Angelina Jolie and genocide beyond the Holocaust

Even the title of Angelina Jolie’s film, “In the Land of Blood and Honey” suggests parallels to the Jewish story.

It bespeaks the location of one genocide, where the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims by Christian Serbs took place, while doubling as a reference to the land of milk and honey, which was not host but haven for Jewish victims of a different genocide.

But Jolie’s film also proves that genocide is not exclusive to the Holocaust. According to Anne Applebaum, writing in The New York Review of Books, the actual word “genocide” was coined in 1943 when Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin needed a way to describe “the crime of barbarity” that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime were imposing throughout Europe. Though history has proven the word contains multitudes, and encompasses a horror more prodigious than a singular event.

Though I have not yet seen the film, Jewish Journal executive editor Susan Freudenheim did, and came away with a poignant message about a powerful film: That the xenophobia and tribalism that impels one group to brutalize another is evident across cultures and a more pervasive evil than any single conflict.

Freudenheim writes:

I left this film thinking of its similarities to the Holocaust. And then I immediately ran into a friend, Samuel Chu, an activist born in China, who told me he’d come to see “Blood and Honey” just after watching “City of Life and Death,” by the Chinese director Lu Chuan. That film is about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre — also known as the Rape of Nanjing — when the invading Japanese brutalized the Chinese. Chu said he was deeply moved by the parallels between “Blood and Honey” and China’s story.

And then there are the parallels to the current situation in Darfur, where women continue to be brutalized just for leaving their camps to gather firewood.

And there were yet other parallels, as “Blood and Honey” lead actor Goran Kostic pointed out: As the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina played out, Steven Spielberg was in Poland shooting “Schindler’s List,” a recreated ethnic cleansing only a short distance away from an existing one.

Even beyond ethnic annihilation, Jolie’s film also addresses the tyranny of men over women, and the barbaric savagery that ensues when men are powerful and women are vulnerable.

Read Freudenheim’s rave report here