In THE DEBT, three Israeli secret agents embark on a mission to capture a Nazi doctor who performed heinous experiments on Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust. The year is 1966 and the Nazi is living peacefully in East Berlin under a different name; he works as an OBGYN. One of the Israeli secret agents, the woman of the group, must undergo examinations by the Nazi, under the premise that she is trying to become pregnant but is having trouble doing so. The examination scenes are shot so that the viewer is gripped by the emotions of the female agent: as she lies on her back, her legs in stirrups and the Nazi’s hands feeling the inside of her cervix, the agent struggles to deal with the images of her family members who were lost in the holocaust, possibly at the very same camps at which the Nazi performed his experiments. The viewer feels the very visceral hatred that this female agent harbors for the Nazi and her lust for his death as retribution for his crimes. Ultimately, her mission is to trap the Nazi with her legs and inject him with a strong sedative, so that the other two agents can pick him up and then the three agents can transport the Nazi to Israel, where he will stand trial for his crimes.
This basic plot exposes a tension that runs throughout the entire movie: the agents’ desire to kill the Nazi to ease the pain that they feel over the trauma that their race has suffered is in conflict with their desire to see him stand trial, which, they think, might be an even better means of mental recuperation for the agents and for every Jew.
At one point in THE DEBT, when the three agents are under severe pressure and consider simply killing the Nazi, the more pensive of the two male agents shouts: “I want the world to know the truth.” He shields the Nazi as the other male agent loads and then points his gun at the criminal. There is a sense, then, that a criminal trial can somehow heal the Holocaust-induced wounds of the Jews. More specifically, the movie proffers that there is some kind of healing that can be attained through a public trial where the world will see a very powerful truth; the movie suggests that perhaps a simple execution can’t provide that same healing. Truth is a pervasive theme in THE DEBT. And the criminal courtroom is the arena where that truth can best be divulged and procured.
This is in stark contrast to Thane Rosenbaum’s THE MYTH OF MORAL JUSTICE, where the author proffers that the American court room, rather than do everything it can to aid healing by exposing truth, worries more about the defendant’s right to obfuscate that very truth. The Israeli courtroom where the Nazi in THE DEBT was to stand trial was certainly not the courtroom of America that Rosenbaum discusses. And yet it is fascinating to compare the two works: one offers the courtroom as an ideal and the other as a failure.