time she was evacuated to Auschwitz, the Germans were not wasting precious murder time on tattoos.