You can't make stuff like this up: Mel Gibson is planning a TV miniseries about the Holocaust

I had been planning on posting about something completely different today, namely a far more medically related topic, but then I came across this, and my plans changed. The previously planned post will appear some other day.

I have to file this under You Can't Make Stuff Like This Up:
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 6 - Mel Gibson, whose "The Passion of the Christ" was assailed by critics as an anti-Semitic passion play - and whose father has been on record as a Holocaust denier - has a new project under way: a nonfiction miniseries about the Holocaust.

Mr. Gibson's television production company is developing a four-hour miniseries for ABC based on the self-published memoir of Flory A. Van Beek, a Dutch Jew whose gentile neighbors hid her from the Nazis but who lost several relatives in concentration camps.

It is not expected that Mr. Gibson will act in the miniseries, nor is it certain yet that his name, rather than his company's, will be publicly attached to the final product, according to several people involved in developing it. Nor is it guaranteed yet that the project will be completed and broadcast.

But Quinn Taylor, ABC's senior vice president in charge of movies for television, acknowledged that the attention-getting value of having Mr. Gibson attached to a Holocaust project was a factor.

"Controversy's publicity, and vice versa," Mr. Taylor said.

ABC brought in Mr. Gibson's company, Con Artists Productions, after an independent producer, Daniel Sladek, pitched the network on Ms. Van Beek's story. With her husband, Felix, Ms. Van Beek survived the sinking of a passenger ship by a German mine, followed by three years in hiding during the German occupation of Holland, before emigrating to the United States in 1948.

The network chose Mr. Gibson's company when it learned of Ms. Van Beek's tale shortly after ABC had rejected a separate pitch by Con Artists' president, Nancy Cotton, for another Holocaust-related subject, Mr. Taylor said.

"This has the middle, the love story, that the other one didn't have," he explained.

Mr. Sladek said ABC's calculation in engaging Mr. Gibson was to win the largest possible audience. "I think that what ABC wants out of this is to build the biggest billboard imaginable in order to get everyone logically interested to tune in and watch this," he said.

Ms. Van Beek's book, "Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death" (Seven Locks Press, 1998) is a wide-eyed account of her and her husband's abbreviated courtship; their attempt to sail to safety in Chile; the sinking of their ship, and their rescue and recuperation in England; their return to Holland in 1940; and their suffering in hiding as the deportations of Jews began. They were liberated by Canadian troops, but only 5,200 of Holland's 140,000 Jews survived the war, according to Mr. Sladek's research.
You may recall from a couple of years back, round about the time Mel Gibson was making The Passion of the Christ, Jewish leaders expressed concern that the movie, with its intentionally violent and bloody depiction of Jesus' death, would stir up anti-Semitism. His father Hutton Gibson didn't help matters any by giving an interview to the New York Times and to radio stations in which he openly denied the Holocaust. One example:
In his interview on WSNR radio's Speak Your Piece, to be broadcast on Monday, Hutton Gibson, argued that many European Jews counted as death camp victims of the Nazi regime had in fact fled to countries like Australia and the United States.

"It's all -- maybe not all fiction -- but most of it is," he said, adding that the gas chambers and crematoria at camps like Auschwitz would not have been capable of exterminating so many people.

"Do you know what it takes to get rid of a dead body? To cremate it?" he said. "It takes a litre of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million of them? They (the Germans) did not have the gas to do it. That's why they lost the war."
A transcript of major parts of the interview has been posted here. Hutton has also addressed various Holocaust "revisionist" conferences, such as the Barnes Review.

Not entirely surprisingly, Hutton is also a conspiracy theorist. He believes in various complicated conspiracies involving Jews and Masons to destroy the Catholic Church, having stated that that Vatican II was a "Masonic plot backed by the Jews" and that all popes since then have been illegitimate. (Of course, it has been noted that one of the major changes introduced to Catholic doctrine in Vatican II was the reversal of the teaching that blamed the Jews for Christ's death.) It is unclear how much his son shares in these his father's conspiracy-mongering, but Mel does belong to the same breakaway conservative sect (sometimes called "Traditional Catholic") and financed the building of a church in Malibu for fellow ex-Catholics. (Members of this sect are, in fact, no longer Roman Catholics. Their doctrinal differences with the Church are too marked, and they do not recognize the authority of the Church or the Pope, nor is Gibson's Malibu church affiliated with the Archdioses of Los Angeles in any way. Nonetheless, Gibson is often misrepresented in the press and media as being nothing more than a very conservative Catholic.)

