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Making-of Video

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen explores the emotional journey and creative process of making the Worse Than War documentary film. Discussing the differences between writing a book and shooting a film, the impact of traveling with his family to his fathers pre-Holocaust home town, and the internal conflict that come from interviewing and shaking hands with mass muderers, Goldhagen provides unique insights into his approach to the difficult subject of genocide.

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen: I had been working on Worse than War for about ten years before the film project began. When I write a book I can pretty much say whatever I want to and if I decide something needs twenty pages of elaboration, then I do it.

Even though I had thought at the beginning, well, I know what this film should say, it turned into something quite different and infinitely better than anything I would have produced had I been the filmmaker. Because I probably would have produced a nice two hour lecture of some kind with visuals, instead of a film that is visually arresting, and emotionally evocative.  And as powerful as the book is, in some ways, obviously, [the film is] more powerful.

When my father and I went to where he had lived during the Holocaust, Sarah, my wife, and Gideon, our son, came with us. Gideon at the time was seven years old and he was deeply interested—he’s very close to my gran-, to my parents; they live nearby—he was deeply interested in going to where grandpa was from. So they came on the trip with us.

It was something that made my father enormously happy — that one of his grandchildren could see where my father came from and where he suffered and where his family suffered. It made the trip—if one can say such a thing—twice as moving and memorable and meaningful for him.

There’s no doubt that my father who was a survivor of the Holocaust influenced my initial direction of working on the Holocaust, but it’s less because he was a survivor than he was a professor who studied this. And I grew up with this material in my home, always with the purpose not of telling a tale of woe—which it is—but of understanding and explaining. This was always my orientation from the time I can remember knowing or thinking or about it or discussing it.

But it changes you to see the places. The cliché, a picture’s worth a thousand words only begins to convey what being in a place and sitting across from the victims and seeing the locations where people were slaughtered, and being in a forensic lab with the remains of victims, or being at a mass grave, or standing across from a mastermind of genocide such as Ríos Montt, it, it changes you. It, it is more than worth a thousand words, it’s worth endless, endless volumes of words.

In Rwanda we gained access to one of the prison camps. it’s actually a work camp for prisoners who, for perpetrators who confessed to their crimes—or at least some crimes—to confess to having participated in the genocide. There are about a thousand people in this prison with no guards.

So, we interviewed the perpetrators in the field. The warden just brought people to us. We had no idea who we’d be talking to and also we walked among them. And it was enormously thought inspiring—not thoughts that you want to have—to walk among these men, mainly men—a few women—tilling the ground with hoes and picks and machetes, clearing it, and you’re walking among them within, within feet, of rows of them wielding these implements and you can’t but think, “These are the implements they used to slaughter their victims during the genocide by the individually, by the tens, by the hundreds, by the thousands ultimately.”

Shaking the hand of a killer, before I even know anything else about him except for what his name is, is a strange thing. It’s an act of politeness. It’s a degree of physical conduct. It’s a time of human sharing.

And yet the same hand, I shake the hand, I think the same hand actually was wielding a machete and striking and killing and hacking to death other people. And you can’t flinch! And you can’t say, I don’t want to do it. And you have to do it because it’s a part of what you need to do when you interview somebody. And that’s just the beginning of sitting across from someone who then begins to tell you of the horrible things, the horrifying things that he did, the ways that he did it.

And so, there I am, a whole jumble of emotions and thoughts and different orientations at the same time—the interviewer, the scholar thinking about what he says, the analyst, the human being sitting across from a mass murderer, feeling a degree of sympathy or even of liking for someone—cause some seem likeable—and also always keeping in mind that these are mass murderers.

To be able in making this film to go to any number of countries and to talk to the victims, to talk to the perpetrators, just to see the places I’d read about was, was transformative.

And I think back on the people quite often I talked to. They resonate with me. Their faces I see. In the film my father and some others talked about seeing faces, they’re haunted by them or they remember them, the faces of people who died.  Well, the faces of the people I spoke with and their words are with me in the way that the testimony in documents, in-court testimony, and so on never are with me. I hear them. I see them. I think about them. I absorbed and internalized things into my being that were never there and that will never leave me.

  • Basel Burgan

    As much as the world recognised the Holocaust to the Jews of Europe as a shame to humanity, as much as you and I see how evil was the Nazi regime back then, as much as we all view the masacres of Rawanda, Cosovo, Darfour, … etc as the disasters of the 20th & 21st centuriers, as much as I wished to see you address the daily ethnic cleansing of Palestinians cross from us on river Jordan or at least the picture of one young Palestinian boy or girl in the last pictures of your short movie.
    Keep up the good work
    Basel Burgan
    Salt – Jordan


