BERLIN (Reuters) – German Jewish leaders and church officials are warning that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” may foment anti-Semitism in the country where the Holocaust was planned when the film opens on Thursday.
Rushed into 400 cinemas in the world’s second biggest film market by revenues three weeks ahead of schedule in response to public demand, the biblical epic portraying Christ’s final 12 hours has also been attacked by German film critics as anti-Semitic kitsch.
“The anti-Semites will only have their views on Jews confirmed,” said Salomon Korn, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who also called the film a “sado-masochist orgy of violence” laden with “kitsch”.
Gibson’s film has been a huge success in the United States. According to studio estimates, it has earned more than $250 million since its February 25 U.S. opening.
U.S. Catholic and Christian groups, as well as biblical scholars, have defended the film, saying it sticks closely to accounts of the crucifixion in the New Testament.
While anti-Semitism charges have been aired in many of the countries where the blockbuster has been screened, they are especially sensitive in Germany, which still lives under the shadow of the Nazi murder of six million Jews.
Gibson has denied the film is anti-Semitic.
German Protestant church leader Wolfgang Huber told ZDF television on Wednesday he would advise people not to bother seeing the film because of an “intolerable” level of violence and a failure to put Christ’s suffering into proper perspective.
German Catholic leaders also called the film problematic and said they were worried it could be used to stir anti-Semitism.
“We urgently warn against using the suffering of Jesus as an instrument for anti-Semitism,” the German Bishops’ Conference said recently.
Henryk M. Broder, a leading German essayist, wrote in Der Spiegel magazine that “those who can’t stand Jews will find confirmation in the film” but said it isn’t likely to convert those who aren’t anti-Semites into Jew haters.
“Gibson wakes fears that it could start all over again with Jew-baiting,” Broder wrote. “Amazingly, Jews will once again be held responsible for a murder that happened almost 2,000 years ago while other people don’t want to hear anything anymore about the murder of millions just 60 years after it happened.”