Mel has also steadfastly refused to criticize his father's open anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. It is, of course, understandable for a son not to want to criticize his father, and Mel has said things that appear to sound as though he doesn't share his father's beliefs. For example, in an interview with Diane Sawyer, he was quoted as saying:
Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenceless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.
And in another interview with Peggy Noonan for Reader's Digest in which Noonan asked him point-blank: "You're going to have to go on the record. The Holocaust happened, right?" Mel replied:
I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century 20 million people died in the Soviet Union.
Notice that he didn't just answer, "Yes, the Holocaust happened." I've heard Holocaust deniers say very similar things on many occasions, usually emphasizing that "many millions" died in World War II, and that "some of those killed were Jews" who died in concentration camps. They also try to minimize the crime by mentioning other atrocities ("atrocities happened"). Characteristically, there is usually (as above) no mention of gas chambers and no mention that millions of Jews were murdered as a matter of Nazi policy. Indeed, Mel's statements are entirely of a piece with a common portrayal of the Holocaust by deniers as many Jews dying in concentration camps of disease and starvation, but not due to any organized, systematic plan by the Nazis to exterminate them. And, then, of course, notice the pointed mention of Communist atrocities, a mention whose purpose is rarely to compare atrocities in historical perspective but more often to minimize the Holocaust compared to the crimes of Communist regimes.

Do the above statements mean that Mel Gibson shares his father's beliefs? Not necessarily. However, at the time I did find his obvious equivocation about the subject somewhat worrisome, and I haven't been able to find any more recent material to clarify his views. Perhaps Mel does not want to anger his father by directly contradicting his Holocaust denial in a public interview. Or perhaps, unlike his father, he is much slicker about expressing such views in public. I simply don't know. Perhaps I'm reading too much into a rather old interview, but statements like the above set my denier detection antennae twitching. (You're probably fortunate that I wasn't blogging back then, because I'd have been all over this, probably to the point of boring you all.)

If this miniseries is ever actually made and if Mel Gibson actually produces it himself, it will certainly bring the issue to the fore again. Of course, this story could all be a bit of premature hype designed to gin up interest in the project, or it could be a trial balloon. Even so, if this project does actually go forward I'd still be very curious to see what Mel Gibson does with the topic, although I'd approach it with a bit of trepidation. At the very least, though, it would bring this topic up again and give Mel a chance to clarify his beliefs--or once again fail to clarify them.


  1. I didn't find "The Passion" to be at all "anti-semitic," although I was aware at the time of Mel's father's comments. I merely attributed the media's fixation on such things as a part of their general negativity toward anything so brazenly "religious."

    In light of the statements you've chosen to quote, it will indeed be interesting to see where Mel "goes" with this miniseries.

    Thank you for sharing that with your readers.

  2. I think you're right to be concerned. That kind of equivocation, with the emphasis on "dying" rather than "killing" is an archetypal denial tactic used by people like Irving who realise outright denial would put them beyond the pale. It seeks to put the Jewish Holocaust on the same level as the incidental (though still monstrous) deaths of criminals, homosexuals and Slav POWs in work camps, when in fact the killing of Jews was entirely deliberate and methodical.

  3. " ... media's fixation on such things as a part of their general negativity toward anything so brazenly "religious.""

    What media on what world are you referring to? The media know who's watching and reading, and they play to them. There is, if anything, a tendency towards unquestioning reverence for religion in the media.

  4. It's hard to separate the actions of the Catholic church (not nice actions, (think: von Papen, the concordat) from teh atrocities of the Nazis. Some of the high ranking Nazis were active Catholics (though there were plenty who were going pagan or whatever, with their interest in Nordic religion the SS were trying to resurrect the religion that used "runes" for writing as I remember)

    If one condemns the attrociites done to the Jews and the other specific categories of victims who suffered to a much lesser degree numerically ... then one must condemn the Catholic church and Mel babes doesn't want to do that.

    And yes, there were Catholic priests who stood up to the Nazis and lots of Catholic Polish priests died, probably because of all the Poles who were dying at the same time... but there was little in the way of resistance from Catholic priests and lots in the way of what looked like gleeful cooperation with the Nazis.

    The French military elite made it so that the Nazis could just overrun the Maginot line... don't get me started.. the French military elite were almost all anti-semitic Catholics (read: J'Accuse, Emile Zola, Alfred Drefus).

