director Claude Lanzmann
In the latter 20th century, if there was one thing that seemed rather universally regarded was that World War II was fought against an enemy that was incredibly, absolutely and terribly bad. Nazi Germany offered a clarity of an evil that one and all could recognize as “evil”, that the war was fought against an enemy as black-and-white as morality could achieve. That later wars were increasingly moral quagmires that could not by any means be reduced to good versus evil, right and wrong, WWII and Nazi Germany was something certain and awful, horrendous nearly beyond comprehension.
The 21st century and in particular the most recent years has brought a shocking open rise in stark racism and even a resurgence in Nazism. Certainly factions persisted that supported white supremacy and other repugnant beliefs but they remained submerged or simply existed as a small fringe of people. With the rise of candidate Trump, the racists have been emboldened and are making themselves known and I can’t help but to be continually shocked by this.
I try not to be reductive in my thinking, and I know that even in Nazi Germany there were more complex stories played out behind the monstrosity of the Third Reich. But Adolph Hitler, Hermann Göring, Reinhard Heydrich, and the mind trust behind “The Final Solution” still fall into the most abject and clear demarcation of inhumanity as known in history.
It is from this place of thinking that I decided to watch Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 document, Shoah.
This is, in essence, why Shoah was made. Testament, testimony, perhaps most embodied in Filip Müller, who survived Auschwitz in part to tell of those who perished there. The idea of remembrance and commitment to never allowing something of this nature to happen ever again, nor to forget those that died.
There is so much in the film’s nearly 10 hours, so much to process.
It’s interesting that it’s 30-40 years post-war that Lanzmann catches these people. And it’s good that he did to record their stories and testimonies because most, if not all of them are now dead. As WWII recedes further and further into the past, like any event, those who actually lived through it, bore witness to these things, will eventually pass on as well and the opportunity for recording oral history will be gone.
I was most struck by two things in particular. One, the filming of the sites of the death camps in their then present day situation. Such contrast to the events that happened in those places, now monuments or ruins in the sedate Polish countryside. Haunting when infused with the telling of the mass murders that took place there.
And secondly, the overwhelming fact of the Final Solution itself. This idea to exterminate an entire race of people (and others also considered undesirable) itself is almost mechanical in its conception. That industrialized process was employed to eradicate human beings follows almost logically. And in reality was frighteningly efficient. To consider the thinking that led to all this is to try to consider and understand a stark form of madness.
Whatever comes of our present time, it is of value to arm oneself with knowledge and information, facts. Our remembrance is continued remembrance to deny the deniers, those that look to obfuscate truth and spread lies as facts. To remember to what heinous and horrific degree the logic of hate and xenophobia can become. That genocide is real.