Moving pictures

Moving pictures

Two brief videos made available last week demonstrated the enormous power of broadcast images in the age of YouTube.

The first, a mere 20 seconds long, is the only known film footage of Anne Frank. Released by the Anne Frank House, it features a glimpse of the young author at a window, looking down at the wedding of her neighbors on July 22, 1941, a year before her family went into hiding. The film is eerie and heart-breaking, and the very normalcy of the scenes gives no hint of the horrors that would be visited upon Amsterdam and its Jews in a matter of months. As one writer put it upon seeing the video, it changes nothing, but brings home yet again the obscenity of the Holocaust.

The second video shows captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The video was turned over by his captors in Gaza in exchange for the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners. Shalit, looking thin but not unhealthy and wearing a green uniform, reads a statement with an ambiguous smile, and holds what appears to be a newspaper from Sept. 14, 2009. He greets his parents and siblings, and reads from a script urging Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to “finalize the deal” so that “I will finally be able to realize my dream and be released.”

The Shalit video was a welcome assurance that the soldier is alive even as it offered further evidence of Hamas’ cynicism in exploiting his family’s suffering and Israel’s humanitarian ethic for political advantage. Israel is now feeling heightened pressure to release more prisoners in exchange for Shalit, in one of those wildly imbalanced deals that the world seems to accept with equanimity.

The two videos are connected only in the coincidental timing of their release. And yet they also seem like filmic bookends, reminding Jews of past tragedies and battles yet to be won.

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