Friday, June 28, 2013

SHOAH Part 3 - "Bureaucrats became inventors."

By the end of 1940, if you were a Jew living in Warsaw, you were forced to relocate to the well-guarded ghetto in the center of the city. You were among 400,000 fellow Jews -- some 30% of the population of Warsaw, occupying less than 3% of its space.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

SHOAH Part 2 - "A production line of death"

"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic."
- Joseph Stalin

Six hours in and SHOAH is starting to congeal into several main thoughts/ideas.

The biggest revelation for me during this round occurred at the film's four-hour mark. Lanzmann casually chats with residents of Grabow, Poland -- the village closest to the Chelmno extermination camp (400,000 dead, two survivors). Thirty-odd years after the Shoah, there's no real love lost between this particular group of Poles and the Jews. Lanzmann lightly cajoles the still-active strain of antisemitism out of the villagers. Of course none of them wanted to see them die or be gassed or anything, BUT...

The Jewish women were much more beautiful than the Polish women. Why? Because they didn't have to work. They were rich. "Because the capital was in their hand."

The Jews were dishonest. "They should have gone to Israel on their own."

One townsperson recounts a "rabbi's story" about how the death of the Jews in the Shoah "expiated the blood of Christ" and that the whole thing was "God's will."

After hours of hearing about men, women, and children reduced to crumbling, flattened, ragdoll-like corpses -- whether in the cattle cars, the gas chambers, the death pits, etc. -- we start hinting at the "why" just a little bit. And the "why" is still there. We've seen the effect, now for the cause.

Lanzmann does what he said he would not and flat out asks the villagers, "Why the Jews?" After a pause, one of them blurts out: "Because they were the richest."

Fascinating. I'd never heard it quite broken down in terms of class envy before. Not sure why that never occurred to me. Any study of Hitler quickly reveals that he was chock-full of craven covetousness, brimming with a juvenile, one-dimensional envy of anyone he thought had something that he deserved. This particular psychoses trickled into his fiery rhetoric and, well, tens of millions of dead later, etc.

And its when this particular revelation hit that my thesis materialized, my main takeaway (so far) from SHOAH:

There is NO REASON that this won't happen again. Not necessarily to the Jews, though that's always a possibility. Every anger-fueled conspiracy theory message board/political argument is just a click or two away from blaming the Rothschilds for the world's woes and it's not even a full click from there to the jewry.

But it doesn't even have to be the Jews next time. There is nothing in history to tell us mankind is trending toward a less destructive, less avaricious way of living.

Lanzmann recognizes, therefore, the moral imperative of making SHOAH. During an interview, a barber (who was forced to cut women and children's hair minutes before they were reduced to ashes) breaks down and refuses to finish recounting an anecdote. He won't go on. He can't.

But Lanzmann gently urges him on: "We have to do it. You know it."

"You want History," one of the former SS guards asks Lanzmann. "I'm giving you History."  The Nazis knew their history. The Final Solution piggybacked on planned exterminations like the Armenian genocide and the Russian pogroms. They knew that the deep vein of thousands of years of antisemitism -- institutionalized by governing bodies both secular and religious -- could continue to be tapped and exploited.

Now it's time for the rest of us to get caught up on our history.

Tomorrow, I'll wrap this up...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

SHOAH Part 1 - An Everlasting Memorial

The image above is probably the most famous from Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 SHOAH. Having never seen the film (until recently), the image has been my brain’s shorthand for it; mention SHOAH and the impish little Eastern European man leaning out of the train with the simple sign for “Treblinka” behind him pops up in my head.

He’s one of the many survivors interviewed for SHOAH, but not a survivor of the arm-tattooed variety, as I'd assumed. His name is Henrik Gawkowski. He was responsible for driving the trains packed with thousands of "deported" Jews back and forth between the tiny Polish village of Małkinia Górna and the Treblinka extermination camp. It was a short trip -- about six miles -- and Gawkowski made it countless times during his tenure as a train operator. Nearly one million Jews met their death at Treblinka, so the trains -- for that matter, all of the machinery of the Final Solution -- had to work overtime.

Friday, June 14, 2013

“I hate movies.”

Being part the fourth of my wrasslin’ with the work of Jean-Luc Godard. The first two parts – 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER and BREATHLESS – went undocumented. The last bout between Godard and I – when I watched 1967’s WEEKEND – occurred last fall. (I’ve also seen both ALPHAVILLE and CONTEMPT but both were so long ago that my opinion on these has been misplaced.) I know everyone finds my struggles with a highly regarded auteur fascinating, so I’m here to bravely confront BAND OF OUTSIDERS.