Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty. ~John F. Kennedy
The wooden bat screeched as the Bear Jew tightened his fingers and choked up on his trademark weapon. This bat was caked with the blood of hundreds of captured Nazi’s who had been subjected to its wrath. As Sergeant Donny(“The Bear Jew”) Donowitz lined up his bat to the temple of another helpless Nazi, Tarantino’s shot revealed that the bat was covered in several names. These American names serve as a reference to the men and women who stand behind the Bear Jew in seeking revenge against the Germans. The Bear Jew and his weapon encompass the American spirit and personify the drive to maintain equality and liberty for citizens of the United States.
Quentin Tarantino showcases America’s pastime in his film Inglourious Basterds to highlight the American spirit that drives members of the United States military to seek revenge in Nazi occupied France. Through specific use of the character Sgt. Donny Donowitz, Tarantino personifies the attitude of many Americans during World War II. Donowitz was originally scheduled to be deployed to the Philippines to fight the Japanese, but his Jewish-American background drove him to seek revenge against the Nazis. He claimed that “if [he’s] gonna kill [his] fellow man in the name of liberty, that fellow man, will be German” (pg. 29).He quickly headed to the sporting goods store to select his unique weapon of choice: a baseball bat. This reference to America’s pastime became a source of intimidation to the Germans and a symbol of pride for the American’s who supported it.
The scene Tarantino uses to formally introduce Donowitz is preceded by a suspenseful sequence in which Lieutenant Aldo attempts to take advantage of German Sgt. Rachtman. Aldo attempts to use the “three strikes” method to force him to divulge where his other men are stationed. Following Rachtman’s second refusal, the sound of a bat echoes loudly in the background as it strikes the wall of a tunnel. Similar to one of the most common rules of baseball, Aldo gives the Sergeant three “strikes” before he was “out” and turned over to the Bear Jew. As Rachtman continues to remain faithful to his commrades, the clank of the bat in the distance begins to come closer and becomes piercing. After his final refusal, Aldo turns Rachtman over to Donowitz as he emerges from the tunnel.
Donowitz’s presence is immediately made known as the music becomes louder and more dramatic while a rugged American emerges from the darkness carrying a bat propped loosely on his shoulder. The Bear Jew’s head tilts back and forth invading Rachtman’s mind as he sits helplessly below him on the ground. The Sergeant’s face remains stoic as the Bear Jew lines up his bat to Rachtman’s head. The brief shots that follow alternate between the relentless face of the Bear Jew and the submissive look on Rachtman’s face. Although their emotions differ greatly, their expressions still reveal a common loyalty to their country and desire for revenge. To both men, it is an honor to either kill in defense of his country or to die protecting it. In this scene, Donowitz is driven by his Jewish heritage to avenge the deaths of loved ones. In this moment, the Bear Jew is not only basking in the personal revenge he was achieving, but also in taking a stand in favor of what his country represented.
As the Basterds begin to seek their revenge, news spreads throughout Germany of their strength, merciless tactics, and unorthodox methods of killing. Every Nazi soldier in the film is very aware of who the Basterds are and many are riddled with a fear that brings the Basterds a sense of pride and satisfaction. The Basterds earn a specific recognition for their most demeaning and painful death: being beaten with a bat by the Bear Jew. To carry out this task, Donowitz reverts back to his Boston roots, having grown up playing baseball. This unique method of killing begins similarly to a batter stepping up to the plate. Just as a baseball player steps up to the plate and prepares to hit the ball, Donowitz approached the Nazi’s head and lines up the bat against their temple. However, in the case of the Bear Jew, his hit carries much more weight than simply a run around the bases. He is not just hitting a piece of wood into the Nazi’s head; instead, Donowitz is pounding a symbol of America into the head of one of its oppressors. The Bear Jew could have easily shot the Sergeant if his only mission was to kill Nazis; however, the has a more significant agenda. Donowitz feels that the only way for him to truly get the revenge he was desperately seeking is to achieve the death he desired through the last thing his victims ever see is the face of the Jews he oppressed and the symbol of the nation that stood behind him.
As the Bear Jew lines up his bat up to Sgt. Rachtman’s head, the camera captures a detailed view of this American symbol. Aside from the remnants of dried blood and dents caused by the resistance of Nazi skulls, the shot reveals that the bat was covered in names.
Before departing for the war, Donowitz purchased the largest bat that he could find and brought it to a jewish woman by the name of Mrs. Himmelstein. Donowitz explained that he was planning on going to Europe to “make it right” by using his bat to “beat every Nazi [he] find[s] to death with it”(pg. 33). This explanation brought Mrs. Himmelstein to Donowitz’s level as he appealed to her hatred for Nazis. He immediately asked her to sign the bat with the names of loved ones she had in Europe “who’s safety [she] fear[ed] for”(pg. 32). Before being deployed to France, Donowitz continued to venture around Boston collecting the names of Jewish loved ones. This American bat, covered in the names of oppressed Jews, became the symbol how the Germans viewed the Basterds. The bat itself, having origins in “America’s pastime”, is a symbol of the nation and the ideals for which it stands-freedom, liberty, equality. These characteristics unite with what the signatures stood for-a physical representation of a selection of people that the Germans oppressed. Donowitz carried this bat to France and sought his revenge as the ideals of America and names of those tortured were literally beaten into the heads of the Germans. This death tactic not only provides Donowitz with the satisfaction of vengeance, but allowed the Jews who were ruthlessly tormented to have a voice. In a way, they are given the revenge they felt that they deserve by being included in taking away the Nazis’ final breaths.
The Bear Jew himself strikes a sense of horror into each of the Nazi soldiers. As stories spread and deaths are tallied, the Bear Jew becomes one of the most recognizable American threats. His fame is not only due to his stature, but also for his barbaric killing methods. The Bear Jew quickly becomes a representation of America as he stops at nothing to defend what is rightfully his. He selects his weapon with the idea that he could torture the Nazis with something that is symbolic of his country, while including many previously persecuted Jews in the battle. Although Sergeant Donowitz is clearly under the command of Lieutenant Aldo, Tarantino makes a point to showcase the lower ranked soldier as the focus of the Basterds. Sergeant Donny Donowitz not only serves as the most recognizable American threat to the Germans, but also becomes a focus of the movie due to the drive he feels to step up and seek revenge for his own people group not matter the cost.
Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino. Perf. Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, and Christoph Waltz. Weinstein Company, Universal Pictures, 2009. DVD.
Tarantino, Quentin. “The Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDb).” Inglourious Basterds Script. n.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.