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Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino's new movie made me wonder what Jewish "vengeance" should look like.


If you were a Jew in Germany in the 1940s what would you have done? You would have fought back, right? You wouldn't have gone like a sheep to the slaughter. You would have joined the resistance and showed the Nazis that Jewish blood wasn't cheap, right?

Growing up in a family still carrying the scars of the Holocaust, that's what I used to tell myself. My grandfather had been sent over from Poland to America in the 1920s as the eldest of nine siblings to work and earn enough money to send for the rest of brothers and sisters and eventually his parents. He was able to rescue one of his brothers until the doors of Europe were slammed shut. The rest of his family perished and he never forgave himself for it. As children and grandchildren, we all shared a portion of Zadie's guilt, as have the entire Jewish community, and society as a whole.

What would our world look like if there had been no Holocaust? Or what if the Jews could have somehow fought back successfully and changed the course of the war? Sadly, in reality we will never know, but Quentin Tarantino's new movie, Inglourious Basterds, allows us to imagine the possibility.

The film follows a group of Jewish American soldiers called the "Basterds" who set out for revenge against Nazi soldiers with the directive from their Lieutenant "Aldo Rain," played by Brad Pitt, that they are to obtain 100 Nazi scalps each (literally). These Jews also take sport in killing their prey, taking whacks at Nazi skulls with baseball bats and carving swastikas into their foreheads. The film ends with a film premier at a Paris movie theatre owned by a girl named Shoshana, whose entire family had been killed a few years earlier by the Nazis. The subject of the premier is a Nazi propaganda film and in attendance are all of the Nazi top brass including Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering, Martin Bormann and Hitler himself. Shoshana, along with the Basterds, lock the doors to the auditorium, light the place on fire, and shoot indiscriminately into the crowd blowing up the place in a Tarantino-esque blood bath.

While only a movie, watching the Basterd named the "Bear Jew" put 100 holes into Hitler with and AK, and his cohorts herd the Nazi brass into a locked room while they violently burn to their deaths is strangely cathartic. Indeed, it is interesting that 65 years after the end of the Holocaust Tarantino's movie marks a recent trend of movies emphasizing Jewish vengeance or heroism (Defiance, Valkyrie, White Rose). But is vengeance really a Jewish attribute?

My 19-year-old self would have said yes. After having heard my Zadie's tragic stories, and the many others we heard in school, in my way, I wanted vengeance. One way I thought I could do my part was to join the Israel Defence Forces. I went to Israel to study for a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and I figured that at the end of my studies I would think about enlisting.

The more I learned about Judaism and Jewish practice, the more I realized that this was the type of "vengeance" I wanted.

But soon after I arrived in Israel, I began to study not only at the university, but at the Yeshiva as well. I was exposed to Jewish wisdom and practice that I had never known really existed. I saw close knit families that not only stayed within the Jewish fold but made Judaism a part of their lives. This was in stark contrast to the community in which I grew up where intermarriage and Jewish apathy were rampant. The more I learned about Judaism and Jewish practice, the more I realized that this was the type of "vengeance" I wanted. Being a proud, informed Jew, immersed in the meaning and relevance of Judaism.

After my return from Israel, I informed my Bubbie and Zadie that I had become observant. While they did show some initial apprehension, slowly they began to realize that the more "Jewish" I became, the more connected I became to my history, my people, and them.

As the years have progressed I have gotten married and had children. While my Zadie has since passed away at 97 years old, my grandmother is alive and well (may she live until 120!) Recently, my wife and children and I went to visit my Bubbie where she lives in a Jewish senior's home. Interestingly, my wife and I got in "trouble" from the activities director as none of the residents showed up for baking class. Apparently, they all simply wanted to sit in the lobby and watch our children run around. As my Bubbie sat there next to her cousin whose entire family was wiped out in the Holocaust, along with a few dozen other residents who no doubt suffered tragic losses as well, I realized that this was the best "vengeance" someone could ever have. Who knows -- maybe my family will be the subject of Tarantino's next film.

