Five questions for Claude Lanzmann

'Shoah' was screened at Jerusalem Cinematheque over course of two evenings, and Lanzmann stayed after each screening, discussing the films.

Claude Lanzmann (photo credit: Helie Gallimard)
Claude Lanzmann
(photo credit: Helie Gallimard)
Claude Lanzmann, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker whose ground-breaking 1985 film, Shoah, popularized the Hebrew word for “Holocaust” and presented the subjected as it had never been seen on film before, visited Israel for Holocaust Remembrance Day, and was honored by the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Shoah was screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque over the course of two evenings, and Lanzmann stayed after each screening, discussing the films with the emotional and appreciative audience late into the night. Shoah is an innovative film in that it does not include any archival footage. It is composed of interviews with survivors, some of whom returned to the concentration-camp sites and other European killing fields to speak, and lets the emotional impact of their words sink in during its nine-hour running time.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that after the well-attended two-part screening of this film, the 87- year-old director was exhausted and unable to sit for a long interview. In spite of feeling under the weather, he did agree to answer five questions for the Jerusalem Post.At one time, Holocaust survivors in Israel were often made to feel uncomfortable: They were criticized for not having fought back, or suspected of having done terrible things in order to stay alive.
Do you think your film changed attitudes toward the Holocaust in Israel?
My film changed attitudes about the Holocaust all over the world. When it was first shown to Israeli adolescents they were completely moved by it. They and their teachers understood perfectly if they had been there, it would have happened to them.
[Regarding negative attitudes to Holocaust survivors in Israel,] these are stupid people. What does it matter what they think? What drove you to make your last film, The Karski Report, an extended version of the interview you did in Shoah with Jan Karski, the Polish resistance fighter who brought news of the Nazi atrocities to Polish leaders in exile?
The novel about Karski [Yannick Haenel’s Jan Karski, published in 2009, a fictionalized account of Karski’s wartime mission] was completely idiotic and I wanted to correct this.
You made the documentary on the IDF, Tzahal, nearly 20 years ago. Who would you interview now if you were going to make a film about the Israeli armed forces today?
The people in the same jobs. It wasn’t about the people, but about Tzahal itself. Sometimes I would have an appointment with one person and he couldn’t make it, so someone else showed up. So I would interview that person.What are you working on now?
It’s about Theresienstadt. It’s a complex film. Part of it was released in 1975. It’s a mixture of interviews.Are you surprised by the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe in recent years?
We live with this. It’s not such a surprise.