Saturday, November 3, 2012

Exculpating Germany *During* World War II (!): Bosley Crowther on "The Seventh Cross"

Bosley Crowther

Thanks to the inadequacy of President Barack Obama, Governor Chris Christie, and Mayor Jeff Jones, Paterson, New Jersey's third largest city, and one of the nation's most historic, has left a good number of its citizens without power for the sixth day.

We are cold, we are hungry, and we are worried.

And I've been unable to blog in that time.

But I have been thinking about Polish-Jewish relations.

And I came here to a public library that actually has power to share some thoughts.


Readers of "Bieganski" will fully understand the significance of the below-quoted Bosley Crowther, New York Times film review of 1944's "The Seventh Cross."

"Bieganski" describes how guilt for the Holocaust, which properly belongs to German Nazis, is often displaced onto, not just individual Poles, but onto a posited Polish archetype, the Brute Polak.

At the same time, German Nazis can be depicted as sexy. And German Nazis can be exculpated for their guilt through a variety of rhetorical strategies. The chapters on Bieganski in the Mainstream Press and The Necessity of Bieganski talk most directly about the process of exculpating Germans and/or Nazis, and implicating Poles qua Poles, and the clever rhetorical strategies that make all that ethical legerdemain viable.

One previous blog post talks about part of this process in a review of a film, "Decision before Dawn."

While camping out in my dark and cold post-Hurricane Sandy apartment, and reading through my massive clip file on Polish-Jewish relations, I came across Bosley Crowther's review of "The Seventh Cross." Crowther was the New York Times' film critic for twenty-seven years. He had influence, and he reflected the opinions of those who have influence.

"The Seventh Cross" is a grim, black-and-white Hollywood film that attempts to present to American audiences the horrors of the Holocaust.

That this film tries to do that work is admirable. As my own essay on "Hollywood and the Holocaust" reports, too few took up that work.

What I find fascinating about Crowther's review is his immediate and emphatic emphasis, in September of 1944, on NOT blaming or stereotyping Germans.

Think about it.

September, 1944.

By that point, the Holocaust was all but over. The Lodz Ghetto was liquidated in August, 1944. It was the last ghetto in Poland. The gas chambers of Auschwitz murdered their last victims in October, 1944.

Paris had been liberated. The Battle of the Bulge was in full swing. Allies were advancing east. Soviets were advancing west.

It's remarkable that given those world events, American elites were already pressing against any stereotyping of Germans, were, rather, urging Americans to show "tolerance" to Germans. To see how very differently Poles have been treated, please read "Bieganski."

Excerpts from Bosley Crowther's September 29, 1944, review of "The Seventh Cross."

"'Seventh Cross,' Anti-Nazi Drama, With Spencer Tracy, at Capitol Theater

By Bosley Crowther

It was Edmund Burke, the British statesman, who said many, many years ago that he knew of no way of drawing an indictment against a whole people. (The people to whom he then had reference, of course, were the American colonists.) And it is in this same spirit of tolerance that the modern German people are viewed in Metro's absorbing screen version of Anna Seghers' powerful novel, 'The Seventh Cross.' Without in the least overlooking the bestiality of Nazi brutes nor the miserable self-surrender of German citizens to their black regime, this film, which came yesterday to the Capitol, visions a burning zeal for freedom in some German rebels and a core of decency in many simple folk.

True, the German people which it pictures are not supposed to be those of today. They are specifically shown as German people reacting to a crisis in 1936. And presumably most of the rebels and daring burghers of that day are now dead. But the basic theme, by implication, holds today just as much as it held then. It is that in men—even in Germans—there is an instinct for good that cannot be destroyed.

If you will accept this premise, despite the evidence of recent deeds, then you should be both moved and shaken by the better part of this film. For it tells a truly hair-raising story of a German anti-Nazi who escapes from a concentration camp and runs a gamut of terrible trials in his attempt to flee the land. He sees the men who broke out with him killed or captured, one by one; he feels the blank despair and disillusion which comes from finding loved ones false to him. He knows the primitive terror of an animal ruthlessly hunted down, and he gropes in constant dread and suspicion, like a pitiful creature at bay.

All of these torturing emotions are sharply conveyed through the film, as are the more tensile anxieties of the hero when he finds himself with friends. For the most trying part of his experience—and the most touching impact of the theme—comes with the perilous endeavors of these little people to give him aid. The human response of an old pal, now a comfortably settled family man, to the plight of the anti-Nazi outcast is a fine, ennobling portion of the film.

Credit Fred Zinnemann, the director, and Karl Freund, the camera man, for much of the crackling tension and hard-packed realism that prevails. And credit Helen Deutsch for adapting Frau Seghers' novel with all its monstrousness intact. Except for a wholly meretricious romantic interlude provided for the fugitive at the finish, the whole thing rings stunningly true.

Spencer Tracy gives a splendid performance as the tortured and anguished hunted man—a performance sharply reminiscent of that which he gave in 'Fury.' Hume Cronyn is splendidly bourgeois as the old pal who helps him out, and Jessica Tandy is emotionally devastating as the latter's courageous wife. Other good performances are given in lesser roles by Herbert Rudley, Paul Guilfoyle and Signe Hasso, even though that of the last named is a senseless one at best

The big reservation which this writer holds with regard to this film is that concerning the discretion of its theme at this particular time. Without any question, it creates a human sympathy for the people of a nation with whom we are at war and it tends, as have some others, to load Germany's national crime on Nazi backs. Obviously this picture can make sentiment for a 'soft' peace. It looks as though we are getting a dandy 'thriller' at a pretty high price.'"


