Homage to Lanzmann

editor Saturday 4 August 2018 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share by email Printer friendly

By Paul Berman.. The ‘Shoah’ filmmaker, who died last week at age 92 (July 5, 2018), would not look away. Claude Lanzmann’s special genius was a spectacular brusqueness, which allowed him to reveal, as if with no effort at all, the patterns of thought that protect enormities under a cloak of niceties. Sometimes he was faintly droll and mordant in how he went about doing this. [Picture top right: Portrait of Claude Lanzmann, French filmmaker known for the Holocaust documentary film ‘Shoah’, at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, on March 19, 2015. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90].  Everyone who has seen the 9 1/2 hours of Shoah will remember the scene in which an old SS Unterscharführer at Treblinka named Franz Suchomel, who does not know that he is on camera, agrees to recount his history at the camp and says, “But don’t use my name.” Lanzmann replies, “No, I promised. All right, you’ve arrived at Treblinka. …” The Unterscharführer begins to speak—and, in subtitles on the screen, his name and identity appear.

It is a little shocking to see the subtitles. You wonder for a flicker of an instant if you aren’t watching a crime take place, which is Lanzmann’s baldfaced lie to the old Nazi. But then, in that same flicker of an instant, you do recognize, if you have half a brain, that the crime in this particular case belongs to the Nazi, and not to the man interviewing the Nazi. You might even find yourself shocked to have been shocked—shocked to have been confused even for a micromoment about the rights and wrongs of manipulating an old SS man into revealing the scale of his criminality. Does the micromomentary confusion overshadow what the Nazi recounts? Maybe it does, for its own micromoment. I notice that right now I am recounting the amusing story of Lanzmann’s deception, instead of the realities of Treblinka—where, I should add, my grandfather’s innumerable cousins were murdered, quite probably at the direction of the Unterscharführer whose face is identified on screen. But there is something to be gained from having undergone an instant of confusion, so long as you give it some thought. You have had a collaborator’s experience, in a specific version—the experience of believing that researching a mass extermination is fine and good, but other considerations ought to take precedence. Read the full story.



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