'Shoah:' a review
- Directed by Claude Lanzmann. Produced by Les Films Aleph, Historia Films with the French Ministry of Culture. Cinematographers: Dominique Chapuls, Jimmy Glasberg, William Luchansky. Editors: Ziva Postec, Anna Ruiz. Running Time: Part I, 4 hours, 39 minutes. Part II, 4 hours, 50 minutes.
Shoah is a Hebrew word that means catastrophe. It has become a synonym for extermination, or genocide, or “Holocaust.” It serves as the title of a seemingly endless film by Claude Lanzmann. Marek Edelman, a leader of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, described the film as “boring,” “not very interesting,” and “a failure” (Le Monde, November 2, 1985, page 3). In spite of a general mobilization by the media on its behalf, the French, “including the French Jewish community as a whole,” haven’t cared very much for this imposition. In desperation, the secretary general for the French Judaism Foundation Prize, which was awarded to “Shoah,” declared: “I will end with an exhortation, a plea. Go to see this film, ask those around you to go see it.” (Hamoré, June, 1986, page 37). [French President] François Mitterrand and Pope John Paul II approved of the film, as have many other prominent world figures. But nothing has worked. For a long time the television networks resisted, but now they are giving in. The gigantic turkey will be shown. Length: almost nine and a half hours.
Lanzmann wants to convince us that there were homicidal gas chambers and that the Jews really were exterminated. But what this film shows above all is that there is neither proof nor witnesses and that, as the Revisionists demonstrate, those alleged gas chambers and the extermination story are one and the same myth. Anyway, were it a question of truth, the “Exterminationists” would be eager to prove it to us with a special broadcast showing documents on all the television networks one fine evening in prime time, and not with “Shoah.”
The truth is that Hitler treated the Jews as his declared enemies, that he wanted to drive them out of Europe, and that he put many of them in labor and concentration camps. Some of the camps had crematories for burning bodies. None of them had a homicidal gas chamber. The existence of the alleged gas slaughterhouses is impossible for physical, chemical, topographical, architectural, and documentary reasons. The fate of the Jews was atrocious, but not unusually so. Consider the fate of the German children killed or wounded by phosphorous bombs or of those slaughtered at the time of their “transfer” from East to West between 1945 and 1947!
No order, no plan, no budget
Lanzmann knew very well the weakness of the Exterminationist thesis and the strength of Revisionist arguments. Supposedly, there was a gigantic extermination program for which no one can find any trace of an order, a plan, or a budget! And the weapon allegedly used to carry out the crime has simply disappeared! Even Le Nouvel Observateur (26 April 1983, page 33) ended up repeating for the general public the acknowledgement by specialists: “There is no photograph of a gas chamber.” This means that the “gas chambers” that are still shown to tourists at Struthof (Alsace), Mauthausen, Hartheim, Dachau, Majdanek, and Auschwitz are really only phony mock-ups. Lanzmann participated in the famous colloquium held at the Sorbonne (29 June to 2 July 1982) at which its two organizers, Raymond Aron and François Furet, were suddenly confronted with that cruel truth. The awareness that he lacked any proof or documentation reportedly strengthened Lanzmann’s determination to respond to the Revisionists with an emotional film and some montages of “testimonies.”
Making a film out of nothing
Lanzmann filmed railway tracks, stones, and countrysides ad nauseam. He accompanies these striking images with a clumsily lyrical commentary and with camera movements intended to “evoke” deportations and gassings. He himself commented in his maudlin way: “As a result of our filming the stones at Treblinka from all angles, they have finally spoken” (Libération, 25 April 1985, page 22). He asserted, without proof, that the Nazis erased the traces of their gigantic crime. He declares: “It was necessary to make this film from nothing, without archival documents, to invent everything.” (Le Matin de Paris, 29 April 1985, page 12). Or again: “It is therefore a case of producing a film with traces of traces of traces … With nothing one comes back to nothing.” (L'Express, 10 May 1985, page 40). His loyal followers admire him most of all for that. “Not a single archival image,” exclaims J.F. Held (L'Evénement du jeudi, 2 May 1985, page 80). “This film is a fantastic repetition” (L'Autre Journal, May 1985, page 48); “The strength of this film is not in showing what took place — in fact it refrains from doing that — but in showing the possibility of what took place” (André Glucksmann, Le Droit de vivre [The right to life], February-March 1986, page 21).
