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Shoah, a film by Claude Lanzmann: towards a crash of Shoah business…

Shoah is a Hebrew word meaning “catastrophe”. It has become a synonym of extermination, of genocide, of Holocaust. It serves as the title of an interminable film by Claude Lanzmann. Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, has described the film as “boring”, “uninteresting” and “a failure” (Le Monde, November 2, 1985, p. 3). Despite a general media mobilisation in its favour, the French – including the French Jewish community as a whole – have resolutely avoided this chore. In desperation, the secretary general for the prix de la Fondation du judaïsme français, awarded to Shoah, declared: “I shall end with an exhortation, a plea. Go see this film, ask those around you to go see it” (Hamore, June, 1986, p. 37). François Mitterrand lent his support to this film, John Paul II too, as did many others of the good and the great of this world. To no effect. The television networks long resisted against the pressure but now they have caved in: the huge third-rate film will be televised. Running time: nearly nine and a half hours.

Lanzmann wants us to believe that the homicidal gas chambers really existed and that the Jews really were exterminated. But what his film shows above all is that there are neither any proofs nor witnesses and that, as the revisionists demonstrate, those chambers and that extermination are one and the same myth. Besides, if they were real, the exterminationists would hasten to prove it with a special programme on all the networks one fine evening at 8.30, with documents and not with Shoah.

The truth is that Hitler treated the Jews as declared enemies, wanted to drive them out of Europe, put a large number of them in labour and concentration camps. Some of those camps had crematory ovens for the incineration of corpses. None of them had a homicidal gas chamber. The existence of those alleged slaughterhouses using gas runs into impossibilities of a physical, chemical, topographical, architectural, and documental order. The wartime fate of many Jews was atrocious in the most ordinary way. Consider for a moment that of the countless German children killed or maimed with phosphorous bombs or, between 1945 and 1947, slaughtered during their “transfer” from East to West!

Neither order, nor plan, nor budget

Lanzmann knew very well of the weakness of the exterminationist case and the strength of revisionist arguments. Behold, a colossal enterprise of extermination for which no trace of an order, a plan or a budget is to be found! As for the specific weapon of this specific crime, it has quite simply disappeared! Even Le Nouvel Observateur (April 26, 1983, p. 33) ended up relaying for the general public the specialists’ acknowledgement: “There exist no photographs of any gas chamber”, which means that the structures persistently presented as gas chambers to the tourists at Struthof (Alsace), Mauthausen, Hartheim, Dachau, Majdanek and Auschwitz are but traps for fools. Lanzmann took part in the famous symposium held at the Sorbonne (June 29 to July 2, 1982), whose two organisers, Raymond Aron and François Furet, had suddenly realised these cruel obvious facts. He felt strengthened in his conviction: in the absence of evidence or documentation, he would retort to the revisionists with a film amounting to an incantation with several montages of “testimonies”.

Why not?

Making this film with nothing

So it was that Lanzmann filmed, ad nauseam, railway tracks, stones or country landscapes; he accompanies these piercing images with a ploddingly lyrical commentary and camera movements meant to “evoke” deportations and gassings. He himself commented, with his emotionalism: “As a result of our filming the stones of Treblinka, from all angles, they have ended up speaking” (Libération, April 25, 1985, p. 22). He states, without proof, that the Nazis erased the traces of their gigantic crime, and announces: “Therefore it was necessary to make this film with nothing, without archival documents, to invent everything” (Le Matin de Paris, April 29, 1985, p. 12). Or again: “It was thus a matter of making a film with traces of traces of traces. […] With this nothing there’s a return to nothing” (L’Express, May 10, 1985, p. 40). His sycophants admire him all the more for this. “Not a single archival image”, exclaims J.-F. Held (L’Evénement du jeudi, May 2, 1985, p. 80). “This film is a fantastic raking over” (L’Autre Journal, May 1985, p. 48); for André Glucksmann “[t]he strength of this film is in showing not what took place – in fact it refrains from doing that – but the possibility of what took place” (Le Droit de vivre, February-March 1986, p. 21).

