There is only life

July 6, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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Claude Lanzsmann, the French film maker who produced Shoah, the 9½ hours long documentary on the Holocaust, was interviewed on ABC’s Lateline by Tony Jones.


To watch the interview follow this link…


For those without Internet, J-Wire has transcribed the program…

TJ: Claude Lanzmann was a French Resistance fighter, a close friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, a long time lover of Simone de Beauvoir,. He is also the maker of what some call the greatest documentary ever made…Shoah is an epic nine hour film on the Holocaust. Now aged 87, he has finally written his memoir. It is called “The Patagonian Hare” Claude Lanzmann was in Paris when we recorded this conversation….

TJ: Claude Lanzmann, thanks for joining us

CL: I thank you

TJ: I realise when reading your book it’s more than 25 years since I first saw Shoah…but I can remember entire long sequences of it as if it were yesterday. So I am wondering where do you think its enduring power comes from?

CL: Listen, it’s not so easy to say and to explain. Shoah is really like a source which does not stop to go…and it is very strange because at the very beginning I had very precise ideas that one should see my film in such and such a way and not the one and now I am much more flexible. There are countries, I think it is a great victory and a great achievement like Turkey for instance. Turkey, for the first time really has broadcast “Shoah” on the public television, the main channel…each week, one hour. And there were…the answer was absolutely tremendous…every time time it was the same more than 5 million Turkish people watched Shoah very carefully, precisely every week. and the success was so big they suffered again the following nine days because the film is nine hours and a half. It was the first time the film was released officially in a Muslim country…a country which, as you probably know is at this very moment is not in such a friendly relationship with Israel. So it is very interesting

TJ: As you explained it in your memoir, you suddenly realised that the missing evidence is what happened inside the gas chambers that nobody survived and only then did you that the subject of the film would be death. Death rather than survival

CL: Absolutely. Absolutely it was a an absolute turning point for me a breaking point during the making of this film which was a very difficult task a very difficult undertaking. and at the very beginning I could not know the core the heart of my subject and suddenly I realise not suddenly after months of work, of course the core was not the survivors but the dead and the survivors who are appearing in Shoah the Jewish protagonists of Shoah they don’t deserve for themselves the qualification of survivors. Because none of them should have survived. They were all people so called Sonderkommandos who worked at the last the last stage of the destruction process This means that they worked really at the crematorium at the gas chambers and they were the only witnesses like the Germans of the deaths of the Jewish people and it is the reason I wanted them and only them in this film

They showed a clip of an interview with Sonnerkommando who witnessed the bodies of his wife and children and who asked the Germans to kill him…but they refused saying he was strong enough o work.

TJ: A great deal has been written about the Sonnercomando who you describe as heroes but they only survived by participating in the killing process. How is that this did not dehumanise them?

CL I consider these men as heroes as you said . They are heroes they are martyrs too. They were simple people there were intelligent they were soft they were very human and in the most unhuman conditions they succeeded not only to keep their own humanity but to take the proper measure of what is life and they discovered the infinite price of what is a human life. I am like them because I consider there is life and nothing else. A film was made of me in France two years ago and when the film was finished, and it is not a bad film but I did not make it myself, people asked me what kind of title would you like to give to your film and I answered exactly like one of the men of the Sonderkommandos of Auschwitz who buried his last words in the earth of the crematorium and it was discovered years after the war. There is life there is only life and we want to live one day one minute more one month more because everybody lives. There is nothing else but life.

TJ: One of the most remarkable sequences in the film is with a man you spent many years trying to track down Abraham Bomba also known as the barber of Treblinka. He was still a barber when you found him and you film a sequence with him cutting a man’s hair as he remembers exactly what happened inside that extermination camp. What can tell us about that man?

CL: If I had the proper time I would be able to tell you but we have not enough time. I will try . First of all this man..I knew that he had existed and that he had for a while cut the hair of the women inside the gas chambers of Treblinka but it was impossible for me to find him. I knew that he was living in North America and that he was a barber in Manhattan. I tried everything to find him but I did not succeed. After many attempts I found him and we spent two days and one night,  Abraham Bomba and me in the mountains of upstate New York in the Catskills where he talked to me non-stop and I discovered that the only way for me to have people like him in the film and to have them talking and telling these terrible things as they went through and it is very difficult for them in front a camera in front a cinema team I had to know everything in advance in order to be able to help them because they had to pay the highest price to tell their story. With Bomba the idea to film him in a hairdresser’s salon was my idea. I proposed it to him and he liked the idea. And I did so because I assumed that making the same gesture, cutting the hair off a man with the scissors as they did for the women would help him to talk.

In a clip, Bomba says and most of them had long hair they had short hair but we had to do the job to get rid of the hair. Like I mentioned the Germans needed the hair for their purposes

TJ: It was very emotional that scene. You could see the point where he himself his mind goes back to those days.

CL: Yes I asked him several times during the interview with him “but what did you feel the first time you saw all these naked women with children, naked too, entering the gas chamber and there were seventeen barbers waiting with scissors and the women that would sit at a bench and they started to cut very fast. He told me  ‘You know living there day and night among the corpses or among people who were about to die in the following minutes you had no feeling at all your feeling disappeared’. And it is at this very moment that he says this sentence that suddenly he breaks in tears when says that he has no emotion suddenly the emotion returns..comes back with full force. Bamberg breaks down on film when he tells Lansmann “a friend of mine he worked as a barber he was also a good barber from my home town when his wife and his sister came into the gas chamber…”he then freezes and despite Lanzsmann goading him on saying we have do it, the barber can not. “I wouldn’t be able to do it”


3 Responses to “There is only life”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    Yes Otto, I agree with you on all three, Tony Jones did a wonderful interview, his sensitive side certainly showed through.

  2. Lesley says:

    Is Irena’s Song going to be shown in Sydney????

  3. Otto Waldmann says:

    Thanks JWire for offering us the transcription of one of the most moving interviews I have seen on the small screen.
    Tony Jones was ( actually is ) the real mensch I have known him to be. Claude Lanzmann the core of Yidishkeit to touch the humanity in us all.

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