British Holocaust educators this week paid tribute to legendary filmmaker and wartime chronicler Claude Lanzmann, who has died aged 92.
Lanzmann, who was French, is perhaps best known for his exhaustive nine-hour documentary ‘Shoah,’ which helped so many people understand what Jews went through, after he managed to get survivors to open up.
The gargantuan project, filmed across 14 countries, took 11 years to make and at one point led to him being hospitalised for a month after he was attacked for covertly filming a former Nazi who had only agreed to an audio recording.
In an interview with The Guardian, he said: “When I saw the village of Treblinka still existed, that people who were witnesses to everything still existed, that there was a normal train station, the bomb that I was exploded. I started to shoot.”
His style of interviewing was memorable, leaving long silences that the survivors themselves eventually filled, and asking for the most minute of details, all of which added up to the film world’s most complete picture of the Holocaust to that point.
He later used the oral history footage to make three smaller documentaries covering a partially-successful uprising at Sobibor, a Polish resistance fighter who sought to tell the world about the horrors of the Holocaust, and the rabbi who was among the first Jewish administrators at the Theresienstadt ghetto.
Lanzmann once said: “Making a history was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to construct something more powerful than that.”
Born in Paris in 1925 to Jewish immigrant parents, he was a member of a communist youth organisation and joined the French resistance to fight Nazi occupation, later becoming a reporter and writer.
Back in France, he was part of a close-knit group of intellectuals including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, with whom he lived for several years.
He was still making documentaries until recently. His latest project, ‘Napalm,’ drawing on his earlier visits to North Korea when he was a journalist, premiered at Cannes last year.
This week outgoing Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky, who was imprisoned in the Soviet Union, said Lanzmann “was single-handedly responsible for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive in the hearts and minds of so many around the world.
“His magnum opus, Shoah, captured the horrors of that period through the personal testimonies of survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators alike and was the first time many were confronted with the reality of the Holocaust as told by those who were there… We owe him a great debt of gratitude.”
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust paid tribute, saying: “Lanzmann’s film Shoah has been hailed by many as the greatest documentary of all time, but more importantly it made those who watched it a witness to the truth through survivor and perpetrator testimony. Lanzmann played a pivotal role in keeping the memory and truth of the Holocaust alive.
Shoah was ground-breaking in the 1980’s and still is to this day. The film and his work educated so many around the world – and for that we owe him a great debt”
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