The director worked to make the filmgoer believe what he wanted him to believe. Imaginations asked only to be put to work, and the result exceeded all expectations. Proud of his art of persuasion, Lanzmann told America’s leading newspaper: “There was one man who wrote to me after seeing the film saying it was the first time he had heard the cry of an infant inside the gas chamber. It was perhaps because his imagination had been put to work.” (New York Times, 20 October 1985, Sect. 2, page H-1). In the main camp at Auschwitz, Lanzmann filmed the crematory where the tourists are shown, on the one hand, the crematory room and, on the other hand, an adjacent room called a gas chamber (in reality, a room for bodies awaiting cremation). But Lanzmann’s camera remains in the first room; it does its pirouettes and its circlings so well that the sudden, ever-so-brief appearance of the so-called gas chamber, almost pitch dark, can only be noticed by a specialist. The unprepared viewer might believe that Lanzmann has clearly shown him a gas chamber. This is pure sleight of hand. Lanzmann can prove equally well that he did or did not show the “real” gas chamber. In a sense he did both.
“Shoah” begins with a lie of omission. In the list of those who made the film possible, especially financially, Lanzmann carefully avoids indicating his primary source of funding: the State of Israel. Menachem Begin himself began by arranging for $ 850,000 for what he called a “project in the national Jewish interest.” (The Jewish Journal, New York, 27 June 1986, page 3, and the Bulletin of the Jewish Telegraph Agency, June 20, 1986.)
Lanzmann used physical and verbal tricks of all kinds to fool some of the people interviewed as well as the viewers of the film. In order to obtain German “witnesses,” he invented a non-existent institute he called the “Centre de recherches et d'études pour l'histoire contemporaine.” He also forged the letterhead of the “Académie de Paris” on his own stationery (Mrs. Ahrweiler, the Jewish chancellor of the Académie, is a friend of Lanzmann's). Lanzmann procured false identity papers, taking the name Claude-Marie Sorel and appropriating the title of “Doctor in History.” He promised and he gave 3,000 deutschmarks to each of his German “witnesses,” further assuring each before his interview that it would be sealed for thirty years ("Ce que je n'ai pas dit dans 'Shoah,'” VSD, interview by Jean-Pierre Chabrol, 9 July 1987, especially page 11). Thus, these Germans “testified” for money.
Lanzmann’s number one “witness” is barber Abraham Bomba. In a scene “crying out with truth” we see Bomba working in his shop, where he imitates on a customer’s head the gestures that he supposedly used while cutting the hair of the victims “in the gas chamber at Treblinka.” Here again there is a bit of trickery. Bomba had been a barber in New York; he moved to Israel to retire, and there Lanzmann rented a shop and orchestrated the entire scene in cooperation with Bomba (Jean-Charles Szurek, L'Autre Europe, 10, 1986, page 65; Times (London), 2 March 1986; L'Autre Journal, May 1985, page 47)
A barber shop in the gas chamber
Let’s deal in some detail with the “witnesses” in “Shoah.” We are not talking about witnesses in the legal sense of the term. None of the “witnesses” was verified and examined. No “witness” was cross-examined. No “testimony” seems to have been reproduced in its complete form, and Lanzmann presented only nine and a half hours of the 350 hours of film that he shot. The “testimonies” are, furthermore, systematically cut and are given only in fragments, on the basis of images carefully chosen to condition the viewer.
The testimony that is dearest to the promoters of “Shoah” is that of Abraham Bomba. Unfortunately, it teems with physical impossibilities and serious vagueness. Bomba wants us to believe that at Treblinka he worked in a room that was both a barber shop and a gas chamber! The room measured four meters by four meters. He said that narrow space contained 16 or 17 barbers and some benches; approximately 60 or 70 naked women entered along with an unknown number of children; it took about 8 minutes for that entire group to have its hair cut; no one left the room; then 70 or 80 more women entered, again with an unknown number of children; the hair cutting for that whole group lasted about 10 minutes. Therefore, those present by then numbered about 146 or 147 people, not counting the children, and other space was occupied by the benches — all this in a space of 16 square meters! This is all pure nonsense.
The barbers involved in this process worked non-stop. They sometimes left the room, but only for five minutes, which was just the amount of time needed to gas the victims, remove the bodies and clean up the room: everything “was clean” then. They do not tell us what gas was used or how it was introduced into the room. And how did they go about getting rid of the gas after the operation was complete? Lanzmann does not ask questions such as that. The Germans would have needed a gas that acted with lightning speed, that would not stick to surfaces and would not remain on and in the bodies to be removed. Bomba is a monomaniac who was very likely inspired by page 212 of Treblinka by J.F. Steiner (New York: Simon and Schuster; 1967), a book denounced even by Pierre Vidal-Naquet as an incredible fabrication (Les Juifs, la mémoire et la présent, Maspero, 1981, page 212), which was at least in part written by the novelist Gilles Perrault (Le Journal du dimanche, 30 March 1986, page 5).
