This page is about the film by the name of Shoah. For other uses, see Shoah (disambiguation)
|Directed by||Claude Lanzmann|
|Editing by||Ziva Postec
|Distributed by||New Yorker Films|
|Release date(s)||23 October 1985|
|Running time|| 613 minutes (10 hours 13 minutes)
Shoah is a 1985 French documentary film directed by Claude Lanzmann about the Holocaust (also known as the Shoah). The film primarily consists of his interviews with survivors and persons who had experience of the war, and visits to key Holocaust sites across Poland, including three extermination camps. He presents testimony from survivors, witnesses and bystanders, and perpetrators, including some rare interviews with German personnel.
As Claude Lanzmann does not speak Polish, Hebrew or Yiddish, he depended on translators to work with most of his interviewees. This process enlarged the scale of the documentary, which is nine hours and twenty-three minutes long.
While winning notable awards, the film also aroused controversy and criticism, particularly in Poland. People criticized it for failing to show or discuss the many Poles who rescued Jews, or to recognize that millions of Poles were also killed by the Germans in an extermination campaign.
Although loosely structured, the film is concerned chiefly with four topics: Chełmno, where mobile gas vans were first used to exterminate Jews; the death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau; and the Warsaw Ghetto, with testimonies from survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators.
The sections on Treblinka include testimony from Abraham Bomba, who survived as a barber; Richard Glazar, an inmate; and Franz Suchomel, an SS officer who worked at the camp, who reveals intricate details of the camp's gas chamber. Suchomel agreed to provide Lanzmann with some anonymous background details but Lanzmann secretly filmed and showed his interview, with the help of assistants and a hidden camera. This section includes Henryk Gawkowski, who said he drove one of the transport trains while intoxicated with vodka. Gawkowski's photograph appears on the poster used for the film's marketing campaign.
Testimonies on Auschwitz are provided by Rudolf Vrba, who escaped from the camp before the end of the war; and Filip Müller, who worked in an incinerator burning the bodies from the gassings. Accounts include some from local villagers, who witnessed trains heading daily to the camp and returning empty; they quickly guessed the fate of those on board.
Two survivors of Chełmno are interviewed: Simon Srebnik, who was forced to sing military songs to amuse the Nazis; and Mordechaï Podchlebnik. (Note: Although Lanzmann identifies them as the "only" two survivors, he was mistaken. Two other men have been documented as surviving Chełmno. Three of the four testified about their experiences in the 1961 trial of Adolph Eichmann.) In this section, Lanzmann has a secretly filmed interview with Franz Schalling, a German guard.
The Warsaw ghetto is described by Jan Karski, who worked for the Polish government-in-exile and Franz Grassler, a Nazi administrator who liaised with Jewish leaders. Memories from Jewish survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising conclude the documentary.
Lanzmann also interviews Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, who discusses the historical significance of Nazi propaganda against the European Jews, and the Nazi development of the Final Solution. The complete text of the film was published in 1985.
Shoah took eleven years to make, beginning in 1974. The first six years of production were devoted to the recording of interviews with the individuals who appear in the film; these were conducted in 14 different countries. After the shooting had been completed, editing for the film continued for five years, as it was cut from 350 hours of raw footage to the 91⁄2 hours of the final version.
Archetypes in Shoah 
||This article may contain original research. (May 2009)|
Shoah consists of hours of interviews with witnesses of the Holocaust. Lanzmann's style of interviewing, and his selection of interview footage divides his witnesses into three distinct archetypes: survivor, bystander and perpetrator. Lanzmann makes an effort to represent each archetype differently.
Survivors are those who were targets of the persecution of the Holocaust and survived. All of the survivors whom Lanzmann interviews are Jewish, and he uses them to present a historical record. Many survivors give long descriptions of the events that they witnessed. For example, in Part 4, we hear Filip Müller and Rudolf Vrba describe the liquidation of the family camp at Auschwitz.
Other survivors tell of their own personal experiences of the Holocaust. For instance, Müller recounts what prisoners said to him, and describes the experience of personally going into the gas chamber. This testimony is a personal narrative. Lanzmann's survivors react emotionally to what they witnessed. Müller breaks down as he recalls the prisoners starting to sing while being forced into the gas chamber. The camera pulls in close, to capture every detail of his distress. Lanzmann encourages his witnesses to act out their testimony.
