Tuesday, December 24, 2019

2019 Blind Spot Series: Shoah

Directed by Claude Lanzmann, Shoah is a 566-minute documentary film about the Holocaust where Lanzmann interview survivors and former Nazis. The film explore 11 years of first-account interviews with survivors and others to explore one of the greatest atrocities of humanity that lead to the death of more than six million people during World War II with those who were there talking about this experience. The result is a terrifying and audacious film from Claude Lanzmann.

On October of 1941, Operation Reinhard was created as a secret codename by Nazi Germany to exterminate the Jewish population in Poland in four different places in the Chelmno extermination camp, the ghetto at Warsaw, and the death camps at Treblinka and Auschwitz. Told in two parts, the film talk about two different eras as it explore the evolution of these camps in Chelmno, Treblinka, and Auschwitz. Two of the survivors in Chelmno in Michael Podchlebnik and Simon Srebink discuss their experience with the latter talking having to sing for the Nazis in order to survive. One of the key figures of the documentary who is filmed secretly with a couple of men in a van recording everything is a former SS officer in Franz Suchomel who talks about Treblinka and what got built as well as how the gas chambers worked. Suchomel’s interview are among the key foundations of the film where he talks about gas vans and the many locations of the crematoriums and such at Treblinka.

Locals at Grabow in Poland talked about life around that time and some regrets about how the Jews were handled as one suggested that they should’ve moved to Israel. Martha Michelson, the wife of a Nazi schoolteacher, recalls the way the gas vans moved and how the prisoners are put into the vans but also some of the horror that she would hear but not see as it play into what was happening but some were afraid to say anything. Lanzmann would read a couple of testimonies about the description of the Chelmno extermination from a rabbi and changes made for the vans for better efficiency. One of the most startling moments in the second part is an interview with Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg who discusses the concept of the “final solution” and the dark history of prejudice towards the Jews going back many centuries.

During these discussions, Lanzmann who would be accompanied by a film crew and translators would talk to people including locals as it would be shot on various locations in New York City, West Berlin, Poland, and Israel. Due to the length of these discussions, Lanzmann would shoot the locations of these camps as they’re astonishing in their presentation. Even as there’s shots inside a museum that showcases in graphic details of what the camps looked like then and where the Jews were including the gas chambers. The second part of the film that talks about the second era where Suchomel talks about his time at Treblinka as it included songs that were sung by both the Jews and Nazis and the shots that the elderly and children were given to die. Hillberg would read the transcript orders of the trains with the Jews having to pay for their own trip to Treblinka meaning they’re paying for their deaths. Two of the film’s most startling moments come from the testimonies by Abraham Bomba and Jan Karski. Bomba talked about his time at the camps in Auschwitz where he talked about having to cut women’s hair before they get into the gas chambers while he is cutting hair as a barber as it is an eerie moment.

Karski, who was part of the Polish Underground that was working with Poland’s exiled government, talks about his visits to the ghettos at Warsaw as well as what he saw in great detail as he gets emotional about what he had encountered. Rudolf Vrba and Filip Muller both were in Auschwitz as they both talk about the Czech Jews from Theresienstadt who were given a different treatment from others that eventually lead to a resistance that Vrba was a part of until he and another prisoner escaped Auschwitz on April 7, 1944. Vrba also discussed the different treatment that political prisoners were given in Auschwitz before they would be killed. Hillberg and former deputy to Dr. Heinz Auerswald in Franz Grassler discuss Jewish council president Adam Czerniakow who wrote a diary about his experience at the ghettos and his suicide upon his arrival at Treblinka. Two members of the Jewish Combat Organization discuss the battle at the Warsaw ghetto as well as what happened as they fought with very limited resources in April of 1943.

Much of Lanzmann’s direction is straightforward as he and his team of cinematographers in Dominique Chapuis, Jimmy Glasberg, Phil Gries, and William Lubtchansky showcase the then-present locations of the towns and those camps. Some of the interviews and testimonies from survivors are often presented in close-ups and medium shots with the concentration camp sites presented in wide shots. Much of the editing by Ziva Postec and Anna Ruiz, with additional un-credited work from Yael Perlov, is straightforward with some shots happening for more than a few minutes to get a look into everything someone is saying while the sound work of Bernard Aubouy and Michel Vionnet capture the atmosphere of the locations outside as well as the sparseness of the interviews.

Lanzmann would read a few testimonies as he would appear in bits of the film including scenes where he talks to a few and does restrain himself from getting those to get really emotional. He would showcase scenes of people in West Berlin and Poland as they all have their opinions about what happened with a lot of them feeling uneasy about what happened. Even as the Nazi officials express remorse for what they took part in as they feel uneasy over what they had to explain. Hiller’s commentary about the prejudice towards Jews says a lot about what happened in the Holocaust as it is an event that people can’t ignore as well as a be a reminder of the present can be the past.

Shoah is a tremendous film from Claude Lanzmann. It is a haunting and visceral film that showcase the impact of the Holocaust and those that survived an event that brought the death of more than six million people. It is not an easy film to watch not just due to its length but also for its subject matter as it play into these testimonies of those who were there as well as people who saw what was going on from afar. In the end, Shoah is an outstanding film from Claude Lanzmann.

Related: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

Claude Lanzmann Films: (Pourquoi Israel) – (A Visitor from the Living) – (Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.) – (The Karski Report) – (The Last of the Unjust) – (Shoah: Four Sisters)

© thevoid99 2019


Brittani Burnham said...

I'm familiar with this but have yet to tackle it. It seems like a very depressing 9 hours.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It is a depressing film and definitely challenging. At over 9 hours, it is immense but it's a film that you won't forget as it does reveal so much about the horrors that is the Holocaust. It's a film meant to be seen once and one that anyone who loves films should see.