Charles Dodgson replies to comments

I want to thank commentators for pointing out errors in my review of Band of Brothers. Watching the sequence again I can see that it was Webster who shouted out at the surrendering German troops. And sure enough there are the different types of uniforms on the camp inmates, as John Orloff notes. Also I did not realize that Liebgott was in fact Catholic or that Tom Hanks is partly Jewish (actually I still don’t realize that Hanks is Jewish). One part of the camp scene in which an error occurs is especially important because a prisoner explains what the camp is and who the prisoners are. The exchange is as follows:

(Liebgott interprets.)

Winters: “Will you ask him what kind of camp this is? Why are they here?”

Prisoner: “It is a work camp for Unerwuenscht.”

Liebgott cannot translate the final word.

Winters: “Criminals?”

Prisoner: “No. Doctors, clerks, musicians, taylors, farmers, intellectuals, . . . Jews, Jews, Jews . . . Poles, Gypsies.”

My review correctly quoted the prisoner as identifying the camp as a work camp. However, where the prisoner comes to describe ethnicity and nationality my review omits his mention of Poles, though I do include Gypsies in quoting him. The omission does not affect my argument because Jews are clearly emphasized, more so in the literal transcript above than in my review. Nevertheless this and other errors are embarrassing.I shall request that the errors be marked as such in the text and the true version stated. (The errors should not be removed because that would confuse future readers of the commentaries.)

My embarrassment at having made these errors is mitigated by their marginality to my thesis concerning the ninth episode of Band of Brothers. None of my critics denies that Band of Brothers:

  • Effectively claims America’s sacrifice in the War for the Jews.
  • In doing so distorts the reality of the labour camp liberated by the 101st Division; and
  • Fails to portray the G.I.’s liking for the German people.

In response to John Orloff, thanks for taking the trouble to point out those errors in my review. I shall correct them in the text. I was wrong in my suggestion that you are Jewish. You are right on the mix up of Webster and Liebgott. In fact the words of abuse directed at the German troops were not overly sophisticated, as I stated, but well matched to the speaker’s Harvard education. It is entirely appropriate for such a person to level the accusation: “You ignorant, servile scum!” Nice work.

I should add that I am willing to believe that you were given complete independence in writing the episode. In which case that makes you answerable to the criticisms I make, such as:

  • The inmate describing the camp inmates as “Jews, Jews, Jews . . . Poles, Gypsies”. Why not: “Russians, Poles, homosexuals”?
  • Near the end of the episode a frame shows the words: “These camps were part of the Nazi attempt to effect the ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Jewish Question’.” Did you write that? What about the other nationalities?
  • And what about the next frame? “Between 1942 and 1945 five million ethnic minorities and six million Jews were murdered — many of them in the camps.” I would like to read your defense of this misleading statement, which implies that work camps scattered around Germany played a significant role in genocide. The statement blurs the distinction between work and extermination camps. Also the frame reinforces the impression of the previous one, that the camps were part of the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people, leaving the other categories of victims as good as unwitnessed. How can you live with that? Don’t you think that Hollywood writers have some responsibility to the truth?
  • Those two closing frames drive home the episode’s accusation against the townspeople that they knew of the camp. This parallels a serious accusation against Germans of the WWII period most infamously made by Daniel Goldhagen in his 1995 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. If it was a work camp, as briefly stated by the prisoner, then where was the crime in knowing about it? Connivance in an atrocity could only be construed if the camp was a place of mass murder over many months or years as your captions allege – not for a brief period before Easy Company arrived. I realize that Band of Brothers necessarily has fictional elements, for example turning the Catholic Liebgott into a passionate Jew for dramatic effect. But that is no excuse for joining in the defamation of an entire people. From the perspective of Easy Company, which formed the perspective of the miniseries, the entire Jewish theme could have been omitted as it was in Ambrose’s book or treated lightly or treated more heavily but as a crime of the Nazi regime. The libel against the Germans and putting Jewish victims ahead of other ethnic groups was gratuitous.  
  • There are many other criticisms I make of “Why We Fight”. For example, if it was necessary to emphasize one category of victim, why not choose the POWs or the Gypsies? Why must it always be the Jews?
  • This points to the great selectivity in choosing scenes and themes from the book. Instead of the half page on the camp you could have emphasized the longer section in which the G.I.s praise the Germans and begin to overcome their wartime indoctrinated hatred. Yes, you put in that vigorous sex scene. Beautiful young lady. But what about developing the wife of the German general into a noble character, or portray Germans going to church and being ordinary people, or report that wonderful scene in the book in which the hardened G.I. is struck by the old lady’s resemblance to his grandmother and is moved to help her? Webster could have been shown writing that letter home where this arch German-hater admits Germans’ many fine traits. If you really were independent and writing for a production of generally high quality, why did you follow such a hackneyed formula that happened to coincide with the ethnic interests of your employers?

Your reply to my review also makes some errors. Nowhere did I theorize or claim or suggest that Mr. Spielberg “forced” you to write anything. I wrote that he chose you. And as you say, you take full responsibility for the content of that episode. You also point out that if one looks closely the camp inmates are not all wearing yellow stars. Then why did you have the prisoner claim that the camp consisted of “Jews, Jews, Jews, . . . Poles, Gypsies”? You cannot have it both ways Mr. Orloff.

Try to imagine what would have happened if you had written a different episode, though with the same title. Imagine if you had grown up in an alternate universe where Russian victimhood in WWII was emphasized in film because Hollywood was owned and run by Russian-Americans; an America in which the figure of 20 million Russians killed was what every schoolchild knew about, where the sacrifice of the Red Army before Leningrad and in the great envelopments in autumn 1941 was common knowledge, where the Eastern European camps where millions of Russian POWs were starved to death and their officers murdered were preserved as shrines, and where Russian Holocaust memorials were commonplace in American cities and even sponsored by the federal government on the National Mall in Washington, DC. And imagine that as one who had absorbed these images from childhood, and been immersed in elite Russian-American culture, you had written the camp inmate answering “Russians, Russians, Russians . . . Gypsies, Poles” and ignored the Jewish tragedy as a detail of history. And imagine that by some inexplicable quirk – all too typical of alternate universes – you submitted your screenplay in the real world, where Russians do not run Hollywood. Do you really believe that Messrs. Spielberg and Hanks would have produced your work, or do you think they would have suggested a few changes? 

More to the point, Mr. Orloff, would you have accepted those changes or would you have insisted on your integrity as an independent writer? If the latter, please answer the main criticisms contained in my review.

Yours, Charles Dodgson

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