“The Cure for Hate: Bearing Witness to Auschwitz” had its world premiere at Pittsburgh’s 30th annual JFilm Festival on 25 April.
The documentary follows Tony McAleer a former American Neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier who transcended his hate to found the anti-hate activist group Life After Hate in an attempt to stymy right wing hate through compassion and understanding.
There are different streams flowing through the film all connected to McAleer’s personal journey. The most riveting stream is the personal journey of McAleer from a disjointed and disillusioned teen into a skinhead and Neo-Nazi leader. It was a sense of belonging and approval of his peers that drew him into the far right more than its politics. As McAleer stated it he traded his humanity for acceptance and approval all rooted in an unhappy teen traumatic experience of a cold father and excessive discipline throughout his high school years. He notes that childhood trauma is a common denominator amongst the violent far right. What caused his reversal of ideology? The birth of his child and receiving compassion from his Jewish Vancouver therapist who said what you did is not what you are. A simple but massive revelatory experience.
It was McAleer’s visit to concentration camps Auschwitz and Birkenau and the Polish cities of Kraków and Warzaw that convinced him that finalized his thought that he must bear witness to the Holocaust. The bearing of witness will be a lifetime endeavour. To drag those from the mire of hate it is his view that radical compassion is called for as opposed to revengeful hatred.
In addition to his fascinating journey from hate to compassion viewers will be witness to the disturbing history of the Holocaust and tours of Auschwitz. I have visited the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland but not Auschwitz and the footage of his wandering through Auschwitz are sobering if not deeply disturbing.
According to a recent survey 41% of Americans do not recognize what Auschwitz was and for Millennials that figure rises to 66% and over 50% of those surveyed were unaware Hitler rose to power through the electoral process. Over time the percentages will elevate.
McAleer rightfully notes that addition to six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust there were 5 million political prisoners, psychiatric patients, LGBTQ members and Romas who also were murdered. He also notes that Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur were also genocidal hotspots. He of course could not mention all the genocides and atrocities committed by the Nazis such as the wholesale slaughter of Greek villages, the Turkish massacre of Greeks in Smyrna and Armenians in Turkey. Unfortunately the list is endless. The Holocaust may one day be forgotten as other genocides have been as unthinkable as that may be in 2023 but the concept of genocide will survive all historical examples. Growing up in a Jewish community in Montreal with many Eastern European Jews I recall seeing the concentration camp identification tattoos on arms. I will never forget that and the Holocaust. Now that those who bore these tattoos are almost gone…..?
McAleer perhaps underestimates bearing witness to Auschwitz at least in the title of the documentary. If you can bear witness to Auschwitz, you can bear witness to past genocides and hopefully prevent future genocides. But if you can’t remember Auschwitz?
You can watch the trailer here https://vimeo.com/318139001 . Directed by Peter Hutchinson.