“Witness” Rudolf Vrba was an originator of the Auschwitz myth. He had been imprisoned at Birkenau in the best of conditions. (For example, he had a room of his own.) He recounted so much nonsense about Auschwitz in April 1944 that at the Zündel trial in Toronto in January 1985 he suffered a humiliating experience. The prosecutor, who had called for his testimony against a Revisionist, suddenly refrained from questioning him any further, because it had become quite evident that Vrba was a shameless liar. He completely invented facts and figures. In particular, he said that he had personally counted 150,000 Jews from France who had been gassed during a period of 24 months at Birkenau. However, Serge Klarsfeld, the Nazi-hunter, has shown that during the entire war period the Germans deported no more than about 75,721 Jews from France to all of the camps. Asked to explain about an alleged visit by Himmler to Auschwitz for the inauguration of new “gas chambers,” Vrba, whom his ghost writer, Alan Bestic, presented as taking “immense trouble over every detail” with a “meticulous, almost fanatical respect for accuracy” (I Cannot Forgive, by Rudolf Vrba and Alan Bestic, Bantam Books of Canada, 1964, page 2), was obliged to confess that he had availed himself of what he called “poetic license.”
A witness saved by some naked young women
“Witness” Filip Müller is much the same. He is the author of Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers (New York: Stein and Day; 1979. The French edition has a preface by Claude Lanzmann). This sickening bestseller is the result of the work of a German ghostwriter, Helmut Freitag, who did not shrink from engaging in plagiarism. (See Carlo Mattogno, “Filip Müller’s Plagiarism,” reprinted in Auschwitz: un caso di plagio. Parma: Edizioni la Sfinge; 1986. Müller plagiarized from Doctor at Auschwitz, another bestseller, supposedly written by Miklos Nyiszli.)
In the film Müller says that up to 3,000 people could be gassed at the same time in the large gas chamber at Birkenau, and that at the moment of the gassing “nearly everyone rushed toward the door” and, finally, that “where the Zyklon had been thrown in it was empty.” He avoids saying that the room in question (which was, in fact, a Leichenkeller [corpse cellar]) was at most 210 square meters in size, which would have prevented any movement inside. He said that it took only three or four hours for the crowd of people to enter the disrobing room (with 3,000 coat hooks!?), undress, go into the gas chamber, be gassed there, be transported into the crematory room, and there be cremated and reduced to ashes. He does not reveal that there were only 15 ovens. If, let us suppose, it took one and a half hours to burn one corpse completely, it would have taken 12 days and 12 nights of uninterrupted operation to do what he described. And there were several groups of victims to be gassed and burned each and every day. In the film, Müller describes how victims sang the Czech national hymn and the Jewish hymn, the “Hatikva.” He is inspired here by an “eyewitness account” according to which the victims sang the Polish national hymn and the “Hatikva” until the two songs blended into … the “Internationale” (a narrative reprinted by Ber Mark, Des voix dans la nuit [Voices in the Night], prefaced by Elie Wiesel, Plon, 1982, page 247).
In the book (pages 113-114) but not in the film, Müller recounts how, after deciding to die in the gas chamber, he was dissuaded by a group of naked young women who forcibly dragged and pushed him out so they could die all alone: he would serve as a witness. On pages 46-47 he describes how Nazi doctors
felt the thighs and calves of men and women who were still alive and selected what they called the best pieces before the victims were executed. After their execution the chosen bodies were laid on a table. The doctors proceeded to cut pieces of still warm flesh from thighs and calves and threw them into waiting receptacles. The muscles of those who had been shot were still working and contracting, making the bucket jump about.
This is Filip Müller, Claude Lanzmann’s great “witness.”
Another “witness,” Jan Karski, talks with emphasis about the Warsaw Ghetto, but doesn’t say anything. It is unfortunate that Lanzmann did not let us hear about Karski’s supposed experience at the camp of Belzec, after which Karski claimed that Jews were killed there in railway cars with quicklime. Raul Hilberg would later say that “I would not mention him in a footnote” ("Recording the Holocaust,” The Jerusalem Post International Edition, June 28, 1986, page 9).
“Witness” Raul Hilberg is much more interesting. Lanzmann has been criticized for devoting film time to this American professor, of Austrian-Jewish origin, who had no first-hand experience of the camps. Hilberg is the high priest of the Exterminationist view. He is the man who ended up by acknowledging that there was no order or plan or budget for the extermination of the Jews. He nevertheless believes desperately in such an extermination. His despair as an intellectual is particularly interesting. A careful viewer of the film can observe the extent to which Hilberg resorts to pure speculation to defend his theory. This is especially obvious when he talks about the German railways, which he says brought Jews from Warsaw to Treblinka in the most open and undisguised way. He recalls the precise hours of departure and arrival. And he concludes that this is how the Jews were sent to the gas chambers of Treblinka. At no point does he prove to us that Treblinka had such gas chambers.
