Shoah (1985)
Director: Claude Lanzmann
Runtime: 566 min

Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, the genocide of approximately six million of European Jews conducted by Nazis (and their collaborators) during World War II.

It is very difficult to find the words to express or think about the Nazi industry of death. I will rather use two quotes. American Colonel William Quinn said about the Dachau concentration camp: “There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind.” Simon Silver, the survivor of the death camp of Chelmno, whose testimony is included in this film, says: “No one can describe it. No one can recreate what happened here. Impossible! And no one can understand it. Even I, here, now. I can’t believe I’m here.”

Everyone should watch this 9.5 hours long documentary, on which the director worked for 11 years. Lanzmann’s procedure in the film Shoah is specific: he doesn’t use documentary footage at all, only interviews with eyewitnesses, visits historical locations and successfully takes the interviewees on a journey through their memories, so that we as the audience are along with them experiencing the events which they testify about. Due to lack of graphic images of the horrors they are testifying about, we are in a situation to imagine, visualize, live trough – and it’s a very, very difficult and painful experience. However, Lanzmann builds the structure of the film very carefully – horrifying testimonies are followed by quiet footage of locations and nature, so we have a few minutes to pull ourselves together and reflect on what we have just heard. Using this rhythm, Lanzmann prevents an overflow of pain and terror in the viewer, preventing you to shut down under the flood of impressions and emotions – throughout the 9.5 hours an intense feeling of horror, despair and anger is being built.

The film received very good acceptance and much praise, but also some very harsh criticism, particularly in Poland where it was characterized as misleading because it failed to mention that many Poles helped Jews and hid them from the Nazis, saving tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, as well as that the Nazis killed about three million Polish civilians. Also, Lanzmann has been criticized for lack of political and historical context and too much focus on the personal stories.

Despite the criticism, this astonishing film is a masterpiece and is considered one of the best documentaries ever made. Definitely something everyone should watch.

You can download this film or watch it online.

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