Men described how they would make a throat cutting gesture toward the incoming Jews as they arrived in the death camps, but some said that they made that gestured a warning and others made it in order to taunt. Survivors talked about a deceiving cordiality from the guards, while the others talked about a brutal experience filled with confusion. Due to this the truth becomes almost irrelevant, the effect that those people's experiences have had on them is easily observed. It seems like somehow the past is defined by the present.
Healing seems to be tied in with the process of forgetting for these people, and since they are not capable to overlook the terror they experienced, healing seems impossible, until it becomes apparent that many of the people questioned have become distanced from their stories because they have told them over and over again.
Shoah" tells the story of the Holocaust from a particularly human and "everyman" viewpoint. Lanzmann realized that the victims of this horror were being forgotten and he took the initiative to search out the ones who had those hideous tattoos on their arms and just talk to them. He didn't want to be a part of the picture, Lanzmann had a very unique ability to flatter and even browbeat the experiences out of ordinary people who were subjects to unspeakable horrors.
Lanzmann's documentary wasted no time in establishing what caused the holocaust, it is not an impartial document of what happened. The fact is that it was an opportunity for the victims to describe what they outlived, a sure method in order for the world never to forget. An outstanding testament from those who were there and saw and felt such things as none could have imagined without the help of this documentary.
Holocaust is about people, whether they were the commanders who intimidated the Jews, individuals who had small farms or houses near the concentration camps or even the victims themselves. The director simply let us, subconsciously decode the image of Simon, or the barber, along with their emotions and apply them to the story they were telling, to point our own mental picture of how horrible the extermination camps truly were. Our imagination is much more powerful then any other written text.
All the stories gathered, formed into the watchers minds, a dark but concrete "photo" or reenactment of the events that took place during the World War II. Instead of presenting a series of cold facts about Holocaust, this documentary confronts viewers with accounts of those people that actually experienced the events in question. By doing that, it makes people aware of the specifics and the long-term repercussions of the holocaust.
Lanzmann felt that after forty years from the Jewish extermination, people would forget what murder against humanity meant or simply would not believe, so he wanted his documentary to be seen by those who after only forty years, didn't know, or chose not to believe about the holocaust. The forty years distance between the world war two and the time the director created the documentary does not diminish at all the usefulness of "Shoah" as a historical source. His film becomes a historical document, and an important one two, because he had the courage to take a testimony from the ones that knew best what had all been about.
Shoah" provides a genuine gateway to an understanding of the holocaust. It gave the 20 century man a chance to move beyond simple observation, beyond familiarity with the awful facts, to get past the horror and horrified puzzlement and the awe at the sheer immensity and complexity of the evil, beyond moral or theological perplexity. It is a real insight, a true intuitive grasp of the nature and meaning of the holocaust.
There are rare moments in the movie when the distance between past and present seems to evaporates, and the teller recalls the past with the intensity of the present. In the New York Time there is a review in witch Lanzmann confessed "Making a history was not what I wanted to do," Mr. Lanzmann said. "I wanted to construct something more powerful than that. And, in fact, I think that the film, using only images of the present, evokes the past with far more force than any historical document."
Lanzmann's style of interviewing by asking for the most important details shows, or rather lets some of his subjects themselves show, that the anti-Semitism that caused 6 million Jews to die in the holocaust is still alive in Germany, Poland and elsewhere.
The director demonstrated in his film that the human being is cruel and not cruel to animals or plants or things he can not comprehend, but cruel to himself, in one way or the other people seem to hate themselves by hating each other. In a way "Shoah" was structured it encouraged the viewer to ponder questions of individualism and history. It comes closer than any other documentary when it comes to showing people why life is so special and sacred.
One of Lanzmann's purposes in his movie is establishing knowledge over the Holocaust. Many of the perpetrators declared that they didn't really know what was going on. Suchomel, the SS officer who worked at Treblinka camp, claimed he found out about the exterminations only after he arrived there, Stier, a former Nazi bureaucrat, claims to have been too busy to find out that the trains that were arriving were actually death trains for Jews. Lanzmann put relentless questions in order to challenge their assertion of ignorance.
Shoah" even after so many years is still so useful, because it points out what the human race is capable to do to itself. The human brain is vulnerable; it can easily be turned into a bloodthirsty, revengeful "monster," especially in times of crises. Listening to that amazing stories people realized what they were capable to do to each other. The lack of knowledge and poverty turns men into savages, all the testimonies from the polish people or the Nazi, proved in the end that during that time nobody was able to comprehend what was happening and what they were doing. They didn't have the capacity to think for themselves, they felt the need to be guided, but the guidance is not always the right one.
Every aspect of "Shoah" documentary was created in order not to forget and especially for those stories never to happen again. History must not be repeated, it is a lesson from witch everybody has to learn.
Shoah" is a loosely structured documentary, seeing it as a work of cinema it is not quite justified, since it repeats itself stylistically and hits the same point home consistently, but looking at it as a historical document, that it is worthwhile.
According to review on Movie Martyr.com, "Shoah" "is considered a milestone in the history of the documentary film, but a lot of material it contains has been dramatized or regurgitated in lesser non-fiction and fiction films. That there's an air of redundancy about it in this day and age proves that it served the purpose by creating a dialogue about the travesties of the holocaust."
The last survivors are rapidly dying with age, and we will have no more any first hand witnesses. "Shoah" is an evidence of truth concerning the Holocaust. The human insanity and evil should not only never be forgotten but also explained to all presently and for posterity so all of humanity can bear witness in hope to avoid recurrence.
It is a long and painful film to watch. At the end there is a better understanding of man's capacity for cruelty to his fellow men. First of all Lanzmann succeeded in passing down this message to the coming generations. Secondly Lanzmann wanted everybody to know about the Jewish tragedy: "I wanted to show the absolute character of the Jewish tragedy... To show how the Jews were taken and how they were alone, abandoned by the world. That is the tragedy" (New York Times article, "An epic film about the greatest evil of modern times").
Shoah, Wickipedia, The free encyclopedia http://wikipedia.org/wicki/Shoah
Benstein Richard, "An epic film about the greatest evil of modern times";New York Times Review, 20 Oct. 1985 http://movies.nytimes.com/mem/movies/review
Heilman, Jeremy "Newest Reviews: Shoah (Claude Lanzmann 1985)." 10 Aug. 2003