‘Come and have dinner, I’ll cook Bresse chicken. You don’t hold any grudge against Bresse poulet, do you?” The man on the phone didn’t need to give his name. Claude Lanzmann never introduced himself; he didn’t need to.
I came to know him in 2013 when I started the research on my latest book, Left Bank: Arts, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris 1940-1950. I wanted to meet the “survivors” of that era before they disappeared. What an extraordinary introduction to my subject. Lanzmann, then 87, was very much still at the centre stage of life and intellectual discourse, and an extremely busy man.
Unjust - Cannes - Film - Festival - Story
He had just finished editing The Last of the Unjust, which was about to premiere at the Cannes film festival. It told the complex and controversial story of Benjamin Murmelstein, one of the Jewish elders used by the Nazis as concentration camp administrators and the only one to have survived the war. Hated for being a collaborator, Murmelstein nevertheless saved many lives through his negotiations with Adolf Eichmann.
It was Lanzmann at his finest: using some of the 350 hours of unseen footage he shot for his groundbreaking nine-and-a-half-hour long documentary Shoah in order to highlight the inexplicable, with both force and subtlety. Shoah, both an important historical document and an original work of art, was based on hours of testimonies both from survivors of the concentration camps and former Nazis whom he filmed secretly, as well as Polish villagers living near the camps of Treblinka, Chelmno, Auschwitz and Birkenau. Polish antisemitism was so starkly demonstrated by Shoah that Warsaw demanded the film be banned after its premiere in Paris.
Murmelstein - Interview - Hundreds - Lanzmann - Shoah
Murmelstein was the first interview of hundreds that Lanzmann carried out for Shoah between 1974 and 1980, before embarking on a five-year editing process. He didn’t make the cut. “Shoah...
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