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April 28, 2013

Today concludes the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which marks the twelfth year of this New York-based cinema extravaganza. It’s no surprise that, among the over two hundred feature-length and short films showcased, a few of them deal with Jewish themes or come from Israel. One short, ” target=”_blank”>Six Acts is a surprisingly explicit and unsettling portrait of teenage romance and the pitfalls of popularity and promiscuity. It’s an unexpected, inarguably diverse slate that demonstrates that, even with just a few films on the docket, Israel has plenty to say and to contribute to the movie world.

And then there’s a short subject documentary about one of the most filmed Jewish topics: the Holocaust. Reporting on the Times: The New York Times and the Holocaust runs eighteen minutes and was shown as part of the “History Lessons” shorts program, which also features shorts on guns, sports, and rock and roll. What this particular history lesson covers is the fact that the New York Times ran precious few stories during the Holocaust about what was happening to Jews throughout Europe and in the Nazi camps, and those that did make it to print were buried in the back pages.

This information may not be startling to some, but it is jarring to think that the world really didn’t know what was going on during the Holocaust, partly because the horrific stories submitted to and written by reporters for the Times were ultimately shelved. Those interviewed in the film acknowledge that we have no way of knowing if things would actually have turned out differently had the stories of murder and extermination been plastered on the front page, and that it’s much easier to look back now and analyze how things should or could have been.

One of the main reasons that the Times shied away from focusing too heavily on reporting about Jews is that its publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, was Jewish. To compensate for his religious affiliation, which was hardly a secret, Sulzberger was nervous about over-relying on his heritage and turning off readers. It’s likely that, had the Times published stories about atrocities in Europe on a regular basis, it would have exposed the American readership to more but also been deemed a personal pulpit for Sulzberger to advocate for his people. The eternal question, once again, is whether it would have made a difference.

Reporting on the Times offers incredible statistics about the sparse nature of Holocaust coverage which prove mind-blogging in an age where information is so readily available and nothing goes unreported for long. While genocides in Rwanda, Sudan, and other places occurred without much direct interference from the world, watching as the U.S. now gives aid to rebels in Syria and steps up to its internally perceived role as world peacekeeper, it’s astonishing to think how much difference awareness makes. This documentary may be brief, but what it represents is thought-provoking and completely relevant to world happenings today.

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