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From the Back Cover
SHOAH is a magical film about the most barbaric act of the 20th century. Previous commentaries on the Holocaust, with its ravished skeletons and corpses, have left us shaken, but now for the first time, we experience it in our heads, in our flesh.
Claude Lanzmann spent eleven years spanning the globe for surviving camp inmates, SS commandants, and eyewitnesses of the Final Solution-the Nazi's effort to systematically exterminate human beings. without dramatic enactment or archival footage, but with extraordinary testimonies, SHOAH renders the step-by-step machinery of extermination: the minutiae of timetables and finances, the logistics of herding victims into the gas chambers and disposing of the corpses afterward, the bureaucratic procedures which expedited the killing of millions of people without mentioning the words "killing" or "people". Through haunted landscapes and human voice, the past comes brilliantly alive.
SHOAH is a heroic endeavor to humanize the inhuman, to tell the untellable. It is an immensely disturbing, even shattering experience, yet in its solemnity and beauty not a morbid or disheartening one. There are few works of art which leave one with such a deep appreciation for the preciousness and meaning of life.
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I do not know how to speak about that content. Perhaps, no one really can. I do know, however, that this massive effort is the closest I have ever come to understanding/feeling the Shoah. As others on Amazon have said, Lanzmann created a masterpiece. This is true. The film is literally unforgettable.
That there is no American version of such an important and powerful film both puzzles and depresses me. Why do we have to buy a British or a Korean version decades old? What does this lack of American availability say about us as a people? There is something wrong here, and I don't know but that the fault is in me - in my being a "stander-by" to the indifference that seems to be prevalent. I need to bear witness. We need to bear witness.
In the film, Lanzmann does some remarkable things. He first has you listening in several languages, while reading another (esp if you speak english). You get a whole education in European languages. Then, he does many interviews with both survivors and scholars. Some of these are long sections, but well worth the time, for the deep learning involved. Another thing I developed watching this film as a phobia about railroad tracks! To this day railroad tracks absolutely haunt me! Also, the interview with the barber has had a profound impact on 5 years of my Holocaust students.
I would not recommend this DVD for the person just beginning to study the Holocaust. I think one needs some knowledge, and some experience, especially emotional, with the material before attempting this. But once there, I recommend this film enthusiastically. Watch all the other films, and there are many out there, but come back to this one!
First let me say that this is not easy viewing. Consisting of nothing but conversations and long pans across the fields that had previously been sites of death camps, Shoah is 9 hours of confessions, analysis and declarations of the strength of the human spirit in the face of terror and immeasurable pain.
The stories of the survivors will tear your heart out, and at the same time leave you with chills at the horrors they had to face. One segment, filmed in a barbershop, of a camp survivor who had been forced to cut the hair of victims prior to the gas chambers is particularly gripping. This man, clearly as tough as they come, tells his tale in a matter of fact manner, even describing how he had to cut the hair of friends just before their death, knowing what was coming for them but unable to save them. But when the interviewer asked him "how did that make you feel", the moment of introspection at the questions made it impossible for him to hide the incredible pain this put him through. Never have I felt so terrible for anyone in any film I have ever seen. And many of the conversations with survivors have the same pain.
The filmmaker is clearly and excellent interrogator as well. In his interviews with former Nazis that worked in the camps, he is consistently able to identify the parts of their stories that didn't make sense and in a completely innocent way, bring them back on topic with virtual full confessions of their duplicity and knowledge of every aspect of what was happening to the Jews. This is not the crux of the film, but each of these cases is very telling in understanding the madness of the Third Reich.
Some of the most interesting, and frightening, conversations were with German citizens. Many of these people were caused great pain and suffering because of the camps, but there are also several who seemed to have no pity at all. Telling stories of how they would terrify incoming death camp inmates by drawing their thumb across their throat whenever they were in view, you are left with the feeling that it was done for their enjoyment. In the final series, a village of German citizens seem terribly happy to see a camp survivor they had all known for singing on the river during the war. After much back slapping, the interviewer is able to lead them down a path where many seem to suggest that the camps were God's vengeance on the Jews for not believing in Christ. Four decades after the war, and the anti-semitism is still very present despite their attempts to cover it up.
Overall this is an important film. Understanding the errors of humanity's past is the best way to educate people to prevent the same things from occurring again. That doesn't make this film easy to watch. More than once it brought me to tears, and connected me with the Holocaust in a way I never had been before. I had always known of the horrors and the suffering, but in a clinical sense. Shoah makes it all real.