The name of Claude Lanzmann will always be linked with his nine-and-a-half-hour epic Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985), the result of 11 years’ research and filming. His greatest cinematic achievement was to present the Holocaust through individual testimony – interviews with the “barber of Treblinka”, for instance, and members of the Sonderkommando units of prisoners forced to take bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoria.
Although the film was rooted in the Polish Holocaust experience, Lanzmann, who has died aged 92, gave his audience a sense of the international scale of the so-called Final Solution and his interviews were shocking and compelling. He was the film-maker-as-spy, the Jew who pretended to be pro-Nazi in order to film the guilty. In one long sequence, he posed as a Nazi sympathiser and secretly filmed an SS officer who confided his past.
Hours - Testimony - Shoah - Holocaust - Stories
He shot 350 hours of testimony for Shoah and he later pillaged this archive to explore other Holocaust stories. Sobibor: October 14, 1943: 4pm (2001) told one of the most important resistance stories. American television had financed Jack Gold’s Escape from Sobibor (1987) as a feature film; Lanzmann wanted to make his documentary version through a single interview. He was outspoken in his criticism of feature films, believing that the Holocaust should never be illustrated – he thought that “image kills imagination”.
Focusing on Yehuda Lerner, one of the Sobibor resistance fighters, Lanzmann shows how 600 Jews, including some Red Army prisoners of war, made a run for freedom. He ends with the triumph of the Jews’ murder of their Nazi guards and their flight from Sobibor, but he does not follow the survivors back to Poland, where some were killed.
Lanzmann - Technique - Interviewees - Experiences - Camera
Lanzmann’s technique was compelling because he (some say cruelly) forced his interviewees to remember their most terrible experiences on camera. In the most famous...
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