Monday, 2 February 2015

Shoah

For those that don't know " Shoah" is a 1985 French documentary film which chronicals the memories and experiences of Polish Jews, and  selected Polish and German witnesses of the Holocaust within three areas of Poland during the war,
A mammoth undertaking, the film by Claude Lanzmann, took some eleven years to collate and much of the footage from the German perpetrators was secretly filmed over very long takes.
Lanzmann, who could not speak Hebrew, Yiddish or Polish , had to use translators to capture the smallest detail of the personal experience of those he interviewed, so the subsequent scenes are long, often meandering and invariably painful to hear.
The documentary in its entirety is some ten hours in length.

I had the opportunity to go and see a partial showing of " Shoah" in Sheffield years ago and couldn't quite face the experience , so I was pleased ( was pleased the right word?) when I saw that BBC4 was showing it as part of its tribute to Holocaust Memorial Day ( 27th January)

Last night I sat through two hours of Shoah.
It was a painful and powerful experience.

One interview with Filip Muller of the Jewish  resistance from Auschwitz lingers long in the mind. A physically and psychologically strong man described to camera the final moments of some 1600 Czech Jews from the Auschwitz' " family camp". For some strange reason the Germans had kept these Jews all together and alive and for over a year at the extermination camp, so when they were herded into the gas chambers they had a certain strength to resist the guards.
In a matter of fact voice, the former resistance man described how his fellow Countrymen  refused to undress before their captors . He described how a small group of women begged him to leave them ( he was a worker in the crematorium) so that he could testify to what happened and only broke down  when he remembered how the crowd stood proud and sang the Czech National Anthem before the crematorium doors were closed.

Most documentaries use vintage footage to illustrate the narrative. Shoah used people's faces, and winter scenes of the modern day camp sights to bookend those dreadful stories.

Those living faces , with their dead eyes......their stories need to be heard and heard by every
generation. I wish I had the strength to watch more than two hours of it
I did not.

63 comments:

  1. This resonated with me John, because my first husband was on the so called ' Death Railway' in Thailand. He was very young, having been taken prisoner as a 'boy soldier' in the East Surrey regiment. He was home again for his twenty first birthday, but many of the scenes he had witnessed never left him. He would have nightmares but would never speak of it. Although many of his friends had traumatic times after the war, he seemed to more or less rise above it - I think mainly because of his extreme youth. The suffering of those in the Death Camps is so terrible that we cannot really begin to understand it, any more than we can the Death Railway, but I must say that the faces of those wonderful old people who made the journey the other week to the gathering - the suffering on their faces, their tears - moved me greatly. And still the suffering goes on.

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  2. We are all meant to have a well of sadness in us, when I see how human beings can be so cruel, I feel mine fill up in the pit of my stomache. I honestly don't think I could hate anyone so much that I could do such spiteful things to them. I only hope that I am never proved wrong...

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    1. What Landzmann also showed was the apathy from the local Poles whose houses could be seen so closely situated to the camps....I understand he was also criticized for not balancing the piece with stories of how the local polish people did help

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    2. What could they have done. I did not see it like that.

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  3. As The Weaver of Grass says; 'still the suffering goes on'. The most useful lesson that humanity could learn is that Mahatma Ghandi was right when he said 'Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than one derived from fear of punishment'.

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    1. The one problem of the documentary is that he film had defeated somewhat with time..it looks grainy and old......sometimes that allows what we see and hear to be distanced from us

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    2. You're right...it can allow people to believe that it couldn't happen now...

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  4. I bow to the lost ones. Not only those born into the Jewish religion but also the gipsies, the communists, the deformed and disabled, the homosexuals and trade unionists, the midgets, the beggars, the circus performers and actors, the Poles, intellectual dissenters and academics. So many others were also targeted. Such evil.

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  5. I bow to the lost ones. Not only those born into the Jewish religion but also the gipsies, the communists, the deformed and disabled, the homosexuals and trade unionists, the midgets, the beggars, the circus performers and actors, the Poles, intellectual dissenters and academics. So many others were also targeted. Such evil.

