Shoah (film)

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Shoah is a nine-hour film completed by Claude Lanzmann in 1985 about the Holocaust (or Shoah). Though Shoah is conventionally classified as a documentary film, director Lanzmann considers it to fall outside of that genre,[1] as, unlike most historical documentaries, the film does not feature reenactments or historical footage; instead it consists of interviews with people who were involved in various ways in the Holocaust, and visits to different places they discuss.



Although loosely structured, the film is concerned mainly with four topics: Chełmno, where gas vans were first used to exterminate Jews; the death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau; and the Warsaw Ghetto, with testimonies from survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators.

The sections on Treblinka include testimony from Abraham Bomba, who survived as a barber, Richard Glazar, an inmate, and a rare interview with Franz Suchomel, an SS officer who worked at the camp who reveals intricate details of the camp's gas chamber. Suchomel apparently agreed to provide Lanzmann with some anonymous background details; Lanzmann instead secretly filmed his interview, with the help of assistants and a hidden camera. There is also an account from Henrik Gawkowsky, who drove one of the trains while intoxicated with vodka.

Testimonies on Auschwitz are provided by Rudolf Vrba, who escaped from the camp before the end of the war and Filip Müller, who worked in an incinerator burning the bodies from the gassings. There are also accounts from various local villagers, who saw the trains heading daily to the camp and leaving empty; they quickly guessed the fate of those on board.

The only two Jews to survive Chelmno are interviewed: Simon Srebnik, who was forced to sing military songs to amuse the Nazis and Mordechaï Podchlebnik. There is also a secretly-filmed interview with Franz Schalling, who was a guard.

The Warsaw ghetto is discussed toward the end of the film, and the conditions there are described by Jan Karski, who worked for the Polish government-in-exile and Franz Grassler, a Nazi administrator who liaised with Jewish leaders. Memories from Jewish participants in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising conclude the documentary.

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