Film: Shoah

Job satisfaction is making the trains run on time.

"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... It is an act of witness."

Shoah is a Documentary by Claude Lanzmann about the extermination of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. It is widely considered the definitive nonfiction film on the topic.

Between 1976 and 1981, Claude Lanzmann interviewed many protagonists of the Holocaust, both survivors, bystanders and former perpetrators. His film, clocking in at nine hours, is a collection of these interviews, interspersed with shots of the ruins of the extermination camps. There is, however, no archival footage whatsoever, and the horror is made all the greater by the audience having to rely on oral testimonies to imagine it, rather than actually being shown.

Several of the interviewees were "cogs in the machine", people who were just doing their jobs—it didn't matter much to them that their jobs involved making industrial-scale murder possible. As such, this film is a harrowing illustration of Hannah Arendt's line about "the banality of evil".


Contains examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: The interviews aren't arranged by order of the chronological events discussed.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: A farmer whose fields were located a mere 100 yards from the death camp Treblinka was asked how he was possibly able to work amidst the screams of the dying and sight and smell of their burning corpses.
    "At first it was unbearable. But you get used to it. I find it unbelievable now, but it's true - you can get used to anything."
  • Daylight Horror: Most of the remains of the camps are filmed in daylight, and one interviewee says poignantly that there must have been many sunny days at the height of the holocaust.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Many of the Polish train conductors were drunk during the long rides to the concentration camps. Without alcohol, they couldn't have done it.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Played chillingly straight.
  • Retired Monster: Former Nazis are interviewed, the filmmakers duped them into appearing by promising audio-only interviews and filming them with hidden cameras.
  • Wham Line: The former Treblinka officer describes the death camp to Lanzmann with dispassionate detachment. Even singing the camp's "song" he sounds very matter-of-fact ("You wanted history, I'm giving you history."). But then he adds with pride "No Jew knows that song today!", leaving no doubt as to his true feelings.