Still from The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984). In 2029, artificial intelligent machines dominate the world and seek to exterminate the human race. The machines send back in time to 1984 a cyborg assassin, the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), with the mission of killing Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and preventing her from giving birth to John Connor, the future leader of human resistance. Kyle Reese (Michael Biene), resistance fighter sent from the future to protect Sarah from the Terminator, shows her the bar code tattooed by the machines on his arm and describes the post-apocalyptic world with clear references to the Holocaust and the deeds of the Sonderkommandos. From the original script (fourth draft):
Hunter Killers. Patrol machines.
Build in automated factories.
Most of us were rounded up, put in
camps… for orderly disposal.
He pushes up the sleeve of his jacket and shows
her a ten digit number etches on the skin of his forearm.
Beneath the numbers is a pattern of lines like the automatic-
pricing marks on product packages.
Burned in by laser scan.
Some of us were kept alive…
to work. Loading bodies. The
disposal units ran night and day.
We were that close to going out
The tattooed number functions as a synecdoche for the Holocaust in many films – e.g. Marathon Man (1976), Harold and Maude (1971), etc. The same is true for other elements of the fragmented Holocaust iconography. As Annette Insdorf puts it, “films about the Holocaust have provided images – of smoke, of barbed wire, of sealed train cars, of skeletal bodies – that now function as synecdoches, the visual part representing the unimaginable whole” (Indelible Shadows. Film and the Holocaust, Third Edition, p. 248).
Below, Bar Code to Concentration Camp Morph (Digitally Morphed Photographs, 1991-1993), by English Jewish artist Alan Schechner. “As numbers morph into human faces and the mark of merchandise becomes the dress of affliction, the troubling association of commodification, concentration camps, and digital imaging emerges. The larger message speaks of the bar-coding of human life, the transformation of beings into numbers. But the upper part of the screen – the metamorphosis of numbers to faces – alludes in reverse to a specific condition of digital technology, which transforms images constituted in reality into bytes of information, rhyming with the death camps as it transforms life into a sequence of numbers” (Noam Milgrom-Elcott). Other works by Schechner are available at the artist’s website.