Claude Lanzmann, known for his epic documentary ‘Shoah,’ dies at 92

French filmmaker and Holocaust documentarian Claude Lanzmann passed away at the age of 92.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

French film-maker and journalist Claude Lanzmann, who is most famous for his nine-and-a half-hour tour de force documentary on the Holocaust has died at age 92. No cause of death at a Paris hospital was given.

Lanzmann shot the movie, called simply “Shoah,” over the course of 11 years, from 1974 to 1985. It has no horrific footage of the death camps or chilling music. Its power lay instead in the interviews he conducted with representatives of all sides of the war — German perpetrators, Polish collaborators and bystanders, and Jewish victims – with the background scenery often being the remains of the concentration camps and the Polish countryside.

He went undercover when he talked to the Germans and Poles so that they would not know the real reason he was filming them. Once he was attacked and had to be hospitalized for a month, but it did not stop him.

“I knew that the subject of the film would be death itself. Death rather than survival,” Lanzmann wrote in his autobiography. “For 12 years I tried to stare relentlessly into the black sun of the Shoah.”

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Though not without its critics (especially in Poland, who decried the absence of any mention of Polish rescuers of Jews, among other faults), Shoah is considered by many to be among the best documentaries of all time.

The famous film reviewing duo Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert agreed. Siskel ranked it the best movie (not just documentary) for 1985, while the only reason Ebert didn’t include it was because he felt to be in a class by itself.

His review upon its release was eloquent, part of which stated: “I had seen a memory of the most debased chapter in human history. But I had also seen a film that affirmed life so passionately that I did not know where to turn with my confused feelings. There is no proper response to this film. It is an enormous fact, a 550-minute howl of pain and anger in the face of genocide. It is one of the noblest films ever made.”

“Shoah” also provided Lanzmann with enough footage (he had 350 hours of it) to make four other feature-length films: “A Visitor From the Living,” about the Red Cross representative who wrote favorably about Theresienstadt; “Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4PM,” about the Jewish uprising in the camp; “The Karski Report,” about the Polish resistance fighter who brought news of Auschwitz to President Roosevelt; and “The Last of the Unjust,” about a controversial rabbi in Theresienstadt.

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In a statement, outgoing chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, lauded the filmmaker, who did not stop working almost until he died, with his last work being a four-part TV series in 2017 about Holocaust survivors.

“Claude Lanzmann was single-handedly responsible for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive in the hearts and minds of so many around the world. His magnum opus, ‘Shoah’ … was the first time many were confronted with the reality of the Holocaust as told by those who were there,” Sharansky said.

“His personal dedication to commemorating the Shoah was unparalleled, and he traveled around the world, even in his later years, to ensure the memory of the victims was never forgotten. For that, we owe him a great debt of gratitude. May his memory be a blessing.”

Yad Vashem Visual Center Director Liat Benhabib said that  “Holocaust films of all genres changed after Shoah, which also served to shine a spotlight on survivor testimony in an unprecedented scope and manner.”

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said “Claude Lanzmann’s cinematic work left an indelible mark on the collective memory, and shaped the consciousness of the Holocaust of viewers around the world, in these and other generations. His departure from us now, along with our recent separation from many Holocaust survivors, marks the end of an era.”

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Lanzmann is survived by his wife and daughter. His son tragically died from cancer last year.