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  6. My father was in Germany at the end of WWII, and at one of the camps when it was liberated. He seldom spoke of it; hated thinking of it, but I recall him speaking of how he and his fellow soldiers were horrified by the deaths of people who had been fed after the camp was liberated.

    Some died because it was too late for food to help... others died because no one understood at the time that it was a more delicate process, rescuing someone from starvation, than just shoveling food in their mouths. Before he died Dad spoke of it again, finishing with "It broke our hearts, thinking we were killing them with our love, our need to help, after they had already survived so much."

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    1. My father, a Us Army soldier spoke of this as well.It was one of very few comments he made about what he saw in his march across Europe.He spoke of giving someone in camp they had liberated a candy bar and them dying, unable to tolerate the food.He rarely spoke of the war but I know he never forgot.

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    2. My Uncle was one who also helped liberate the camps. He never spoke of it, ever !
      He was this huge bear of a man all strong and loving and yet he never spoke of it. My Mum knew some but she also never spoke about it.
      I think this movie should be shown to all people. High School seems a place to start. We must never forget. And it seem so many people do not care or feel it doesn't matter to them.
      Poland really was a battleground. Both side committed brutality as they marched across it.
      What is also so very sad is the so called Soviet liberators who invaded Poland in 1939 under Stalin committed the Katyn Massacre. Officers from the Army, Navy, physicians, lawyers, teachers, writers, journalists, university students and Polish Jews where executed. Some where about 22,00 people died.
      And so it began.

      I hope you are feeling better today.
      cheers, parsnip

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    3. Gayle, I so agree with all older kids seeing something like Shoah........it's such a powerful and bloody necessary thing to learn

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  7. It should be shown to all people without exceptions. My comment of earlier this morning on your post last night refers.

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    1. I read your comment Rachel.....thank you.....I agree everyone should watch some of Shoah

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  8. I think we all find something that resonates with us. I was watching the news footage last week and an interview on This Morning and the lady survivor said that her Dad jumped off the train on arrival at a camp and by the time she jumped down behind him he'd gone and she never saw him again. The thing that really took my breath away though was that the old, young and infirm weren't even taken off of the train - and if I had been in that situation that would have included my Hubby. I had to stop for a moment. We should never forget.

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    1. At least we have hindsight...free Germans and their cohorts relied on bullying and surprise to kill millions

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    2. War is disgusting and complicated...do you think we need to be more educated about how the atrocities were allowed to happen and the historical background so that we can recognise parallels in today's world? The average German man and woman before the war were just ordinary people, most were not monsters.

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  9. I sat mesmerised through the programme last night. I learnt much and the sadness is still with me this morning

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    1. What I found most upsetting was the fact that the Germans had no money to facilitate the transportation of the Jews...that was financed by the Jews themselves....who had to hand over their belongings and money....that blood money transported them to teir deaths

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  10. I see the survivers every day. They are my neigbours, The people that I meet every day when I am walking in the street of our 'Israeli Trelawnyd".They were children at that time in Poland. They jumped from the trains, they lived in the forest in winters and summers until the end of the war, they hide in small holes or caves or basmants for 4 years.They were 4, 5, or seven years old and they survived alone.They are almost 80 now .Some of them lost sons or hasbands in the wars here and from time to time still have to find a shelter from missiles here.
    Thank you Johne.It is importent to raise the subject from time to time.

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    1. No thank YOU Yael,
      You, in just a few words, have made the subject completely real for all of us!

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  11. It needs to be kept 'in front of us' for all time. It must never happen again.

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  12. You are a braver man than I as I could not watch any of it. Having read many, many biographies (and novels) of the war and holocaust during my younger years I had enough information to last me a lifetime. The music from Schindlers List is beautiful enough to make me stop and listen to every note, every time.
    Love to all,
    Susan x

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  13. I honestly don't think I could watch that. Does that make me a coward; probably, but I know I couldn't face it, sorry.