  1. The rapidly-emerging tendency of the West, not long after WWII, to soft-pedal Germany's guilt was also manifested by questioning the justice of giving Poland the formerly German territories up to the Oder-Neisse (Odra-Nysa) Rivers.

    For an example of how a US Congressman was refuted for putting down Poland in this regard, please click on my name in this specific posting.

  2. Dear Danusha,this sounds truly terrible, I hope you are fine! I also hope You will be voting on November 6th ;-) given the inconveniences. For the first time ever, I am very excited about the election, gosh, I have even watched the first debate together with my Dad…I hope for us all America will do the right thing….
    on NOT blaming or stereotyping Germans.
    Of course not-the would not be PC, apparently. And I am becoming more and more worried, Ill explain why-have a look at this article here:
    (it’s an official German news outlet in Polish).Maybe you have heard about this-finally, Gypsies, who were murdered during the Holocaust, have gotten a spot in Berlin where they are remembered. Of course, there are voices that Polish (or, in a broader sense,Slavic) victims should get a memorial in Berlin,too. The way the German “expert” argues against one is truly horrific in my eyes-more or less things like isn’t it to late for one? (apparently, it is NOT “too late” for one for murdered homosexuals…) and wouldn’t this have a negative influence on the apparently fantastic (I am smirking right now-German pupils do not learn anything substantial about Poland,at all.Actually, Asians seem to know way more about Poland than Germans,no joke) German-Polish relations (to stress one thing here: every intelligent and honest Polish person living in Germany for a longer period of time with his/her eyes/ears open would compare this “relationship” to one between employer and Manpower contract workers….). In short: Don’t commemorate Polish victims its sooooo old-fashioned and besides, it would make us feel bad (pardon my sarcasm).With the crisis we are in (courtesy of reckless spending,corruption plus a failing currency) Germany seems to feel it has got an “European mission” to fulfill….which makes me feel like being in a time loop ( Now, at the very same time, the German side does not refrain from working on having expulsions per se seen as “a crime against humanity”, thus making victims of all German forced to leave Poland/other countries after the war, regardless of their, eh, “background” (like having murdered Poles/Czechs as a member of the Volksdeutsche “Selbst” schutz).Results? I have heard very often opinions like “ well, the Poles were brutal, too, f.e against the German minority ect”.It gets worse-right now, we do not have an elite in Poland who could stand up to such vile shamelessness,the attempt to spread guilt around (of course, they do not try to pull anything like this with the French,Dutch,Danes and other nations they actually admire and respect) and some from the “inteligensja” do not understand that being nice towards German demands will not result in being respected and liked but rather, in being regarded as weak and exploitable.

  3. Also, dear Jan!
    Ive gone through Your reviews and I just wanted to say: Kudos! I am very impressed-some of these book I can even borrow from my libary ;-) you know what is ironic? having read all these books You have actually become kind of an expert qualified (with regards to knowledge) to teach at a university. Unfortunately, its not about knowledge but about Id like to call "the narrative" (which apparently is: Jews=victimes Poles= not victimes,anti-Semites and German=an abstractum,great cars and beer)

  4. Great comments today, its a pleasure reading them.

    On Danusha's plight in New Jersey we can all wish her her the best under really tough circumstances. From what can be seen in the news it looks worse than anything I can imagine. It makes the New York Time's recent editorial on how necesary and great "Big Government" is look like the joke it is, as the NYT now has a hard time now defending itself agaisnt bias charges coming from People's China Daily! That is looking more a comical street-fight every day.

  5. Yes, Hanna, Jan is valiant in the Polish media issues arena, against great odds.

    Am I right in thinking that Manhattan has its lights back on? I can only hope that they might get round to the rest of you before Winter sets in!

    If we must keep memorialising WW2 - without apparently learning a single useful lesson from so doing - then I wish it could be memorialised without the politics. But how is that possible?

    If so, then Poland would have to take its share of responsibility for Allied war crimes, but it would not be blamed for the war crimes of the Axis.

    Though if, suddenly, the crimes of the Allies became important in the political sense, would Poland find itself moved back into the Allied camp at the speed of light?

    Which presents me with a worry that the next Media Version of WW2 will have Europe being laid waste as the Axis Powers of Poland, Poland and Poland savagely attack the Allied Powers of Poland, Poland and Poland.

    That might be the only version of the war that would perfectly fit The Little Red Book of Political Correctness.

    Oh dear... at any rate it all seems yet another reason to be "no part" of the world.

  6. Our eighth day without light, heat, any ability to cook, or reliable potable water or mail delivery (water and mail delivery are spotty.)

  7. Hi there, Danusha- wow, I am appalled.I hope You are doing fine.Perhaps, when Obama will be done touring all 57 US states,including parts of Asia (=Hawaii) he will come to the rescue of you all through "stimulus packages". Just kidding. I should be over soon, Ill have You in my prayers :-)

  8. What is happening over there?! America used to be so can-do. And it is not poor. What has gone wrong?

  9. right now it is 44 degrees farenheit. Scheduled to go down to the twenties tonight. I am very cold, in a dark room, all wrapped up in a sleeping bag.

  10. :-( Stay strong, dear Danusha!

  11. Thank you, Hanna. I have been posting detailed updates on Facebook.

  12. Well-I feel kind of very dissapointed. I mean, when I was little I always thought when you work hard,achieve and have good,logical points people will see that and reward you. I turns out that its somewhat of the other way round.You can be undereducated,a retorical calamity,absolutely clueless-and still get way forward in life.You just need money, a good campaign advisor and people having the feeling that they are moral because they are voting for a "poor" minority person. Makes me wish I was from a minority sometimes....


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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