Shoah (film)

Shoah (the Hebrew שואה, “catastrophe”) is a French documentary from filmmaker French Claude Lanzmann , released in 1985 , and last approximately ten hours. Subtitles and filmed testimonies were published in a book of the same name, translated into Spanish in 2003 .

The film by Claude Lanzmann is an oral history documentary , filmed over nearly ten years on different continents. It gathers testimonies, in the first person, of victims, witnesses and executioners of the extermination of the Jewish communities during the Second World War . Each of the guests to participate in the documentary narrates his personal experience of events related to the Holocaust .

The format of the interventions was conceived by Lanzmann as an interview. The director intervenes to evoke the memories of each guest, sometimes asking for technical details (for example, about the number of wagons of a certain train, or the capacity of a certain crematorium ), or emotions and feelings, and even relatively details Anodyne, seeming to have its role merely as a phatic function (as, for example, when he asked whether there were trees in the Warsaw ghetto ). However, it is not difficult to interpret it as a false interview, in which the director only asks or observes when the interviewee can not, or does not want, to continue talking. Often witnesses stop because of psychological breakdown. On those occasions, Lanzmann insists on the duty of the guest to continue talking.

It is important to emphasize, to emphasize the peculiar documentary nature of the film, that the film does not contain images of archives or musical band. All the work is structured in individual or collective interviews, in present time and in the most varied scenarios, or in visits to the places where the events occurred as they are preserved at the time of recording, whether or not the witnesses are present. The fact that no voiceover , except for very brief interventions to clarify places or events obviously unknown to the viewer, stresses, moreover, that the film was conceived under the expositions of oral history .

The testimonies were collected in the following languages: English, French, German, Italian (all directly employed by Claude Lanzmann), Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. The Spanish version was not published dubbed, but subtitled.


One of the originalities of the documentary is that it gathers, in an interlaced way, testimonies of very diverse nature. The complicated assembly of the film turns a succession of monologues into a debate where each interviewee gives his particular vision of the same facts (from the train machine that pushed the wagons, from the terrains that surround the track, from inside the wagons, From the countryside …). The people interviewed (more than thirty) obey the following categories:

  • Victims , that is, Jews who suffered the persecution and survived by one cause or another; Can intervene individually or collectively (as is the case of the Jewish community of Corfu ).
  • Victimies , that is, those who participated directly in the extermination; Thus, the documentary includes, among others, the testimony of SS Franz Suchomel , filmed with a hidden camera under the promise (not fulfilled) of not being revealed the identity of the interviewee.
  • Witnesses , that is, without being victims or victimizers, were, for various reasons, be knowledgeable in one way or another, of what was happening; Can be interviewed individually or as a group (as with peasants living around the Auschwitz camp in Polish , Oświęcim ).
  • Experts , that is, people who, without being directly involved in the events, have studied them; The only interviewee who falls into this category is the historian Raul Hilberg .
  • Interested , that is, people who have not lived the events directly wonder what happened (as is the case of Hanna Zaidl ).


The people interviewed in the documentary, on an individual basis, are the following:

