Documentaries pinpoint racial attacks

Two forthcoming TV documentaries -- geographically widely separated and about events in widely separated periods -- complement each other with almost eerie relevance.

ABC News Closeup: "Wounds From Within" (ABC, Sunday, Oct. 18, 7-8 p.m., check local listings) and "The Hunter and the Hunted" (PBS, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 8-9 p.m., check local listings) are both concerned with patterns of racial attacks.

"Wounds" concentrates on the current rise in activity of such racially biased groups as the Ku Klux Klan and other less-publicized minority-targeted assaulters. "The Hunter" focuses on the rise of Naziism, the nature of its crimes, the continuing search by survivors to find and punish the perpetrators.

The similarity in the dehumanizing attitudes of the violent attackers is chillingly revealing, although neither documentarian seems to have been aware of the other's work.

ABC correspondent Marshall Frady and producer-director Richard Gerdau probe the socioeconomic and emotional origins of recent attacks on a variety of minority groups (blacks, Vietnamese, Jews). The documentary visits such farflung places as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seabrook (Texas), Miami, and Indianapolis, where brutal acts of violence and bold-faced threats of violence have surfaced in the past few years. According to Mr. Gerdau's research, most of the acts involved a combination of racial animosity, economic hardship, and personal aliennation.

Warns Mr. Frady: "In this nation of immigrants -- in which our strength and our genius have come out of our variety -- there is again a rising fever of anger and violence against those seen as different. It is not yet a crisis.But [it is] a re-emergence of the sort of dark differences that have always threatened our old dream of one American community.

"The subtle brutality of turning the human into the impersonal may be the ultimate violence at work here. . . . It is that depersonalization which then allows any manner of violence against man."

"Wound From Within" (which I was only able to view in rough form) is an early warning signal -- and ABC News Closeup performs a fine public service by sounding the alarm right now.

On the other hand, "The Hunter and the Hunted," is a record of the attempt of surviving Europeans, including famed Nazi-hunters Simon Wiesenthal and Beate and Serge Klarsfeld to pinpoint the surviving murderers of millions of minorities and bring them to justice. Although this Australian-made documentary contains horrifying concentration-camp footage, what is, perhaps, almost as horrifying is the realization that what is now called the Holocaust began in a manner startlingly similar to the incidents and attitudes portrayed in "Wounds From Within." Seeing them together constituted, for me, a shocking sense of recognition.

Presented on PBS by WQED/Pittsburgh, produced in Australia by Phonic Films, "The Hunter and the Hunted" trails its guilty Nazis to their hometowns in Germany, to their adopted countries in South America, ferrets them out and exposes them for all to see. In such a context, the juxtapositioning of the victims with the murderers has an especially jolting effect.

Despite the concentration of both films upon inexcusable (but sometimes understandable) acts of violence, they perform an important constructive function in that they pinpoint atrocities and, in a strange way, humanize them so that the victims are not allowed to remain "objects, categories, classes."

Simon Wiesenthal insists that what he does is a positive service to mankind. "My work," he says, "is a warning for the murderers of tomorrow."

Narrator Jose Ferrer sums up that it is important for the future of our civilization to root out all of those who "defied the laws of man and usurped the powers of God."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.