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Richard Rubenstein

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5062 | Film ID: 3871, 3872, 3873, 3874, 3586

Richard Rubenstein, an American professor, relates his position on stateless people, bureaucracy, and the role of churches during the Holocaust.

FILM ID 3871 -- Camera Rolls TALA 1-5 Allies
CR1 Professor Rubenstein begins the interview by describing the beauty of Wakulla Springs, near Tallahassee, Florida, where the interview will take place. Lanzmann asks if it is a fitting place to talk about the Holocaust, to which Rubenstein answers it is as fitting as any other place, as the Holocaust was so unnatural and destructive. 01:02:22 CR2 He implies the similarities of the sanctuary in which the bird and alligator species live to the plight of the Holocaust survivors. Lanzmann asks Rubenstein to explain the central theme of his book, which regards the stateless Jews directly preceding the Holocaust. Rubenstein believes that a fundamental step which allowed the Holocaust to occur was the Jews being denied their political rights. Normal protections provided by laws no longer applied to them. Rubenstein mentions that some people believe the Germans violated God's law.

01:11:05 CR4 This violation against God's law held no punishment as those who were regarded as interpreters of God's will did not criticize the Holocaust at the time. There was silence throughout Europe in the churches and other religious places. In some European countries before WWII, it was better to be a criminal - to be a person who was entitled to rights and treated as a human being - than to be a law-abiding stateless person. Rubenstein discusses the problems societies face with over population. Hitler studied German population movements to Argentina, and was thus aware of the strains a surplus of people would impose on the economy of a country. Rubenstein points out that Hitler, as well as Himmler, Heydrich and other leading Nazi officials, could themselves have fallen into the category of surplus urbanites. However, they seized total control and thus had the power to decide who was surplus. While Jews contributed to German society in a variety of professions, the non-Jewish lower middle class was at high risk economic instability and saw the Jews as foreigners and competitors.

01:22:17 CR5 Rubenstein disagrees with Lanzmann when he says that Western democracies showed humanitarian concern for the Jewish refugees at the Evian Conference. He believes their concern to have been for show and a means to placate one another. From 1936 to 1938, Poland sought to get rid of their Jewish population, going as far as establishing an apartheid between Christian and Jewish Poles. Lanzmann asks if the Holocaust could have been avoided had the Western powers and Latin America opened their doors. All Rubenstein can say with certainty is that the situation would have been radically different. He also believes that the British government saw the elimination of the Jews as a positive. Far fewer sought refuge in Palestine, which at the time was under British rule.

FILM ID 3872 -- Camera Rolls TALA 6-10 Allies
CR6 In May 1939 Britain declared, with the exception of 75,000 people over the next five years, that Jews could not enter Palestine. According to Rubenstein, this decision was a death sentence and that those responsible for the decision were just as culpable for the Holocaust as the Germans. Jewish resistance in Poland was not possible, as Jews there did not have the support of the population, who themselves also viewed the extermination of the Jews of Poland as a positive. Rubenstein also claims that Roosevelt saw a large influx of European Jews into the United States as detrimental to his political coalition, and went as far as to prevent the Jewish settlement in Palestine from achieving political independence. The bombing of Auschwitz and the railroad would have been symbolic, and would have demonstrated to the world that what the Germans were doing was horrific. As this was not done, the Germans did not see that the murder of European Jewry was a top issue with the Allies. Rubenstein explains the fundamental differences between the Jewish and Christian religions, and that that these differences led the Christians of Europe to view the Jews as dangerous to their system of beliefs. Consequently, they had to be contained, converted or expelled.

CR8 01: 13:08 CR9 01:13:20 CR10 01:13:38 Although expulsion of Jewish culture and religion from Christian Europe was supported by many church leaders, they did not understand that this would involve murder. While many individuals endeavored to save Jews, the overall policy in many countries was to allow the extermination of Jews to occur. Rubenstein discusses how the Holocaust was a bureaucratic process from start to finish. It began with the legal division of Jews from their Christian German counterparts and encompassed the collaboration of the post offices, banks and railroads. One did not have to hate Jews to kill them, they simply had to perform their job under a bureaucracy. In this way, people were able to evade responsibility for what their actions ultimately did. The combination of German cold-blooded rationality and Polish hatred for the Jews made the Final Solution a possibility.

FILM ID 3873 -- Camera Rolls TALA 4A,6A,7A,11A Reserve Tallahassee
Mute reel with nature shots of Wakulla Springs.

FILM ID 3874 – Camera Rolls Coupe 6B,11
Mute reel with nature shots of Wakulla Springs, as well as CUs of Rubenstein and Lanzmann.

FILM ID 3586 -- Son Seul

Event:  Winter 1978-1979
Production:  1985
Tallahassee, FL, United States
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 22:02:47
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