  5. Eighteen months after the release of the Passion of the Christ, I know of no anti-semitic violence that can be associated with it. Does anyone have examples? If not, I submit that we should drop the tagline that reminds us of "Jewish leaders concern that the movie... would stir up anti-Semitism". Their fears seem to be unfounded.

    As far as Mr. Gibson's assertion to the historicity of the holocaust, his project is identified as a "nonfiction miniseries about the Holocaust", and he identified a personal acquaintance as "a Holocaust survivor". Sounds like he acknowledges the event to me. What's the problem? Is there a specific credo being demanded that he recite?

  6. "The French military elite made it so that the Nazis could just overrun the Maginot line... don't get me started.. the French military elite were almost all anti-semitic Catholics (read: J'Accuse, Emile Zola, Alfred Drefus)."

    What the heck are you talking about? The French might have been anti-semitic, though the example you mention was over 40 years before WWII. However, the Nazis didn't just overrun the line. In the first six weeks of the battle of France, 200,000 French and 100,000 Germans were killed.

  7. Scott,

    First, I never claimed that there had been anti-Semitic acts linked to The Passion of the Christ.

    Second, it is the writer of the article, not Mel Gibson or the production company that characterizes the miniseries as a "nonfiction miniseries about the Holocaust."

    Third, you probably don't have much experience dealing with Holocaust deniers, but I do. The equivocation that Mel showed in his answer ("war is horrible"; "atrocities happened"; and "The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps") are very similar to the equivocations I've seen time after time from Holocaust deniers when asked point-blank questions about the historicity of the Holocaust. Such answers pointedly leave out the fact that the Holocaust was a planned, systematic affair and tend to use the passive voice. I like to referred to as the "shit happens during war" equivocation that makes it seem as though all sides were equally guilty and minimizes the Holocaust.

    The pointed mention of an unrelated atrocity (those who died under Stalin before World War II) is another feature that sets the denier detection antennae twitching.

    The explanation may well be that Mel doesn't want to hurt his father off by directly contradicting his Holocaust denial wingnuttery in public, but his statements nonetheless do cause concern, more for what they leave out (any mention of gas chambers, death camps--concentration camps are not the same thing--and a systematic Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews) than for what they contain (although the vague "shit happens" sort representation of atrocities isn't entirely benign).

  8. I have a feeling that this project might be a convenient ploy by Gibson to overcome the (apparently justified) holocaust denier suspicion. Not very good for your career as a Hollywood star, to be thought of as an anti-semite. In which case we may not have anything to fear from the programme itself.

  9. Kritjan,

    What I remember reading, from when I was deep into reading about WWII and Nazism, the holocaust etc, was that there was evidence that the French military wanted the Nazi's in France because the then secular government was clamping down on the Catholic church. (I forget what they called them, they numbered the successive government flip flops that went from pro-Catholic to anti-Catholic and back)

    Anyway, sure there was resistance, but after the upper echelon in the military left the door open and said, "come on in" to the Nazis... so that the Catholic church could gain ascendency again... and it did.

    Immediately in the Nazi part of France... ugh... I forget what it was called... the Catholic church lurched into power and religion was taught in the public schools again.

    Sorry, I don't have the citations for all that... I'd be happy to be corrected if you can show me where I got it wrong.

    The Dreyfus affair was an example of how the elite in the French military were heriditarily anti-semitic... am I wrong? The elite wanted to hang a crime on Dreyfus because he was Jewish, period.

    I was ordered to see the "Passion" by a professor and refused in spite of facing ridicule by some of my classmates and outright ridicule by the professor, that was last year. In the end, the professor said, "Camille was right not to go, it's pornography."

  10. Orac has nailed it-- Gibson's equivocating is thinly disguised denial of the Holocaust. If I were psychoanalytically inclined, I might speculate about his unresolved Oedipus Complex. But my professional opinion is actually that Gibson is just another Hollywood bubblehead, whose thoughts about anything deserve about the same consideration we would give the logic of a five-year-old. The truly scary thing is the fact that in our culture these folks are taken seriously and have so much influence. Totally unmerited, but there it is.

  11. What truly frightens me about a Mel Gibson Holocaust film is his failure to acknowledge "death camps" as opposed to "concentration camps."

    This, as you point out so well, is the crutch by which deniers lean on when talking about the deaths of Jews during WW II.

    If he indeed makes a film that tries even in any small way to deny the culpability of Nazis in exterminating Jews, I would hope that enough people show up at every theater the film is playing and block anyone from seeing it - even at the risk of going to jail for their actions.

    Stuff like this has to be stopped before it even starts rolling.

    Rick Moran


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