This essay investigates what the author argues are two cinematic explorations of Jewish identity: Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) and Roman Gary’s Genghis Cohn (1994) as rendered by the director Elijah Moshinsky. Each film addresses, at times satirizes, the frightening possibilities attendant on Jewish identity. On one level, Chaplin parodies Hitler. He also parodies Goebbels. Moshinsky parodies the barely repressed Nazism, in the closet or just beneath the surface, in post-war Germany. Combining coincidence and resemblance, Chaplin’s Barber character assumes the identity of the Dictator Hynkel and in an address to the nation apologizes for the Beloved Phooey’s policies. But in Chaplin’s rendering, the ersatz Dictator remains a Jew. Moshinsky depicts a Jewish comedian executed in 1943 inextricably linked to his executioner, SS officer Otto Schatz. The two become one, not by coincidence, but by seeming intention on Cohn’s part, both to haunt Schatz and to turn him into a Jew. Chaplin’s film operates as a prediction, Gary’s as a memory. Both films, however, argue identity, especially Jewish identity, even when hidden, waits only to resurface.
Pogorelskin, Alexis E.
"Double-Crossed: Quesions of Jewish Identity in The Great Dictator and Genghis Cohn,"
Jewish Film & New Media: Vol. 9:
2, Article 1.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/jewishfilm/vol9/iss2/1