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  14. I haven't seen it and probably won't.
    I've just read the late, the wonderful, the best, American movie critic/writer Roger Ebert's review here -

    www.rogerebert.com/reviews/shoah-1985

    That was enough to bring the tears and hurt my heart.
    Mary -

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    1. Mary , thank you for that..the example I gave was included in this review

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  15. I worked with a woman with the tattoo on her arm. Ida. She only said she was alive when the camp was liberated. My daughter's mother-in-law became orphaned and slave labor on a German farm for the war. Because her grandmother could not keep up the pace of walking she was shot beside the road. The human spirit should not endure this. I can no longer watch; it would make me mad.

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    1. I have never understood the collective psychology of seeing a fellow human being as sub human Joanne

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  16. I know for a fact that I couldn't look/listen to two minutes of this film, John. I am grateful that some people can and will keep the tragedy of these human beings in the forefront for all to heed and remember for generations.

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    1. I think all 5th and 6th forms in secondary school ( 16 and 17 year olds) should watch an hour of SHOAH
      It should be mandatory

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  17. It is outrageous how cruel humans can be. And that so many chose to ignore it and pretend it did not happen when it was taking place in front of their very eyes. Due to purposeful ignorance and outright denial of historical evidence from the highest levels of society, there is a rebirth of antisemitism taking place today and way too many are again pretending it is not so. I fear for our future. Way too many like to make themselves feel good after the fact with "I am Charlie" tweets. But choose to look the other way and do nothing when they witness the crime. It is not that people commit these crimes, it is that others let them and in doing so they become party to the holocaust.

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    1. I am interested in this psychology of acceptance ....and just how it happens

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    2. Some simply can't handle reality and chose to ignore it all together. In two words, moral cowardice. I don't think it is any more complicated than simple human inclination for laziness with a bit of the crowd mentality thrown in for good measure. Way too many have long ago given up responsibility for their choices in exchange for being taken care of, without considering that in doing so they have relinquished their own authority over themselves and the world around them. They look to a higher power, (government) to assert it self, provide and fix it all. Most will only look out after themselves, and will find some justification in the calamity in order to not get involved. "It's not my problem call the cops". Add to that plain old denial and willing ignorance (false intellectualism) promoted by so called academics as is today so prevalent under the banner of "diversity" and you have a recipe for disaster. A society of sheeple all too easily led to the slaughter. And thus the well intentioned but ever so misguided acting "for your own good" or "its for the children" invent evil where it does not exist and ignore real evil because the real shit is just too unpalatable to handle. And a Tweet does not soil your hands. They promote anti-interventionism in the name of "peace". And so open the doors for the truly evil to promote their perverted objectives, to do as they wish.
      Mr Condell could not put it more clearly.
      http://youtu.be/YQjTLGgQV2w

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    3. Mike today imagery and ideas can be instantly shared
      I think that the holocaust cannot be repeated ,amid the innocent so to speak because of this very fact......
      There is safety in sharing everything with everybody!

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  18. I too watched many hours of this outstanding film. I also visited Belsen and Auschwitz - I had to think long and hard about going to both places as a tourist...........but in the end I went as I believe we must never ever forget...and although this may sound strange and I hope I'm not misunderstood, both times had a pilgrimage feel to them..at each I wanted to quietly say a prayer and remember each and every soul. It is true that for evil to flourish it is only necessary for good men to do nothing.

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    1. Libby
      I understand perfectly your dilemma
      I visited Theresienstadt and worried about the same thing.
      In the camp I witnessed first hand one Jewish visitor having a melt down....it was a dreadful experience but a necessary one for me

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  19. "The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The German Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live." (The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hillberg)

    I certainly think that another Holocaust can happen again. It did already occur; think of Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. (Miep Gies)

    If only mankind would learn something from this incredible loss; I wonder sometimes if that is possible or are we so easily manipulated and spiritually vacant that we will always be putty in someone's hand.

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    1. Today, everything is instant
      Hopefully this is our one and only saving grace as a species
      It gives everyone power

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  20. I've not seen it. I don't know how much of it i'd be able to see either, John. I've read a lot about it, and one of the things that stayed with me and had me sob long afterwards was reading a health worker's report. He and his team had been assigned to help the survivors of some of the experiments, and how several of the survivors begged to be killed. The team were given explicit instructions not to kill anyone, and the writer said he felt awful because he never before really witnessed a situation where killing someone would be far kinder. It made me angry and very sad.