That is how the director has the filmgoer believe what he wants. Imaginations ask only to be set in motion. Sometimes the result exceeds all expectations. Proud of his art of persuasion, Lanzmann told an American newspaper: “A man wrote to me, after seeing the film, saying it was the first time he’d heard the cry of a small child in a gas chamber. It was perhaps because his imagination had been set in motion” (New York Times, October 20, 1985, Sect. 2, p. H-1). In the main camp at Auschwitz Lanzmann filmed the crematorium where the tourists are shown, on the one hand, the room with the ovens room and, on the other hand, an adjacent room, christened “gas chamber” (in reality: a cold room for bodies). However, Lanzmann’s camera remains in the first room; it does numerous pirouettes and twirlings in such a way that the abrupt, extremely brief apparition of the alleged gas chamber, practically in the dark, can be detected only by the specialist’s eye. The uninformed viewer may believe that Lanzmann has clearly shown him a gas chamber. This is an example of pure bluff. As for Lanzmann, he can claim equally well that he either has or has not shown this “real” or this “fake” gas chamber. Everything in the film is in keeping with this.

Shoah opens with a lie of omission. In the list of those who have made the film’s production possible, notably on the financial level, Lanzmann is careful not to specify the first of his sponsors: the State of Israel. Menachem Begin in person had begun by releasing $85,000 for what he called a “project in the national Jewish interest” (Jewish Journal, New York, June 27, 1986, p. 3, and Bulletin quotidien d’informations de l’agence télégraphique juive, June 20, 1986). Lanzmann used material or verbal tricks of all sorts to fool either some of the persons interviewed or the viewers. With his German “witnesses” he sometimes introduced himself “on behalf of an institute seeking to re-establish the truth about the alleged genocide of the European Jews. […] Money made up the minds of the hesitant ones” (article by Annette Lévy-Willard and Laurent Joffrin, Libération, April 25, 1985, p. 22). He seems to have usurped the title of “Doctor” and used the name “Dr Sorel” when interviewing the “witness” Walter Stier. His number one “witness” is the barber Abraham Bomba; in a scene “crying out with truth” Bomba is seen working in his salon and performing, over a customer’s hair, the movements that, it seems, he made to cut, “in the gas chamber at Treblinka”, the hair of the victims. Bluff again here: Bomba was a barber in New York; he retired in Israel and there Lanzmann had rented a salon and carried out an entire staging in agreement with him (Jean-Charles Szurek, L’Autre Groupe, no. 10, 1986, p. 65; Times, March 2, 1986; L’Autre Journal, May 1985, p. 47).

A hair salon in the gas chamber

Let us come precisely to the “witnesses” of Shoah. They are not witnesses in the legal sense of the term. None of the “testimonies” is verified or examined. No “witness” is cross-examined. No “testimony” seems to have been reproduced in its complete form and, of the 350 hours of shooting, Lanzmann in any case used only about nine and a half hours. The “testimonies” are, furthermore, systematically cut into sections and delivered to us in fragments, on a background of images arbitrarily chosen to put the viewer in condition.

The testimony that the promoters of Shoah have selected, before any others, is that of Abraham Bomba. However, it abounds with physical impossibilities and grave obscurities. Bomba wants us to believe that he worked at Treblinka in a room that was, at the same time, a hair salon and a gas chamber! It measured four by four metres. Within that cramped space there were, he says, sixteen or seventeen barbers and some benches; approximately 60 or 70 naked women entered along with an indeterminate number of children; about eight minutes’ time was enough for the whole of this group to have their hair cut. No-one left the room; then 70 or 80 more women entered, again with an indeterminate number of children; the haircut for all of that new group lasted about ten minutes. Thus, the total of those present at the time was about 146 to 167, not counting the children and the space taken up by the benches. This is pure nonsense. The barbers packed together like this worked without respite; they would leave the room, from time to time, only for five minutes: just the time required for the gassing of the victims, the removal of the bodies and the cleaning up: then everything “was tidy”. We are not told what gas was used or how it was sent into the room. And then, how did they go about dispersing the gas after the operation? Lanzmann does not ask these questions. It would take a gas with devastating effect, and not sticking to surfaces or remaining in the bodies to be handled. Bomba is a mythomaniac most likely inspired by J.-F. Steiner’s Treblinka (Simon and Schuster, New York 1967), a book denounced even by Pierre Vidal-Naquet as a vile fabrication (Les Juifs, la mémoire et le présent, Maspero, Paris 1981, p. 212), written at least in part by the novelist Gilles Perrault (Le Journal du dimanche, March 30, 1986, p. 5).

