The Jewish people use the word “Shoah” to describe the Holocaust. It is a simple, short phrase that speaks volumes of horror. “Shoah” means “catastrophe”, an event that causes a great amount of damage, or more importantly a great amount of suffering. It is then, the perfect haunting and unforgettable title for Claude Lanzmann’s magnum opus, 8 hour long documentary.
Shoah is by all accounts, the greatest documentation of the horrors of the holocaust ever. It is also, the premier voice of the Holocaust within the filmmaking community and no other movie has even come close to matching its power, or its great detail and research. Lanzmann’s approach is one of incessant questioning, one that squeezes the details of any living, breathing human who ever had any eye-witness account of one of the greatest tragedies in human history. Whether one was in Treblinka itself, like the Jewish barber who was ordered to cut the hair of young girls before they were shoved into a gas chamber and murdered, or one was merely a spectator, like the Polish Christian farmer who watched as train after train clanked by his humble home carrying tens of thousands straight to their deaths, Lanzmann captures every angle of the horror, and compels his subjects to recount every last detail, to get every speck of dirt off of their shoulders and to spill ever dark, terrifying secret of what happened so they can finally start the road to coming to terms with their experience. It is impossible to ever be at peace and Lanzmann knew this, but through the tears of the hunderds of interviewed Jewish men and women, Lanzmann shows the Holocaust as not a tragedy of war, or religion or race… but a tragedy of human nature. That our own species is capable of enacting such horrors on each other is something that should send shivers down everyone’s spine, and should sink everyone’s heart.
I’m going to stop here. I’m not writing much on this movie as much as I do on others, because I owe it to Claude Lanzmann to let his masterpiece speak for itself:
The whole 8 hour doc can be seen on Youtube in 4 parts:
Some quotes from the film:
“If you lie enough, you believe your own lies”
“It was quiet there. Even when they were burning the Jews, it was quiet.”
“That was the worst. They threw them on top of the others.”
“The undressed ones, where are they?” …. “DEAD! All dead!”