Claude Lanzmann, director of ‘Shoah,’ dies at age 92
By LORI HINNANT
Thursday, July 5
PARIS (AP) — French director Claude Lanzmann, whose 9½-hour masterpiece “Shoah” bore unflinching witness to the Holocaust through the testimonies of Jewish victims, German executioners and Polish bystanders, has died at the age of 92.
Gallimard, the publishing house for Lanzmann’s autobiography, said he died Thursday morning in Paris. It gave no further details.
The power of “Shoah,” filmed in the 1970s during Lanzmann’s trips to the barren Polish landscapes where the slaughter of Jews was planned and executed, was in viewing the Holocaust as an event in the present, rather than as history. It contained no archival footage, no musical score — just the landscape, trains and recounted memories.
Lanzmann was 59 when the movie, his second, came out in 1985. It defined the Holocaust for those who saw it, and defined him as a filmmaker.
“I knew that the subject of the film would be death itself. Death rather than survival,” Lanzmann wrote in the autobiography. “For 12 years I tried to stare relentlessly into the black sun of the Shoah.”
“Claude Lanzmann’s cinematic work left an indelible mark on the collective memory, and shaped the consciousness of the Holocaust of viewers around the world, in these and other generations,” said Avner Shalev, chairman of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
“His departure from us now, along with our recent separation from many Holocaust survivors, marks the end of an era.”
“Shoah” was nearly universally praised. Roger Ebert called it “one of the noblest films ever made” and Time Out and The Guardian were among those ranking it the greatest documentary of all time. The Polish government was a notable dissenter, which dismissed the film as “anti-Polish propaganda.” (but later allowed “Shoah” to be aired in Poland).
In 2013, nearly three decades later, Lanzmann revisited the Holocaust with “The Last of the Unjust,” focusing on his interviews in 1975 with a Vienna rabbi who was the last “elder” of the Theresienstadt ghetto, which was used by the Nazis to fool visitors into believing that the Jews were being treated humanely.
His final work, a series of interviews with four Holocaust survivors stitched together into a single 4½ hour film, was released in French theaters Wednesday. But even before that, Lanzmann showed his breadth with the 2017 documentary, “Napalm,” which narrated his visit to North Korea in the late 1950s, including him recounting his unconsummated affair with a Red Cross nurse in the country.
“The cinematic work of Claude Lanzmann shows how much art contributes to the construction of our collective memory, giving individual resonance to each story,” said Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister and current director general of UNESCO.
Lanzmann was born Nov. 27, 1925, in Paris, the child of French Jews. After his mother left in 1934 and the war broke out, Claude and his two siblings moved to a farm where their father timed his children as they practiced escaping to a shelter he had dug.
Lanzmann ultimately joined the Resistance as a Communist and became intellectually enamored with Jean-Paul Sartre, whose “Anti-Semite and Jew” formed the philosophical underpinning of what would later be his life’s work.
Lanzmann joined Sartre’s circle and ended up having an affair with Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre’s companion who was 17 years older than the young acolyte. Lanzmann left for Israel and moved in with Beauvoir when he returned, from 1952 to 1959, according to “The Patagonia Hare,” his autobiography. Sartre, Lanzmann’s hero, became a constant in their life together.
“So I was an opportunist — ‘on the make’ you say. But she was beautiful. My attraction to her was genuine,” he once told Beauvoir’s biographer. Long after their affair ended, Beauvoir provided much of the financial support for “Shoah.”
Lanzmann tinkered in politics and journalism, working periodically for the journal France Dimanche, taking on freelance assignments. He joined Sartre in signing the Manifesto for the 121, calling on French soldiers to refuse fighting in Algeria, and was prosecuted.
In 1968, he did television reporting on the Israeli Army in the Sinai Peninsula, which led to his first film: “Israel, Why.”
Beauvoir, writing about Lanzmann in her memoir “Force of Circumstance” described him as someone who “seemed to be carrying the weight of a whole ancestral experience on his shoulders.”
It was this weight that ultimately led a vagabond intellectual to examine the defining event of 20th century Judaism, obsessively tracking down those who were closest to the dead. “The film would have to take up the ultimate challenge; take the place of the non-existent images of death in the gas chambers,” he wrote.
The film opens with Simon Srebnik, who as a 13-year-old Jewish detainee sang for the SS and fed their rabbits at the Chelmno concentration camp. Crediting a sweet voice with his survival, Srebnik performs the same songs for Lanzmann as he is rowed along the placid river that leads to the camp. Later, it is revealed that among Srebnik’s tasks was to dump bags filled crushed bones of Jews into the same waters.
He filmed Abraham Bomba at work in a Tel Aviv barbershop, describing how he cut women’s hair inside the gas chambers Treblinka. With periodic questions by Lanzmann, Bomba recounts how after each group of women was done, the barbers were asked to leave for a few minutes, the women were gassed and then the men returned to cut the hair of dozens more naked women accompanied by their children.
“This room is the last place where they went in alive and they will never go out alive again,” he said. “We just cut their hair to make them believe they’re getting a nice haircut.” The barber begged to stop when he recalled seeing the wife and sister of a friend come in, but Lanzmann prodded him to continue.
Lanzmann sometimes used secret cameras to record testimony, including that of Franz Suchomel, a former guard at Treblinka who pointed like a schoolteacher to a blueprint of the camp to show how bodies were disposed of, describing new gas chambers that could “finish off 3,000 people in two hours.” At one point during the interview, Lanzmann promised Suchomel that he would not be recorded.