“Witness” Rudolf Vrba is the man at the origin of the Auschwitz myth. Interned at Birkenau in the best conditions (he had a room of his own), he recounted, from April 1944 onwards, so much nonsense about Auschwitz that at the Zündel trial in Toronto in January 1985 he met with a humiliating misadventure: the prosecutor who had called on him to testify against a revisionist abruptly gave up questioning him any further, so obvious had it become that Vrba was an arrant liar. He had totally invented facts and figures. In particular, he said he had personally counted 150,000 Jews from France gassed in 24 months at Birkenau; but Serge Klarsfeld had shown that during the entire duration of the war the Germans had deported from France, to all their camps, no more than about 75,721 Jews. Enjoined to explain about a certain visit to Auschwitz by Heinrich Himmler for the inauguration of new “gas chambers” he, Vrba, the man so scrupulously precise in all details, appealed to “licentia poetarum”.

A witness saved by naked young beauties

“Witness” Filip Müller is of the same calibre. He is the author of Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers (Stein and Day, New York 1979; the French edition has a preface by Claude Lanzmann). This nauseating bestseller is the result of the work of a German ghostwriter, Helmut Freitag, who did not hesitate to plagiarise (see Carlo Mattogno, “Filip Müller’s Plagiarism”, reprinted in Auschwitz: un caso di plagio, La Sfinge, Parma 1986). The source from which Müller copied is Doctor at Auschwitz, another bestseller, signed by Miklos Nyiszli. In the film he says that up to 3,000 could be gassed at the same time in Birkenau’s large gas chamber, that at the moment of the gassing “nearly all of them rushed towards the door” and, finally, that “the part [of the chamber] where the Zyklon had been poured in was empty”. He is careful not to say that the enclosure in question (in fact, a cold room: Leichenkeller [corpse cellar]) measured at the most 210 square metres, which would have precluded any movement by those within. He says it took only three or four hours for the crowd of people to enter the changing room (with 3,000 clothes hooks!), undress, go into the gas chamber, be gassed, their bodies then taken into the oven room and burnt and reduced to ashes. He does not say that there were only 15 oven mouths; at the rate of an hour and a half to reduce a corpse to ashes it would have taken 12 days and 12 nights of uninterrupted operation to achieve this feat of technical prowess. And there were several batches per day of people to be gassed and burnt! In the film he tells how the victims intoned the Czech national anthem and the Jewish anthem, the Hatikva. Here he is inspired here by a “witness’s account” according to which the victims sang the Polish national anthem and the Hatikva until the two blended together into… the “Internationale” (a story reproduced by Ber Mark, Des voix dans la nuit [Voices in the Night], preface by Elie Wiesel, Plon, Paris 1982, p. 247). In the book (p. 113-114) but not in the film, Müller recounts how, after deciding to die in the gas chamber, he was dissuaded by a bevy of beautiful naked women who forcibly pushed him out: they would die alone, he was to serve as a witness. On pages 46-47 he says that the Nazi doctors palpated the thighs and genitals of the men and women still alive and that after the victims’ death the pieces removed from them were thrown into a receptacle (in the German version, the receptacles shook jerkily from the convulsion of muscles).

Such is Filip Müller, Lanzmann’s big “witness”.

His “witness” Jan Karski talks bombastically about the Warsaw ghetto but doesn’t actually say anything. It is unfortunate that Lanzmann has not let him be heard on his alleged experience of the Belzec camp. Elsewhere Karski has claimed that the Jews were killed there with quicklime in railway carriages. Raul Hilberg would later say “I would not mention him, not even in a footnote” (“Recording the Holocaust”, Jerusalem Post International Edition, June 28, 1986, p. 9).

“Witness” Raul Hilberg, for his part, is of much more value. Lanzmann has been criticised for giving space in his film to this American professor, of Austrian-Jewish origin, who had no experience of the camps. Hilberg is the pope of the exterminationist theory. He is the man who has ended up acknowledging that there existed neither an order nor a plan nor a budget for the extermination of the Jews. He nevertheless believes desperately in that extermination. It is his desperation as an intellectual that is interesting. Any attentive viewer of Shoah will see the extent to which Hilberg engages in pure speculations to defend his theory. This is glaringly obvious throughout his exposition on the German railways, which, he says, completly overtly took the Jews of Warsaw to Treblinka. He recalls the precise hours of departure and arrival, from which he concludes… that in this way the Jews were sent to the gas chambers of Treblinka. At no point does he prove that Treblinka possessed gas chambers.

