Day 543 Monday July 16 1,035 Days to Go
Claude Lanzmann died on July 5, 2018. He created the documentary Shoah in 1985. Shoah is the Hebrew word for The Holocaust. Lanzmann was French. In the 1980s he realized that many people involved in the Holocaust were dying. He spent twelve years documenting what these people experienced on both sides: prison guards, survivors, those pressed into service, those who witnessed what happened. His film was nine and a half hours. It was shown in two parts. I saw it over two days in the little arts theater in Georgetown in Washington DC.
There are so many things I remember from the movie. It started with a man on a train running his hand across his throat as if being cut and then casting his arm to on side several times, as if shaking off water from his sleeve. There was no explanation.
Lanzmann interviewed a Nazi prison guard and asked him to sing an old song that the guards sang. He stood at Auschwitz with someone and asked if this is where the fence was. It was. He stood on one spot and asked if this was inside the fence. Yes, it was. He moved several steps and asked if this was outside. Yes, it was. So he said, this was inside the fence and this over here was outside? Yes, that was correct.
He spoke to farmers who worked the fields outside Auschwitz. Yes, they smelled the smoke. They described the smell.
When he interviewed people he let their words stand in their native tongue and ran subtitles: Hebrew, Yiddish, German, French, English – whatever, you got to hear the people speak. On the second night a person was speaking in Yiddish. They went on and on. Several people around me understood what this person was saying. The people around me were nodding their heads and even laughed a bit. There were no subtitles. I was waiting for the translation. The subtitle finally came. It only said, “It’s a long story.” Damn. I’ve always wondered what was said.
As the movie bore on and on you got the sense of the size and scope of The Holocaust. One such interview was with the man who was forced to run the train into Auschwitz. He was the person who opened the whole movie. The man who had run his hand across his throat. Lanzmann asked him how many trains he ran everyday (3). He asked how many cars were on each train (45?). He asked how many people were in each car (50?). He asked how long he was forced to run the train. (I forget.) He asked what the man was trying to say with his hand motions? The man said he was trying to signal to those on the train to jump off because they were going to be killed. He said he could only do this when the guards weren’t watching.
It was a powerful, unemotional, fact based, movie. There was no background music, no theme songs, no dramatic lighting. It laid out minute after minute, hour after hour; what had happened. It was hoped it would never happen again.
Unfortunately, we are seeing the groundwork being laid for it to happen again.
1,035 Days to Go
PS Reflections in the Western Bay 5:30 am