CINEMA JUDAICA: The War Years 1939-1949

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – (February 12, 2014) – “Lights, Camera, Action!” are the famous words associated with movie sets…however, the lights were dimmed dramatically for Jews in the industry during World War II. CINEMA JUDAICA: The War Years 1939-1949, on view at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU (JMOF-FIU) from March 4-August 24, 2014, explores this time period, Nazi influence and the response from American movie studios.

CINEMA JUDAICA is an unprecedented exhibition of iconic Hollywood film posters from 1939 to1949. It illustrates how the motion picture industry countered America's isolationism, advocated going to war against the Nazis, influenced post-war perceptions of the Jewish people and the founding of the State of Israel, and shaped the face of contemporary Jewish life.

“The contributions of Jews in motion pictures is well known today,” says Jo Ann Arnowitz, JMOF-FIU Executive Director and Chief Curator, “however this exhibition sheds light on the industry’s politics during WWII, not only internally, but on a national and global level.”

The exhibition begins with the Hollywood studios' compliance with the Nazis' control of the motion picture industry in Germany, the ban on Jews from employment within it, and their restrictions on the American distribution of films shown in Germany and throughout Europe. All but two of America's eight largest studios complied with the Nazis' restrictions. United Artists closed down its German exchanges rather than fire its Jewish employees, but it did accept German content restrictions and arranged for its films to be shown in Germany through another distributor. Warner Bros., however, was the only studio to withdraw from the German market entirely. As Jewish characters disappeared from American films, Harry Warner and his brothers committed themselves to making anti-Nazi movies to alert the nation to the Nazi threat.

The exhibition further documents this time period and how Hollywood studios set up the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) and established a Production Code of Administration (PCA) that prohibited causing affront to foreign states, including Germany. Thereafter, films required a seal of approval from the MPPDA. At the same time, the PCA worked with the U.S. State Department to ensure that American movies did not violate a series of Neutrality Laws enacted by the Roosevelt administration to keep American citizens safe in European and other war zones. Thus, anti-Nazi screenplays and clearly defined Jewish roles, which would not pass the certification process, were transformed through allegory, character name changes, and other disguises and glosses by Warner Bros. and other like-minded independent producers.

At the end of 1938, the PCA approved Warner Bros. openly anti-Nazi script for Confessions of a Nazi Spy, closely based on the recent historical record of the government’s espionage case. The film was released in early May 1939.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and America's declaration of war, Hollywood produced patriotic movies, in the guise of "platoon" films, which reflected on the melting pot tradition of American ethnic diversity and helped instill a unified fighting spirit.

In addition to Confessions of a Nazi Spy, featured films include Sons of Liberty, Pastor Hall, and The Great Dictator. Also included are posters for World War II espionage and concentration camp escape melodramas set in Germany or another Nazi-occupied country such as To Be or Not To Be, plus films about Nazi Germany's accountability such as Address Unknown, Tomorrow the World, and Hotel Berlin.

Following the war, were the "Exodus" films addressing the attempt by European war refugees to rebuild their lives and cultures after the Holocaust include My Father's House, The Illegals, The Search, and Sword in the Desert. Post-war Hollywood films also addressed antisemitism on the home front and the Christian Mobilizers, who blamed the Jews for the war and attacked Jewish citizens, stores, and synagogues in major northeast cities. These films, in which an Italian American or Irish American authority figure condemns antisemitism, stops an assault, or solves a racist murder, include The House I Live In, Crossfire, Open Secret, while Gentleman's Agreement, addresses the related subject of White Anglo Saxon Protestant antisemitism.

Exhibition on loan from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum and is curated by Laura Kruger. Local sponsors include the Robert Arthur Segall Foundation; State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture; the Miami-Dade Tourist Development Council, the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council; the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners and the City of Miami Beach, Cultural Affairs Program, Cultural Arts Council.

About JMOF-FIU: The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU is the only museum dedicated to telling the story of 250 years of Florida Jewish heritage, arts and culture. The museum is housed in two adjacent, lovingly restored historic buildings, at 301 Washington Avenue on South Beach, that were once synagogues for Miami Beach's first Jewish congregation. The museum's permanent exhibition is MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida, 1763 to Present. Its temporary history and art exhibitions change periodically. For more information: 305-672-5044 or www.jewishmuseum.com or visit us on Facebook @JewishMuseumofFlorida.