“Witness” Franz Suchomel was a sergeant at Treblinka. As long as he talks about other things than homicidal gassing he is relatively precise. From the moment he addresses the subject of gas chambers he becomes nebulous. He specifies neither their location, nor their size nor their functioning. Sometimes he talks about “the gas chamber” and sometimes about “the gas chambers”, Lanzmann never asking him to lift the ambiguity. He does not even reveal the nature of the gas involved. He talks about “motors”. The legend that has force of law is that there was a “Diesel engine” there (Kurt Gerstein); but a Diesel engine is unsuitable for asphyxiation. At no point does he say that he witnessed a gassing. He says that, on the day of his arrival, “just at the moment we were walking by, they were opening the doors of the gas chamber… and the people fell like sacks of potatoes”. He therefore, at most, saw corpses. Nothing justified him in stating that the place was a gas chamber. He had just arrived. At the most he is relating a remark. Besides, everything he says implies that in that camp there were Jews, corpses, one or more large outdoor fires perhaps and, probably, showers and disinfestation gas chambers. He shows the bottom of an area plan but only very vaguely. What is this plan? He talks authoritatively about the gassings at Auschwitz, where he never set foot. He talks with the same authority about the gassings at Treblinka but never as an eyewitness. He resembles those self-taught persons who reel off, on a given subject, the result of their reading but are baffled by a simple question, direct and precise. But Lanzmann never puts that question to him.

Ever since the myth of the gas chambers became imperilled exterminationists have had a tendency to fall back on that of the phantomatic gas vans. Claude Lanzmann takes us for a good ride on these. It is perhaps on this subject that his “witnesses” are the least plausible and the most contradictory. Trying to get out of a tight corner, Lanzmann inflicts on us his reading of a document (he, who did not want documents) about the special Saurer vans. There is only one misfortune for him here: he has gravely manipulated the text, seeking in particular to remove its most conspicuous absurdities. Specialists will find the complete document in NS-Massentotungen durch Giftgas (“NS Mass Killings by Poison Gas”, S. Fischer, Frankfurt 1983, p. 333-337).

Treblinka: nothing secret

As for the good Polish countryfolk of the environs of Treblinka and the locomotive driver, they seem to have been especially dazzled at the time by the wealth of the Jews having arrived on passenger trains and, if they thought the Germans were going to kill those Jews it was above all, they believed, by strangling or hanging them. Not one was a witness to homicidal gassings. However, such gassings in such industrial numbers could not have escaped their attention. Treblinka, 100 kilometres from Warsaw, had nothing secret about it. Richard Glazar, questioned by Lanzmann, does not repeat the observation he shared with the historian Gitta Sereny Honeyman: all the Poles between Warsaw and Treblinka had to know about the place, since people, the peasants in particular, regularly went there to barter with the Jews in the camp; there was prostitution with the Ukrainian guards; Treblinka was a real “circus” for the peasants and the prostitutes (Into That Darkness, Andre Deutsch, London 1974, p. 193).

Lanzmann fears the revisionists. He has stated: “I often meet people who say Shoah is not objective because it doesn’t show any interviews with those who’ve denied the Holocaust. But, if you try to discuss that point, you’ll find yourself caught in a trap” (Jewish Chronicle, February 6, 1987, p. 8).

Indeed, on the rare occasions when the revisionists have been able to draw exterminationists into a discussion, the latter have known bitter disappointment. But the general public understands less and less this refusal of any discussion on radio or television. If the revisionists are telling lies, why not confound them in public? Besides, are they telling lies? Has not Serge Klarsfeld himself acknowledged that as yet no “real proof” of the existence of the gas chambers has been published, only “beginnings of proof”? (VSD, May 29, 1986, p. 37).

The last war with Germany came to an end on May 8, 1945. But some people apparently think it necessary to continue that war by persisting to spread the horrible inventions of war propaganda; they do so by means of court cases or through the media which, more and more, boost the Holocaustic ballyhoo. It is time they stopped. There has already been too much of it. Peace and reconciliation demand a different kind of behaviour. Shoah business is leading us into an impasse. The younger generations of Jews have better things to do than shut themselves up in the absurd beliefs of the Holocaust religion. Their refusal to take an interest in Shoah would, if confirmed, be a first sign of the rejection, by the new generation, of the official mythology, at least as regards the Second World War and its aftermath.

June 18, 1987