God on Trial (A BBC Masterpiece)

With a day before the next batch of Jews are to be dragged off to the gas chambers in another day during the Holocaust, a group of learned prisoners decided to conduct a trial. Perhaps it was to distract themselves, perhaps it was to vent, or maybe it was to feel some semblance of control or power before meeting their ultimate demise, being left to the memories of those who might live on. Whatever the case, the suspect in the trial was God. The charges? Breaking the covenant. The film “God on Trial” tells the story of these prisoners, and ends with a conclusive verdict, after a trial that completely engrosses everyone who would watch.

I just stumbled across this amazing film (made in 2008), which is based on a trial that real prisoners had in the camps. Obviously, most Jews in the holocaust did not survive to give a first-hand account, but we know that many of the Jewish people who died there were well-educated individuals – professors, scientists, scholars, etc. If they managed to kill all of the Jews, you would never have heard of Sigmund Freud or Albert Einstein; but now just imagine how many other names you would have known if they had not been killed?

Though Auschwitz is the setting, and Jews are the characters, the story is not really about the holocaust. It’s about faith and reason; pain, and suffering. It makes arguments like those from some of the greatest philosophers in the world. As PBS.org says:

From all walks of life, a physicist, a glove maker, rabbis, a law professor and at least one criminal weigh the evidence and offer thoughtful arguments taken from history, science, theology and personal experience. [. . .] God on Trial explores unfathomable loss and unshakable faith.

The movie was filmed in an odd way – three cameras were basically hidden to the actors, with long takes (sometimes twenty minutes long) in which the actors made their arguments without breaking character. In fact, the actors really did seem to become their characters, from the emotionally battered to the painfully blunt.

Though the story takes place so many years ago, the content is still relevant today. As director Andy de Emmony says:

There has been a lot of death and killing and violence in the name of God. And that idea that anyone feels God is with them and not with the other side — we’ve used it to fuel wars for many years, so I think it is relevant in lots of ways today.

One of the actors, Antony Sher, says that it’s extremely important to keep making new pieces about the Holocaust so that the new generations don’t get used to it.

It’s not a subject we must ever get used to because it has already happened again in places like Rwanda and the old Yugoslavia. It will keep happening unless we learn the lessons of it.

Regardless of whether you are a person of faith, the questions and arguments raised in this film have meaning to anyone who has ever wondered “why me” or “why them.” The personal tales even go into areas of good, evil, and free will. The stories are stunning.

Watch this masterpiece of film here:

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