“Witness” Franz Suchomel is a former sergeant at Treblinka. As long as he talks about things other than the supposed homicidal gassings he is relatively precise. When he gets to the subject of gas chambers he becomes vague. He does not make clear their locations, their size, or how they operated. Sometimes he talks about the “gas chamber” and sometimes about the “gas chambers” without Lanzmann asking him to explain that ambiguity. He does not even reveal what kind of gas it was. He talks about “motors.” The legend that has been accepted is that there was a “Diesel engine” there (Gerstein). But a Diesel engine is not appropriate for asphyxiating people. He never talks about having been present at a gassing. He says that on the day of his arrival “just at the moment when we were passing by, they were in the process of opening the doors of the gas chamber … and the people fell out like sacks of potatoes.” Therefore, at most he saw some bodies. Nothing would have justified him in claiming that the place was a gas chamber. He had just arrived. At best he was reporting a guess. Besides, everything that he says implies that in the camp there were some Jews, some bodies, perhaps one or more funeral pyres and, probably, some showers and some disinfection gas chambers. He shows a portion of a plan but only very vaguely. What is this plan? He talks authoritatively about gassings at Auschwitz, where he never set foot. He talks with equal authority about the gassings at Treblinka, but never as an eyewitness. He is like those self-taught persons who show off the results of their reading on a given subject, but are confounded by a simple, direct, and precise question. But Lanzmann never asks Suchomel that kind of question.
Because the myth of the gas chambers is in danger, Exterminationists have a tendency to fall back on the story of the “gas vans.” Claude Lanzmann often takes us for a ride on these too. It is perhaps on this subject that his “witnesses” are the most improbable and contradictory. In order to save the day for the Exterminationists, Lanzmann forces us to listen to the reading of a document (he, who did not want documents) about the “special Saurer vans.” There is only one problem: he has seriously distorted the text, trying in particular to remove its most obvious absurdities. Specialists will find the complete document in NS-Massentötungen durch Giftgas [NS Mass Killings by Poison Gas], S. Fischer, 1983, pages 333-337.
Treblinka: not secret at all
The brave Polish peasants from the vicinity of Treblinka and the locomotive engineer all seem to have been especially dazzled by the wealth of the Jews who arrived on the trains. If they thought that the Germans were going to kill the Jews, they believed it would be done mainly by strangling or hanging them. Not one peasant nor the mechanic actually witnessed homicidal gassings. Now such gassings on such a scale could hardly have escaped their attention. There was nothing secret about Treblinka, located only 100 kilometers from Warsaw. Richard Glazer, questioned by Lanzmann, does not say in the film what he confided to historian Gitta Sereny-Honeyman: all the Poles between Warsaw and Treblinka must have known the area. They, and especially the peasants, went there to sell things to the Jews in the camp. Polish prostitutes catered to the Ukrainian guards. Treblinka was a real “circus” for the peasants and the prostitutes. (Into That Darkness. London: Andre Deutsch; 1974; page 193).
Lanzmann fears the Revisionists. He has said: “I often meet people who say 'Shoah' is not objective because it does not show interviews with those who denied the Holocaust. But trying to discuss that point, you will find yourself caught in a trap” (The Jewish Chronicle, 6 February 1987, page 8).
In fact, on those rare occasions when Revisionists have been able to draw Exterminationists into a discussion, the latter have not done well. But the general public understands less and less why Exterminationists refuse to discuss the issues on radio or television. If the Revisionists tell lies, why not refute them in public? Besides, are they telling lies? Wasn’t it Serge Klarsfeld himself who recognized that no one has yet published “real proofs” of the existence of the gas chambers but only “beginnings of proofs” (VSD, 29 May 1986, page 37)?
The last war with Germany ended on 8 May 1945. But some people apparently think that it is necessary to continue that war by continuing to spread the horrible inventions of war propaganda. They carry on the war by means of trials or through the media, which more and more increase their “Holocaust” drumbeating. It is time they stop. They have already done too much. Peace and reconciliation demand a different kind of behavior. “Shoah business” is leading us all into a dead end. The younger generation of Jews has better things to do than to wrap themselves up in the absurd beliefs of the “Holocaust” religion. Their refusal to become interested in the film “Shoah” would be, if confirmed, a first sign of the younger generation’s rejection of the official mythology, at least about the Second World War and its results.