  • Simon Srebnik : one of only two survivors of Chelmno camp . He was thirteen when he entered, and he was assigned different tasks in the field, including singing for the guards a song in German. A few days before the liberation of the camp, he was given for dead by the guard who shot him in the head to execute him. He went to live in Israel . In the documentary, he agrees to revisit, at forty-six years, what remains of the field, and sing again for the camera and talk together with the neighbors of Chelmno.
  • Jan Gawkowski: Railway, responsible for bringing the trains to the concentration camp branch.
  • Michael Podchlebnik: one of only two survivors of Chelmno camp. In charge of emptying the gas chambers, he himself removed the bodies of his wife and children.
  • Motke Zaidl: survivor of Vilna, in Lithuania. He lives in Israel at the time of the interview.
  • Hanna Zaidl: daughter of the former.
  • Jan Piwonski: survivor of Vilnius , in Lithuania .
  • Itzhak Dugin: survivor of Vilnius, Lithuania. It analyzes the vocabulary used by the guardians to refer to the corpses.
  • Richard Glazar: Survivor of Treblinka . He is interviewed in Switzerland.
  • Paula Biren: Polish survivor, never returned to that country. She is interviewed in Cincinnati, USA.
  • Pani (Lady) Pietyra: neighbor of Auschwitz.
  • Pan (Lord) Filipowicz: neighbor of Woldawa, exposes the high percentage of Jews of his locality, in which none are left.
  • Bread (Lord) Falborski: describes the field of Chelmno .
  • Abraham Bomba: barber by profession (and interviewed while working in his barbershop in Israel) describes the operation of the field of Treblinka, in which he had to cut the hair to the Jews just before they entered the gas chamber.
  • Czeslaw Borowi: farmer of Treblinka, explains, among other things, the meaning of the gesture of getting on the index finger from hand to neck, to warn the Jews of the trains of their destination.
  • Henrik Gawkowski: engineer of Treblinka, in charge of the transport of Jews.
  • Rudolf Vrba: survivor of Auschwitz, whose original name is Walter Rosenberg, and one of the few who managed to escape from the field.
  • Inge Deutschhkron: born in Berlin, counts the procedures of deportation of Berlin Jews.
  • Franz Suchomel : SS Unterscharführer, guard of the field of Treblinka, recorded with hidden camera under promise (not fulfilled by the director) of not being revealed its identity; Suchomel offers very detailed technical explanations of the extermination process.
  • Filip Müller: Czech Jew, survivor of the five settlements of the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz, describes the functioning of the crematoria.
  • Joseph Oberhauser: assistant of the field commander of Belzec , his name is mentioned by Franz Suchomel and the director locates him in a brewery in Munich , where he refuses to be interviewed.
  • Anton Spiess: lawyer for the indictment of the 1960 Frankfurt trials on the Treblinka camp.
  • Raul Hilberg: historian, analyzes the phenomenon of persecution against Jews from its origins, and examines some documents relating to the railway administration.
  • Franz Schaliing: German, recorded with a hidden camera under promise (not fulfilled by the director) of not being revealed his identity, analyzes the process of extermination of Chelmno camp.
  • Martha Michelsohn: wife of a Nazi schoolteacher, lived in the vicinity of Chelmno camp.
  • Moshe Mordo: survivor of Auschwitz.
  • Armando Aaron: President of the Corfu Jewry, is interviewed along with other Jews of the same locality; Of the 1700 Jews of Corfu, only survived 122.
  • Walter Stier: German official, head of the Reich railway administration office, explains the meaning of the term “special train”, along with other details of the planning of trains with deportees.
  • Ruth Elias: Czech Jewess, survivor of Auschwitz.
  • Jan Karski : (interviewed in New York ) liaison of the Polish resistance with the government in exile. He was shown the Warsaw Ghetto and was charged with the task of warning the allied powers of what was happening in central Europe.
  • Franz Grassler: German administrator of the Warsaw Ghetto , outlines the objectives of the creation of the Ghetto and the contacts he had with the representatives of the Jewish community.
  • Gertude Schneider (born as Guertrude Hirschhorn), survivor of the Riga Ghetto .
  • Itzhak Zuckermann: survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto.
  • Simha Rotem: survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto.
  • He also interviews Chelmno’s neighbors, in front of the church, during which an inhabitant tells the story of an incident with a rabbi who went to the Jews to explain the theory of the atonement (according to which the Jewish people would be Paying for the murder of the innocent Jesus Christ ) to justify his assassination at the hands of the Nazis and requesting equally the acceptance of their destiny with full submission. The same inhabitant does not clarify whether he shared this theory or not but then an elderly lady recites some verses from the Bible to confirm authenticity (and, probably, her belief in it).


By Claude Lanzmann : “Here he introduced the reader to the full text – words and subtitles – of my film, Shoah. On screen, subtitles are inessential. To gather them, however, in a book, to register, page by page, this succession of pure instants that maintain in the film the scansion imposed by the filmic order, obliges them to pass, however, from the inessential to the essential; It gives them, suddenly, a different status, a different dignity and something like a seal of eternity. They have to exist alone, to defend themselves, without any indication of staging, without an image, without a face, without a landscape, without a tear, without a silence, without the nine and a half hours of film making Shoah. Unbeliever, I read and reread this text, bloodless and naked. A strange force runs from one to another; He resists, lives of his own life. It is the writing of the disaster and, for me, this is another mystery … During the long preparation of the film I was invaded by the feeling of living among the dead. The kingdom of death had triumphed. When I found a living witness, I had the sensation of exhuming it … Shoah is a film about the last moment, about the radicality of death in the gas chambers, about the only witnesses of the annihilation of a whole town .. They hardly ever say I say us No one can tell what extraordinary combination of courage, audacity or luck managed to survive, or what their life has been like afterwards. That does not matter. I did not even ask. Surviving is anecdotal, that’s what Steven Spielberg told in his movie. ”

Simone de Beauvoir : “It is not easy to talk about Shoah. The movie has magic and magic can not be explained. After the war, we have read a great deal of testimony about the ghettos and the extermination camps; We were shocked. But, seeing now the extraordinary film of Claude Lanzmann, we really realize that we knew nothing. In spite of all our knowledge, the experience, with all its terror, remained at considerable distance from us. For the first time, we can live it inside our head, in our heart, in our flesh. It becomes something of us. No mere fiction, no strict document, Shoah achieves this recreation of the past with an impressive media economy: places, voices, faces. The great art of Claude Lanzmann consists in making the places speak, resurrect them through the voices and, beyond words, express the unspeakable through the faces. The montage of Claude Lanzmann does not follow a chronological order; I would say – if this word can be used in connection with this – which is a poetic construction. I could never have imagined such an alliance between horror and beauty. Of course, the second is not able to hide the first, it is not aestheticism: on the contrary, it illuminates it with such ingenuity and with such rigor, that we can realize that we are contemplating a great work. A masterpiece in its purest form. ”