In Part 3 Lanzmann interviews Abraham Bomba, a barber at Treblinka, while he cuts hair in a barber's shop. He breaks down while describing how a barber friend of his came across his wife while cutting hair outside the gas chamber. As the camera captures his anguish, Bomba's personal narrative is unspoken as well as spoken.
Bystanders are those who were present during the events of the Holocaust without directly being part of it. Some were peripherally involved while others were witnesses. All of the bystanders whom Lanzmann interviews are Polish. He interviews many of them in the same way that he interviews the survivors.
In Part 1 he takes Pan Falborski, a Polish bystander, on a train to Treblinka while we watch his reaction. Lanzmann drives him along the streets of Wlodawa in a car while he talks about the Jews who used to live in the houses they pass. In Part 2 Falborski talks about the gas vans and the mass graves.
Lanzmann interviews many bystanders as members of public groups. He does not ask for their names or for detailed testimony. He asks what they saw or heard, and whether they knew what was going on in the death camps. Their answers reveal the complicated psychology of those who saw, heard, and smelled the Holocaust. They knew what was going on, but were legitimately able to justify inaction by the threat of death. It becomes numbingly obvious over many interviews that everyone knew huge numbers of people were being systematically exterminated. When asked if the non-Jewish Poles were afraid for the Jews, one Polish peasant said, "Let me put it this way. When you cut your finger, does it hurt me?" This man, who still lives near Treblinka, recounted that they would warn Jews in passing trains of what lay ahead, by making a slitting motion across his throat. Lanzmann asks how often he made this gesture. He answers, "To all the Jews, in principle." The manner in which he demonstrates this gesture, leaves unanswered the question of whether he did this for his own amusement, or was trying to help in any legitimate way.
Perpetrators are those who were directly involved in orchestrating and carrying out the Holocaust. All of the perpetrators that Lanzmann interviews are German. From these perpetrators, Lanzmann establishes a historical narrative. They give detailed, detached accounts of the Holocaust operations.
In Part 2, Franz Schalling describes the workings of Chełmno, where he served as a security guard. In Parts 1, 2 and 3, Franz Suchomel talks about the workings of Treblinka, where he was an SS officer. In Part 3, Walter Stier, a former Nazi bureaucrat, describes the workings of the railways. Sometimes their testimony becomes more personal. Lanzmann tries to establish their understanding of the Holocaust. Several of his perpetrators claim ignorance of the 'final solution': Suchomel states he did not know about extermination at Treblinka until he arrived there; Stier insists he was too busy managing railroad traffic to notice his trains were transporting Jews to their deaths.
Others: Some subjects fail to fit neatly into any of the these three categories, such as like Jan Karski, the courier to the Polish Government in Exile. A Christian, Karski, sneaked into the Warsaw ghetto and escaped to England to try to convince the Allied governments to intervene more strongly on behalf of the Jews, but failed to do so.
Reception and awards 
Hailed as a masterpiece by many critics upon reception, Shoah was described in the New York Times as "an epic film about the greatest evil of modern times." In 1985, the year the movie was released, Roger Ebert described it as "an extraordinary film. It is not a documentary, not journalism, not propaganda, not political. It is an act of witness." Gene Siskel later named it as his choice for the best movie of the year. Ebert declined to rank Shoah, saying that it belonged in a class to itself and no film should be ranked against it.
In 1985, Shoah won Best Documentary and Special Award at the New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, respectively. The following year, Shoah won Best Documentary at the National Society of Film Critics Awards and International Documentary Association. Shoah has also been nominated and awarded various other awards at film festivals around the world.
Criticism and controversy 
The documentary by Lanzmann was a subject of considerable controversy almost from the day of its theatrical release. Pauline Kael described Shoah in The New Yorker as "logy and exhausting right from the start..." "[S]itting in a theatre seat – wrote Kael – for a film as full of dead spaces as this one seem[ed] to [Kael] a form of self-punishment". Lanzmann did all the questioning himself, while putting pressure on people in a discursive manner, which gave the film a deadening weight. Her parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland.
