Costa-Gavras probes role of church in Holocaust

Published April 1, 2002

Paris Amen, a much awaited film by Constantin Costa-Gavras that raises controversial questions about the church’s role during the Holocaust, opened in cinemas in France in late February, having already created a public stir. The controversy has so far centred on the film’s poster, which depicts a Christian cross superimposed on a swastika. A specialist of political cinema and author of such films as Z, L’aveu, and Missing, Mr. Costa-Gavras in Amen portrays what he considers to have been the “moral bankruptcy” of the church’s attitude towards the near-extermination of Jews by the Nazis. The film revolves around two characters – a young Italian Jesuit posted at the Vatican’s mission to Berlin, and a German, Kurt Gerstein, a member of the SS. The two characters attempt, without success, to alert the Christian churches, and in particular Pope Pius XII, to the reality of the extermination camps. France’s Catholic Church has condemned the poster, the design of which is the work of the Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani, known for creating Benetton’s “shock” publicity campaigns. “Whatever the historical interpretation that can be given of the role of the church and of the Vatican during the Second World War, the superimposition of the Christian cross on the Nazi swastika creates an intolerable identification of the symbol of Christian faith with that of Nazi barbarism,” said Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, the president of the French Bishops’ Conference. “I can only say sadly how much the poster of the film Amen gravely wounds the feelings of Catholics,” he added. Although the church has not demanded that the poster be banned, a small group of right-wing Catholic fundamentalists tried – but failed – to have a court rule that the poster should be removed from public display. The controversy has also started a debate about the issue of religious symbols. Some 20 Jewish personalities have signed and published a declaration that says: “We affirm without ambiguity our attachment to freedom of expression. But we believe that it is unhealthy to mix up the Nazi emblem with a religious symbol.”


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