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    1. Being angry is good
      We should all of us be angry
      Anger will prevent it happening again more than sadness

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  21. I've heard a survivor's story and I wept. I've inserted into a novel I'm writing. I don't think I could bear the pain of this.

    One story+all I've read, does me in completely.

    XO
    WWW

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    1. Can you tell me more about your novel?

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  22. How are we to reach the minds of those today who don't care - and who wouldn't care, no matter how much they watched films or read books? It seems to me that everyone here who commented already has the necessary kindness in their hearts. How do we change those who don't? I fear those people, and their children, and their children's children. And as YP said, it was not just the Jewish people, although they suffered disproportionately, it was anyone who was "different", and it continues to be so today, at all levels of society and in all parts of the world, from bullies in the schoolyard to ethnic cleansing to terrorist groups.

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    1. Keeping the good majority " topped up" is a start jenny

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  23. My father was a German Jew. He escaped. He survived. We believe that many of his family did not. He could never talk about it. Unsurprising. Some pain is too deep to examine, and never heals.
    Just reading about this makes my heart ache again.

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    1. I think this " silence" about the past seems to be a common denominator

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  24. I think it's interesting that I've lost two followers since this post entry!

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  25. John, do you mean they "unfollowed you"?

    Jo in Auckland, NZ

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    1. Yeah strange coincidence eh?

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    2. OMG! Either people with something to hide, racists or bigots! I find it strange that people read a blog for a while and then "unfollow" when something they don't like is blogged about...the mind boggles!! Well never fear John, most of us are here for the duration. I'm waiting for the doco on you and Chris and the Ukrainian village and fur babies!!

      Jo in Auckland, NZ

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  26. During the second world war my grandparents lived near the Ackworth Quaker school and took in many evacuees and refugees.
    One of them was a little Austrian boy called Gerhard 'Harry' Heilig. After the war his father Bruno visited them to thank them for the kindness shown to his son. He gave them a signed copy of his book 'Men Crucified' detailing his times as a prisoner of war in Dachau and Buchenwald. My Mum and Dad kept it on their bookcase in plain view throughout our childhood and told me and my Sisters never to read it, we never did.
    On a lighter note, Harry went on to fly with bomber command in 1944, and went on to write several books about his wartime exploits. He reunited with my darling Dad (via the Royal British Legion) a couple of times before my Dad's death in 2002, it was delightful to see them catching up together, like the pair of naughty schoolboys there still were :) Here's a link, apols for the long reply.
    http://www.214squadron.org.uk/Personnel_pages/Heilig_Gerhard/Heilig_Gerhard.htm
    Twiggy

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    1. A hopeful story .and an interesting one thank you twiggy..we all needed that

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  27. I haven't watched any of the holocaust memorial programmes.They hurt my heart too much and I've learned to restrict the amount of time I spend crying. I did watch the programme tonight about the first woman Rabbi, Regina Jonas. Everything about her was so totally inspiring that although she, too, was murdered at Auschwitz, her recently discovered written words hold out hope to all humanity. I've always held Julia Neuburger, the first British rabbi, in high esteem and it was wonderful to learn about her predecessor.

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  28. My wife an I have visited a couple of concentration camps and both times brought me to tears. It was an unreal feeling being there. I've not seen the film but I'll watch out for it. Like you said these things should never be forgotten. Well written and thought provoking post John.

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  29. This film should be on the curriculum of all schools. We need to keep this alive in the minds and hearts of EVERY generation. Showing it to 15/16 year olds, unless they or their parents can prove a valid reason why they should not see it would make for more understanding between them and the elderly people in our society.

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  30. My Polish Catholic parents-in-law, as children, shared similar experiences in similar camps ... half of the Poles who died in the Holocaust were Christians. My parents-in-law have never been critical of un-interned Poles who 'knew and did nothing' because they know how much that 'doing nothing' has haunted those people and that in truth there was nothing they could have done.

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