A good time to watch SHOAH

As a history buff who’s particularly fascinated by World War II, I’ve long known of the existence of an acclaimed 9-hour Holocaust documentary called Shoah. Now that I’ve defended my history dissertation (which is about the postwar period, and about Asia rather than Europe), I decided it would be a good time to knock this film off the to-watch list. After all, it’s considered by some “the most important Holocaust film ever made,” and I’ve already seen most of the contenders for the rest of that list.

As it turns out, this is a very convenient time to watch Shoah; one of the contenders for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at this year’s Oscars was a 45-minute retrospective called Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah. (Lanzmann, now 90, directed Shoah over a period of 12 years.) It premiered on HBO last night and can currently be seen on HBO Now. A fellow Flickcharter advised me to watch this new documentary before watching Shoah proper, because it provides some relevant technical information that Shoah itself doesn’t reveal — specifically, that Lanzmann’s interviews with former camp guards were filmed on a hidden camera. The background of some of the survivor interviews, and Lanzmann’s general interview philosophy, are also helpful to know before beginning the bigger doc.

Having watched the new doc, then, I’ve started Shoah and am a quarter of the way through. We’re now as far away from some of the interviews in Shoah as the interviews were from the Holocaust, and it’s poignant to watch the already-aged survivors recount their experiences while realizing how few of them are still with us. Nine hours is too short when you think of Shoah not as a movie but as an archive of invaluable, individual memories of one of the most abominable events in human history.

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