This morning on the train on my way to work, I came across an article about a new documentary called “Forbidden Films” which asks the question whether the Nazi propaganda films should be un-banned or not. This is a topic that has come up in my mind for 25 years now and I do not have the answer!
One of my first jobs was in a small library situated in my father’s office in Germany. The library focussed on religion (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) and history of religion and there was of course also a whole section on World War II.
Part of that library section was called “Der Giftschrank” (“The poison shelf”) where some Nazi propaganda material was kept, like for instance Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” or some copies of the notorious Nazi propaganda paper “Der Stürmer”. That section was locked and was only allowed to be opened, and the materials in it perused, by permission from the boss himself (my dad). The Giftschrank was there for study purposes.
I have always learned that censorship is bad and that freedom of speech is essential in a free world. Yet here we are, forbidding these Nazi propaganda films to be seen and the literature to be read. On the other hand (due to having been allowed to leaf through some Giftschrank materials) I know how sickening this material is and it is unthinkable that there are people out there who might want to re-use some of it for their own twisted purposes! This stuff is so toxic, it would create a stir and get attention that you maybe don’t want it to have. On the other hand, how are we to really learn from history if we keep the evil locked away? Or should everything be open, but with comments explaining what it helped do? Or should there be no explanations and should these texts and films just speak for themselves?
I have no answers to all these questions. My first reaction is that everything that is so discriminatory and racist and sets people up against each other should be forbidden. Yet – those materials offer opinions and points of view and shouldn’t we at least be open to what others think (or thought) even if we absolutely hate what they think? It’s the same with all these “Je suis Charlie” cartoons. I find many of the anti-Islamic cartoons to be extremely offensive and racist and it sets up people against each other. I realize it is also a reaction to extremist Islamic ideology (which I also absolutely hate – I hate any extremist ideology, period). But even with those cartoons I wonder: how far can we allow these opinions to be aired? Where is the line and should there be a line?
The whole recent Cybersmile brouhaha, with freedom of speech and censorship essentially at the heart of it all, has made me think about this and now the article I read this morning throws it into a larger arena – what can or can’t we say, what can or can’t we write and what may be read or watched and what should be forbidden?
I’m very curious to see this “Forbidden Films” documentary, I wonder to what conclusions I would come. I don’t expect answers because I don’t think there really are definitive answers but I am throwing this out there in the universe to ponder over…