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'The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm' is Television at Its Most Valuable
January 27, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment


To anyone who grew up in the time of the Holocaust, or in a world filled with Holocaust survivors and their stories, it is inconceivable that the world could forget.

But time being what it is, and human memory being what it is, reminders like HBO’s new short film The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm gradually become more necessary.

The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm isn’t your conventional TV show. It runs less than 20 minutes, starting at 6 p.m. ET Saturday and it’s essentially a capsule summation of the Holocaust, told by 10-year-old Elliott from conversations with his 90-year-old great-grandfather Jack.

Elliott and Jack have the kind of warm relationship every grandparent dreams about. They play games, they read books and Jack tells Elliott about a childhood that began in a small village in Poland and ended in the concentration camp Auschwitz.

Jack survived long enough to be liberated by the Russian army and eventually make his way to America, where he led the life that Adolf Hitler’s Germany spent 12 years, 1933-1945, trying to extinguish.

Six million people, give or take, were murdered for the crime of being Jewish.

Some of The Number has Jack telling his story. Some of it has Elliott making the story blunt and simple: “They put a number on his arm and that’s all he was to them.”

Part of The Number uses stark animation. It also uses stills and short video clips of Jews being herded into boxcars and camps, where we see again the colors of evil: yellow stars, black and white stripes.

Jack’s story was typical. His family was demonized, then branded, then sent to the ghetto and finally to the camps.

He never saw his mother and father again, nor ever learned what happened to them. But his father, who had been a hatmaker, sent a last gift: a hat with money stitched into the visor.

Jack used the money to bribe the guards for extra food, which he tells Elliott was the margin by which he survived the starvation and brutality.

Neither Jack nor Elliott tells the story in an emotional tone. They relate what happened and let viewers absorb its gravity and toll.

The story inevitably hints at the many dark currents that surround the Holocaust, like the way Jack went back to his hometown after his liberation and found nothing left. But it doesn’t elaborate there, instead maintaining its emphasis on the broader core story.  

At the end of The Number, which is directed by Amy Schatz and coproduced by HBO and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Elliott explains why this film exists: because soon there will be no more living survivors like Jack to tell the story.

It will be up to Elliott, and future Elliotts, to ensure the world never forgets what happens when whole groups of people are branded as lesser by those who hold the power to oppress.

The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm isn’t television at its most entertaining. It’s television at its most valuable.

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Diane Hoag
I'm sure this is very educational - for all ages. But since I can't afford HBO I'm out in the cold & denied the experience.
What a shame.
Jan 27, 2018   |  Reply
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