Shoah, for many was the ultimate Holocaust documentary, taking its French director Claude Lanzmann 11 years to shoot and spanning more than nine hours after the selections had been made from the 350 hours of footage shot. Shoah is Hebrew for “catastrophe”, also “calamity” and “destruction”.
The film, released in 1985 concentrated on four main areas – the Chelmo, Auschwitz-Birkenhau and Treblinka extermination camps in Poland and the Warsaw ghetto in Poland, and Lanzmann interviewed survivors from, witnesses to and perpetrators of what has been called the greatest evil of modern times. Excepting a poor reception in Poland, where the hatred of Polish peasantry for the Jews was exposed (without balancing this with the help given by many Poles to the Jews) Shoah was a triumph, winning universal acclaim, a 100% score on the Rotten Tomatoes website, based on 33 reviews giving an average rating of 9.2/10, and a BAFTA award for the best documentary.
Following Shoah Lanzmann made four more films from more of his raw footage, A Visitor From the Living. (1997) Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4pm.(2001), The Karski Report (2001) and The Last of the Unjust (2013) Then last year he edited more footage into a four-part, four hour presentation called Shoah: The Four Sisters. This features four women who experienced the barbarism at first hand and who lived to tell their stories. All are poignant and affecting and include experiences of the Lodz ghetto, Sobibor and Auschwitz, this last where Ruth Elias watched helplessly as the “good-looking and well-mannered” psychopath Joseph Mengele prevented her from feeding her new-born baby and starving it to death because he wanted to “see how long it would survive without food” He was cheated of the result of his pitiless “research” when Elias, with the help of a compassionate nurse who gave her a hypodermic of morphine, was finally able to put her baby beyond its pain.
Lanzmann died last year aged 92, very shortly after he’d finished Shoah: The Four Sisters, which can rightly be considered a satellite and companion piece to Shoah, was released last month by Eureka Entertainment as part of its Masters of Cinema series, both in DVD and Blu-Ray formats