August 30, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 59

(59) Kenan Moss, December 28, 2013 12:54 PM

I truly hope not

I think that films like"Inglourious Basterds" should not be made. Do not mistake my meaning: I am not a censor. I do however believe that when we touch on historic events they should be faithfully recorded. My own youngest son asked me how Hitler could have been responnsible for the Holocaust if he had been murdered in a Paris cinema long before the war ended. Researchers have found that the power of UNINTENTIONAL LIES in a film are remembered as fact even after students have been told that they are not true. Scott is one of the directors who takes the most liberties with historical fact for "dramatic tension". I wonder how long it will be before someone somewhere makes the ultimate exculpative film showing that the Nazis were the unwilling victims of the Jews in their maniacal drive to take over the Middle-East.

(58) Ashley, February 21, 2011 11:31 PM


While the point the author makes is correct, I'd like to make a point about vengeance and it being "Jewish" or not. I hear too many people saying that it's not a Jewish concept, and we should be forgiving, etc. Growing up, I was taught that revenge IS in fact very Jewish, after all don't we see it happen in the Torah on more than one occasion?

(57) Marc Stevens, January 8, 2011 2:27 PM

True Jewish Vengeance

Read my book: 'Escape, Evasion and Revenge: The True Story of a German Jewish RAF Pilot Who Bombed Berlin and Became a POW'. It is the biography of the only German Jew known to have flown bombers against his own country in WW2. On one occasion, he was ordered to bomb his hometown (he had committed identity theft to join the RAF, so his seniors were not aware of his ethnicity and origin). After flying 22 missions, he was shot down and taken POW by the Nazis, who fortunately never discovered his true identity. During 3 years and 8 months as a POW (without any protection under the Geneva Convention), he went on to become one of the most ardent POW escapers of the war, and received Britain's Military Cross after his exploits came to light in 1946. He never told anyone after the war the he was a German Jew (except in order to obtain British citizenship), and he took all of these secrets to his grave in 1979. His name was Georg Hein/Peter Stevens, and I'm very proud to say that he was my father. Marc Stevens Toronto

(56) David, May 18, 2010 3:36 AM

Fight, not beg!

We need the toughness and backbone of Jews, not softness. How else were Jews able to survived the Holocaust? Sure, vengeance is God's, but He sees no reason why we shouldn't defend ourselves. Any enemy of Israel, who gives inflammatory remarks against a Jew is enough to be violent, whether Germans, Arabs (although Arabs ARE semites... no one seems to have racial hatred against them) and any other race. Why do you think modern Israelis don't like to fight along side Jews? Jews are too damn sensitive. They let enemies push them around too often. The more power enemies have over Jews, the more damaging it will be. That's what Inglourious Basterds is about. Fight, not beg!

(55) Nicole Sonia, January 11, 2010 10:16 PM

Tarantino Tarnishes A Jewish Girls Fantasy of Peace

I am 29 years old. My brothers and I went to see the film the day it was in theaters. We were the first ones there, and the last to leave. The first thing I said to my brothers was " I must admit, Tarantino made a film that is basically my secret fantasy. A female Jew, who brakes the stereotypical looking Jewish Girl, fights to survive and died while standing fearless in the face of, what we Jews know, evil twisted psychotic mass murdering Nazi Leaders. As a Jew, Shoshana died with intentions of saving Jews.!" Then I asked my brothers if they noticed EVERYONE in the theater found the film hilarious and awesome? " Cause it was lil sister!" I agreed, and from a Jewish p.o.v. it was a funny fantasy film. We surely were the only Jews in the theater and were laughing at something completely different than everyone else. Tarantino has lost respect in my book. Not only is the film no longer enjoyable, but NONE of his work is. Tarantino made this film for German Americans who's roots come from Nazi Germany. He says it himself, " Now Nazi's and Germans can enjoy a film about WWII". Super... What??? NEVER EVER EVER should German Nazi's, Mel Gibson, or my skin head neo-nazi neighbors, laugh at this. And I think if those people are laughing, WE Jews should stop and make note. Why? Who is the scapegoat throughout history? And as we know, history repeats itself. Our country is in a major depression. Perfect timing to be an easy target. I remember the first time I saw Schindlers List. The only time I smiled was at the frustration of the Nazi's. The Nazi scum says " we took away everything from them! They're in the ghetto with nothing! How do they keep prospering??!!" Well dead Nazi, You'll never know. ha. Jews take care of Jews. No matter what. Shalom, Nicole

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