From Ordinary Citizens to Mass Murderers: Groundbreaking Documentary at the UofM

The Einsatzgruppen

This is a guest post by Jodi Elowitz, Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota.
What Turns “Ordinary” Citizens into Mass Murderers? This question is often asked when studying the Holocaust and other genocides.
This week French filmmaker Michael Prazan will touch on this question with his groundbreaking documentary Einsatzgruppen: The Death Brigades, being shown exclusively in the Twin Cities tonight, Thursday, November 4 and this Sunday, November 7 at the St. Anthony Main Theater. Prazan and the film are being sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) with Minnesota Film Arts.
Einsatzgruppen: The Death Brigades is an essential film for those eager to understand the mechanics of evil and prevent its recurrence,” said, Bruno Chaouat, director for CHGS.

“I think we all have a concept of what we individually believe evil to look like, but as we have found it isn’t quite as clear cut as it would seem. Hannah Arendt in her controversial report Eichmann in Jerusalem identified the men who perpetrated the crimes representing what she called the banality of evil. Christopher Browning, in his landmark work Ordinary Men took Arendt’s argument one step further focusing on the many so called “normal” Germans who turned into mass murders. Prazan’s film, blending Claude Lanzmann’s (the director of the acclaimed Holocaust documentary Shoah) method of interviewing witnesses, survivors and perpetrators with archive footage, adds his own, original voice to this descent into the night of human soul.”

When asked why he wanted to make the film Prazan replied, “I thought there was an important part of Holocaust history that had been overlooked by the West. They seemed mostly concerned with the extermination of Western Jews and obsessed with Auschwitz. I felt it important that the actions of the Einsatzgruppen were explored more in depth.”

Michael Prazan

The catalyst for the film was based on Prazan’s experience while making his film Nanjing Massacre. “What I discovered in making that film was the willingness of the soldiers to tell me their stories-and I thought why not the Germans? I knew I would have to act quickly as time was not on our side.”
In addition to the testimonies of witnesses, perpetrators and scholars, Prazan uses previously unseen archival footage, some in color, shot by the Germans. Prazan’s mosaic of hatred has a startling immediacy that moves well beyond a historical document.
“Seeing this film is to stand in the eye of the storm.” Said Bruno Chaouat, “and should not be missed.”

Einsatzgruppen: The Death Brigades will be screened Thursday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 7 at 6:30 p.m. followed by a question and answer session with filmmaker Michael Prazan. St. Anthony Main Theater, 115 Main Street SE, Mpls.

Tickets: $6.00 for students, $8.50 for adults. Tickets can be purchased on line at Minnesota Film Arts. For more information contact CHGS at 612-624-0256, or email [email protected].