Reception in Poland 
Selections from Shoah were first aired in communist Poland in 1985, where the film provoked strong criticism against Lanzmann's vision of "dark, drab, poor, and anti-Semitic Poland." The official government-run newspapers and state television criticized it, as did the writers of the unofficial Second Circulation of the Polish anti-communist press. Almost no one defended the film. Most intellectuals referred to it as tendentious, and inherently anti-Polish. Foreign Minister Władysław Bartoszewski, a Holocaust resister and an honorary citizen of Israel, criticized Lanzmann for choosing to ignore the many thousands of Polish rescuers. He said the director instead focused his camera on impoverished rural Poles in rags, selected to conform with his preconceived notions. Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, an eminent Polish-Jewish writer and dissident, was puzzled by Lanzmann's deliberate omission of anybody in Poland with advanced knowledge of the Holocaust.
In his book Dziennik pisany nocą, Herling-Grudziński wrote that the thematic construction of Shoah, allowed Lanzmann to exercise a reduction method so extreme that the plight of the non-Jewish Poles must remain a mystery to the viewer. Grudziński asked a rhetorical question in his book: "Did the Poles live in peace, quietly plowing farmers' fields with their backs turned on the long fuming chimneys of death-camp crematoria? Or, were they exterminated along with the Jews as subhuman?" According to Grudziński, Lanzmann leaves this question unanswered, but the historical evidence shows that Poles also suffered widespread massacres at the hands of the Nazis.
Professor Robert D. Cherry and Anna Maria Orla-Bukowska wrote in Rethinking Poles and Jews
Lanzmann's purpose in making the film is revealed by his comments that he "fears" Poland and that the death camps could not possibly have been constructed in France because the "French peasantry would not have tolerated them." He has admitted he intended to indict the Poles in Shoah and has made no films about the Holocaust in France where, presumably, anti-Jewish sentiments are not to be found. The observation of Eva Hoffman, a Polish Jew, that anti-semitism was neither fundamental to Polish culture nor "exceptional" in its virulence is utterly lost on Lanzmann. Not surprisingly, many Poles bitterly condemned the film as tendentious and manipulative, including Jan Karski and Jerzy Turowicz.
- Pauline Kael (December 30, 1985). "Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1)" (Archived by WebCite). The Current Cinema, “Sacred Monsters”. The New Yorker. pp. 1 of 3. Retrieved 2013-05-10. "See also: archived page 2 and page 3 of 1985 article by Kael."
- Austin, Guy (1996). Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction. New York: Manchester University Press. p. 24. ISBN 0-7190-4610-6.
- Bernstein, Richard (20 October 1985). "An Epic Film About The Greatest Evil Of Modern Times". The New York Times.
- "Shoah". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Siskel and Ebert, Best of the year TV show (Ebert excluded). Retrieved May 23, 2013.
- "Shoah (1985)". The New York Times.
- IMDb Community: Shoah (1985); Awards.
- Michael Meng. "Rethinking Polish-Jewish Relations..." (PDF file, direct download 145 KB). Department of History. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. pp. 1–10. Retrieved 2013-05-10.
- Joanna Szczęsna (24.03.2010). "25 lat sporów o "Shoah" (Twenty five years of the film Shoah controversy)" (archived from GW Teksty) (in Polish). Gazeta Wyborcza. Archiwum. Retrieved 2013-05-11.
- Robert D. Cherry, Anna Maria Orla-Bukowska (2007). "Poland and the Poles in the Cinematic Portrayal of the Holocaust". Rethinking Poles and Jews: troubled past, brighter future. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 36. ISBN 0742546667. Retrieved 2013-05-11.
See also 
- Felman, Shoshana (1994). "Film as Witness: Claude Lanzmann's Shoah". In Hartman, Geoffrey. Holocaust Remembrance: The Shapes of Memory. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 1-55786-125-0.
- Hirsch, Marianne; Spitzer, Leo (1993). "Gendered Translations: Claude Lanzmann's Shoah". In Cooke, Miriam; Woollacott, Angela. Gendering War Talk. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-06980-8.
- Lanzman, Claude (1985). Shoah. New Yorker Films.
- Loshitzky, Yosefa (1997). "Holocaust Others: Spielberg's Schindler's List versus Lanzman's Shoah". In Loshitzky, Yosefa. Spielberg's Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on Schindler's List. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33232-X.