SYNAGOGUES ON FIRE

This short video mixes images from Nazi propaganda films with original images. Still images alternate with footage which uses a jerky, slow frame rate. The disparate source material is well integrated by giving all of the images a grainy black and white texture, occasionally punctuated by the shocking blood red of a Nazi flag or of flames. The highly effective, menacing sound score is a blend of cheering crowds, Hitler’s speeches, and ominous electronic tones.

The video begins with an incendiary, anti-Semitic quote from Martin Luther in 1544 (“…set their synagogues on fire…”) and ends with a quote from 19th century German poet Heine (“When one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.”) I take this as a reference to the Jewish view of a synagogue as a “school,” a place of scholarship and reverence for the Holy Books, as well as the Nazi practices of book burning and of genocide. In the middle of the video, we see a young man burning holes in a letter with a cigarette, an act which is evocative at once of torture and censorship.

This video conveys the feeling of a growing wave of intolerance and hysteria leading to genocide. Impressively, Newman achieves this using completely non-didactic means, through a poetic and evocative montage of images and sounds. We see a young Jewish boy trying to open a locked door. We see images of the Hitler Youth. We see a young girl, who could be Anne Frank, carrying suitcases into an attic. The horror of the gas chambers is evoked quite chillingly through indirect means; showing strands of hair falling to the floor, and sets of teeth. Newman has a sure eye and ear for creating montages that carry emotional weight and portent, without overloading the viewer. He packs a tremendous amount of provocative ideas and feelings into a very short video.

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