35 Years after the Miniseries ‘Holocaust,’ 35 Years after ‘The Deer Hunter:’ How Meryl Streep Spurred the Memory Boom

In 1978, Meryl Streep featured a movie and a miniseries; both had a tremendous impact on the culture of remembrance in the United States as well as internationally. On the occasion of her 64th birthday on June 22, I want to point out her contribution to these dramatic works.

Meryl Streep is a terrific actress, who won three Academy Awards out of 17 nominations. In recent years, she electrified her audience with character parts (e.g. The Iron Lady, 2011) as well as lightweight comedies (e.g. Mamma Mia, 2008). In this piece, I would like to go back to the beginning of her career when she starred in two widely received films that deeply influenced our understanding of the past.

NBC’s miniseries Holocaust – the first example – aired on four consecutive evenings in April 1978. The miniseries was an attempt to shed light on the entire history of the Holocaust by telling the story of two fictional families from Germany. Family Weiss is a family of assimilated Jews from the upper middle-class. Their experience is contrasted with the life of the Dorf family. The patriarch of the Dorf family, Erik Dorf, has a remarkable career as an SS officer and is in charge of developing Nazi extermination techniques. While the Dorfs rise in power and influence, the Weiss’s see their fortunes gradually reversed. The two families’ stories are partially interwoven and the plot contains numerous fairly plausible coincidences in which the paths of characters from the Dorf and Weiss families intersect at various places and events of the Holocaust. Meryl Streep plays Inge a catholic women, who marries into the Weiss family at the beginning of the series.

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep in Holocaust (1978), © CBS Inc. 

Scholarly literature has tended to describe Holocaust as a watershed production that informed a rather uninformed public about the Holocaust, thus facilitating its integration into the collective memory of the United States. Nearly 120 million people watched it in the United States alone, making it to one of the biggest TV events ever (at its time only topped by the miniseries RootsContinue reading

Jan Taubitz

Jan Taubitz, geb. 1982, studierte Geschichte und Sozialwissenschaften in Erfurt, Uppsala und Worcester (USA). Seine Schwerpunkte sind Erinnerungskultur, Nordamerikanische Geschichte und Digital Humanities. Seit 2015 arbeitet er an der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

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