A ‘catastrophe’), and it is Christened so,

Areview of Shoah by Claude Lanzmann In presenting a paramount subject for an audience documentaries are aremarkable way of getting information across. Documentaries have their fairpercentage of meaningful and allusive films, and there are most important inthe use of their subject.

Shoah isone example of such documentaries. The film Shoah,directed by French born Claude Lanzmann, that has a run-time system of ninehours plus, is a conclusive work of the Holocaust. With voluminous accountsfrom survivors of the Holocaust, guards from the concentration camp, and otherswho were associated with these ungodly and tragic events, we the audience arepresented with an expansive understanding of the whole calamity. TheDocumentary is brilliantly constructed, with a genuinely fine distinction.

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Bydeliberately not undertaking the use of primary sourced archives, ClaudeLanzmann was able to showcase an intense and realistic depiction of the eventsof the Holocaust by recording the areas where it had all taken place on film.And, interviewing those strongly affected by such events.                The origin of the titleof the documentary, Shoah, originatesfrom modern Hebrew (???? to mean ‘catastrophe’), and it is Christened so, asto demonstrate the mass murders that occurred under the Nazi regime from 1941to 1945, or as we call it, the Holocaust.

I have watched many documentariesrelating to the Holocaust, listened to eye-witness accounts past down fromfamily members and survivors such as Tomi Reichenthal, and have read extensiveamounts of literature on the subject, but for me Claude Lanzmann’s film is themost encyclopaedic, detailed and meticulous work that will give moderngenerations a better and more honest interpretation of the Holocaust and thetragedy it entailed. Shoah is analluring and delicate documentary even though its subject is horrific, however,it is also very effective and mind-altering. Before now, never has a film ofthis magnitude been so paramount. It is because of the films subject, that Shoah is a documentary that everyhistorian and academic need to watch.

Yes, you’ll be taken aback by the filmsrun-time and you’ll feel it’s way too long, but after you watch it, you feel asthough you’ve gained more knowledge than before about the events of the Holocaust.Shoah, at times can be difficult toview, but conclusively it is essential in helping us to assimilate the horrorsthat savagely murdered millions of the Jewish community.              Claude Lanzmann’s useof imagery is so effective in the film. Special worker Philip Mueller describesone event which involved the SS and a gas chamber at Auschwitz: Then asudden silence fell over those gathered in the crematorium courtyard. Aumeyeraddressed the crowd: “You’re here to work, for our soldiers are fighting at thefront”.

Then Grabner spoke up: “We need masons, electricians, all the trades.We need all of you! But first, undress. You must be disinfected. We want youhealthy”. I could see the people were calmer. Reassured by what they heard. Andthey began to undress. Even if they still had their doubts, if you want to live,you must hope.

Their clothing remained in the courtyard, scattered everywhere.Aumeyer was beaming very proud of how he handled things. He turned to some ofthe SS men and told them “You see? That’s the way to do it!”1   Lanzmann films the scene from different angles. First from the roof todisplay the position of the SS men looking down on the Jews, and secondly fromthe ground looking up at the roof and chimney of the gas chamber. As Mueller speaksand as we see the angles of the building it is as if we see the events that heis describing.

 Claude Lanzmann is knowledgeable of the factthat everyone has heard of or seen horrific pictures relating to the Holocaust.So, he uses this notion to beautifully engineer the method of visual effectswith the attempt of transporting his audience back to the era of the Naziregime in Chelmo and Sobibor. It is through this method that the audience areseeing and responding to the consternation imposed upon the world when theevents of the Holocaust came to the fore. It is my belief that Lanzmann makecharacter witnesses out of his audience by not instilling central characters inthe documentary.

Before watching Shoah, Iread many books relating to the Holocaust with central characters and have seenfilms of the same subject matter follow the same pattern. It was only uponwatching this documentary that I realised the central and supporting charactersis the visual effects of the setting and us the audience. This shows LanzmannTRUE genius as a director as he manages to engage the modern audience, whohadn’t even been born at the time of the Holocaust, and mould us into authenticwitnesses of the genocide that occurred. He intently does this to show that we,who are now witnesses to the tragedies of the Holocaust, have a responsibilityto vouch for its ordeals just like the witnesses interviewed in thedocumentary. Literary Critic, Shoshana Felman elaborates on this point by oncestating: It is thesilence of the witness’s death which Lanzmann must historically here challenge,…to revive the Holocaust and to rewrite the event-without-a-witness intowitnessing, and into history.  It is the silence of the witness’sdeath, and of the witness’s deadness, which precisely must be broken, andtransgressed.

2People,in general, tend to be uncertain and reluctant to discuss the events of theHolocaust or watch films associated with the sickening event, but the messagethat Lanzmann is trying to instil, is that the silence needs to be broken tohighlight the Holocaust’s significance in modern times by making us believe inthe prevention of such tragedies occurring again. And, it is only through beingknowledgeable of such unfortunate truths and recognizing the Holocausts realitythat we can play a role in such prevention. It is because of Claude Lanzmann’s simple and directimagery of the setting, that we can get familiar with the silence of the eventmore so than any historical author has been able to attain.

Just to be clear, Iam not ignoring the relevance of eye witness statements communicated inliterary texts, but I am of the belief that Claude Lanzmann’s documentarycompels the people involved to become a witness of this terrific circumstanceof the past. Whether it be the director, the editor, the participatingsurvivors, the translator, or the viewers, we are all now one mutual witness.  Lanzmann documentary is probably the most valuable historicalinformation that you could ever receive, and after watching it, it shall be engrainedin your memory for a time. As I have said before, yes, the film is long and lastsnine hours, nevertheless, it encompasses so much detail about the Holocaust. ClaudeLanzmann has created something in this film that is truly compelling here. If educationof the Holocaust has ever interested you, then Shoah is the most accurate and precise documentary to watch and youwill be left with a more ideal understanding of Nazi brutality towards Jews duringWWII. Shoah is by far one of the mostpowerful documentaries ever filmed, and if by chance you happen to view it for yourself,then I think you just may agree.  1 Claude Lanzmann, Dir.

Shoah(DVD, 1985). 2 Shoshana Felman, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing inLiterature, Psychoanalysis and History ed. by S Felman and D. Laub, (NewYork: Routledge, 1992), p. 219


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