    I watched you documentary film “Worse than War” and I like you idea about putting an end to genocide towards people. The way you have presented this film has really disgusted me and made me write this letter to you. I’m hoping that you made this film this way because you haven’t gathered enough relevant and true information, otherwise you have put all the guilt on Serbian people on purpose, then you are one mean person that is spreading western propaganda to make money on you books and films! You are building you career on tortured Serbian people who have stood up to their slaughters that killed Serbian people throughout the ages. Your hands will be dirty because of this film and you will take the guilt.
    As a teenager, I have survived the war in Bosnia and I lived with these people in that time. I have felt the right and wrong on both sides!
    You are putting all the guilt on Serbian people without even mentioning Serbian victims! I agree that the genocide in Srebrenica should be forejudged if it happened, but I have got the feeling that this has been enlarged because of political reasons! In the film you don’t say why the attack by Serbs happened in Srebrenica! Why? Srebrenica was the protected zone and the only armed forces should have been the UNITED NATIONS. However, the UN has been hiding the Muslim armed forces under the command of Naser Oric (he was taken to court in Hague, but was released even though he killed women and children) that have killed around 3500 Serbs in villages around Srebrenica to provoke the Serbs! When the provoked Serbian side and Serbian people had to put a stop to genocide against them, the western politics awaited prepared and they have accused Serbian side in all the media in order to legalize their NATO military action against the Serbs and in that way put the Serbs down. Muslims have increased their number of victims in Srebrenica by brining the bodies from different locations (bodies have been murdered in other front lines far away from Srebrenica).
    I saw in you film that you father survived and thank God for that. Ratko Mladic was not that lucky. His father has been killed in II World War from “ustase” when he was only 2 years old (ustase=Muslim and Croatian soldiers that have been fighting for Hitler).
    This is the truth Mr. Daniel about Srebrenica in short lines, if you care about the truth?
    From 1991 to 1995, 8000 to 10000 Serbs have been killed in Sarajevo
    130 000 Serbs have died in Bosnia from 1991 to 1995
    In your film you haven’t mentioned this huge loses, rather you only talk about Srebrenica and this is the only incident you have pulled out from history. You use this incident to make Serbian people to look really bad in you film. Don’t get me wrong, anyone who did the genocide in Srebrenica should be punished, but who will punish those that have killed Serbs???
    When you have already decided to mention the genocides on Balkan, why did you skip to mention JASENOVAC??? Do you know what happened there in World War II?
    You have said that you worked on this film for 10 years and I really don’t understand how could you miss the history about Jasenovac, where your Jewish people have been murdered beside my Serbian people? The only clarification I can see that your film is politically motivated. The most of this film has been dedicated to the Muslim victims of Srebrenica but you do not mention Serbian victims at all.
    Every year in Donjoj Gradina there is a prayer for all the victims killed in Jasenovac and Donjoj Gradina. For the last 2 years we have visitors from Israel. He is a Chairman of the Ex-Prisoner of War Lobby Erim Balaila Ram Doron. He comes with a group of students from Israel to attend the prayer for all the victims including the 33,000 Jewish victims.
    You are sitting with Haris Silajdzic and you are making an interview with the only war leader left in political scene in Bosnia. You are making the interview with the biggest war lobbyist, with a man who is responsible for the war in Bosnia. Serbia has written the Interpol Warrant for Haris Silajdzic because he is responsible for genocide in Bosnia! For the same genocide there is the Interpol Warrant for Ejup Ganic who is arrested in London a couple of month ago. Serbia is waiting for his deportation and trail.
    Once again I say I am against any genocide but really don’t know what do you want from Serbian people.
    Serbian people are one proud nation, that has its history and didn’t deserve this rude discrimination from the West. Serbian people have never attacked other countries in its history, but on their territory they have been defending themselves from almost all the countries that border with them. Since 1389 when the Serbian territory has been attacked by Turkey (Battle of Kosovo) Serbs have been only defending themselves and from that time problems arise for Serbian people that are active until now. After the Battle of Kosovo, Turkey has occupied all Serbian territory including Bosnia in which Serbs were the big majority. Muslim didn’t even exist in Bosnia at that time. The present Muslims in Bosnia today are ex-Serbs that have been converted to Muslims under the pressure to the Islam religion. The majority in Bosnia now are the Muslims and they want to get rid of all the Serbian people in Bosnia and the want to rule in Bosnia (don’t think this is not possible for exp. Croatia with the help of NATO 1995 has banished 400,000 Serbs from Croatia even though they lived there for thousands of years). Muslims in Bosnia have been declared as a nation in 1974 and from 1995 they call themselves “Bosnjaci”. Even today most of the Muslims have Serbian last names but Muslim first name. This is the proof that they have been converted to Islam religion.
    I just want to tell you that in you film you have humiliated Serbian, Roms and Jewish victims with you unprofessionalism because you haven’t mentioned them but you have working on genocide in that area. For example: that is the same as if I would be making a documentary film about Holocaust and it that film haven’t mentioned the massacre of Jews. I would be ashamed of my work when I would make something unprofessional like that!
    I truly hope that you are going to investigate the massacre of Serbs, Jews and Roms on territory of Bosnia and Croatia (territory of Ex-Yugoslavia) and in foundation of that make a documentary film about those victims and readjust big sin and a un justice which you did because you haven’t mentioned them. I would appreciate if you would visit the conservation camp Jasenovac and Donja Gradina(these two places are basically same place of crime divided by the river Sava. Jasenovac belongs to Croatia and Donja Gradina is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and find out by yourself what has happened there because you have started to dig into this you should finish it properly.

  • [url=]Alick Boston[/url]

    Good Article!

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