One of the most harrowing interviews Lanzmann did was also among the briefest in “Shoah” — Yitzhak Zuckerman, a leader of the Jewish resistance in Warsaw, who survived Treblinka and saw untold numbers of friends and comrades die. He told Lanzmann bitterly, “if you could lick my heart, it would poison you.”
At the film’s premier, the French journalist Jean Daniel told Lanzmann: “This justifies a life.”
Lanzmann is survived by his third wife, Dominique, and his daughter Angelique. His son Felix died last year.
Aron Heller contributed from Jerusalem.
Acloché After Hour Event!
Over the past 50 years, Acloché has been happy to build relationships within the Central Ohio business community and celebrated their 50th Anniversary on June 27, 2018 at Old Bag of Nails Pub, Delaware. This happy hour event is part of our 50 for 50 campaign, where Acloché aims to engage and give back to the communities that have supported our growth and success for 50 years!
Great River Connections Academy Names Jason Swinehart School Leader
Delaware resident to lead new statewide K-12 eSchool set to open in August
(Columbus, OH) June 21, 2018 – Great River Connections Academy (GRCA), the newest tuition-free, full-time public virtual charter school in Ohio has named Jason Swinehart of Delaware its first School Leader. GRCA is scheduled to open and begin serving K-12 students throughout Ohio in August.
Swinehart comes to GRCA from Ohio Connections Academy where, for the past eight years, he served as a middle school math and social studies teacher and since 2014 has served as the Elementary Assistant Principal. As a school administrator for OCA, Swinehart led numerous professional development initiatives that focused on student assessment data and instructional practices in the online environment. Prior to his work at OCA, Swinehart worked in the Gahanna Jefferson Public School District.
“I am very excited to take the knowledge and experience I have gained working with students and their families at OCA and apply them to Great River Connections Academy,” Swinehart said. “We recognize that every student learns different and has unique needs which is why virtual education is an important option for many students. GRCA will provide Ohio students and families who need a different academic environment with a high-quality virtual school option.”
A 2015 graduate from Ashland University with his Masters’ Degree in Educational Administration, Swinehart earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Capital University in Middle Childhood Education in 2007. He also comes from a long line of educators as his grandfather was a teacher and administrator in the Hopewell/West Muskingum School District and his father served as the band director and music professor at Capital University for over 20 years. His mother was a piano teacher and choir director. Swinehart and his wife Amy have two children.
Great River Connections Academy will meet the needs of a diverse array of students who desire an innovative, individualized approach to education. Like Ohio Connections Academy, the highest performing K-12 eSchool for the last seven years, Great River Connections Academy will utilize the nationally recognized Connections Academy® program and its award-winning curriculum, which supports Ohio Learning Standards and meets iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Courses. As a public school, there are no fees or tuition to attend.
GRCA students will receive core classes, engaging electives, and honors and AP course offerings, and have the opportunity to participate in the College Credit Plus program and in Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses. Students will access online instruction, engage with interactive web tools, and interact with teachers and peers in real-time online classroom sessions.
Enrollment for GRCA is currently open, and interested families are encouraged to attend an online information session to learn more about the program. More information about Great River Connections Academy is available at www.GreatRiverConnectionsAcademy.com.
About Great River Connections Academy
Great River Connections Academy (GRCA) is a recently approved statewide tuition-free, full-time public virtual charter school for students in grades K-12. GRCA utilizes the nationally recognized Connections Academy® program, combining state-certified teachers, a high-quality curriculum, unique technology tools, electives, clubs, and community experiences to create an individualized approach to education. GRCA joins Ohio Connections Academy as another eSchool option in the state offering the Connections Academy program; each school is overseen by its own governing board and school leader. For more information about Great River Connections Academy, call 1-800-382-6010 or visit www.GreatRiverConnectionsAcademy.com.
TRUMP, KIM AND THE NUCLEAR STATUS QUO
By Robert C. Koehler
Peace, love and Donald Trump?
I get the skepticism regarding the tentative nuclear disarmament agreement the president and Kim Jong-un reached last week, but not the cynicism — not the outright dismissal.
It’s too easy to hate Trump, but he isn’t the point. In his reckless unpredictability — in his lust for applause and desperation to steal headlines from the Robert Mueller investigation — he snatched an opportunity to meet with the leader of North Korea … “Little Rocket Man” … and talk about reducing the danger of nuclear war. Say what?
It hardly seems possible — but maybe Trump has a mission far beyond anything he himself envisions: visiting creative destruction, you might say, on the planet’s geopolitical infrastructure, loosening the certainties of nationalism and armed self-defense. Perhaps the salvation of Planet Earth begins with being clueless and egotistical: a superpower leader who has no idea what he’s doing.
“It is unclear if President Trump knew the full implications of accepting a meeting with Kim or the fact that a direct meeting with the leader of the United States was a prize three generations in the making,” Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, wrote recently in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists newsletter. “It is also unclear if President Trump had a grand design for a nuclear agreement with North Korea in mind all along, or if he was equally willing to go to war.
“Regardless of the underlying impetus, the president has shown he is not encumbered by the foreign policy status quo or it would seem, congressional oversight. Because of his unprecedented actions — coupled with a few essential variables, including Kim’s confidence in his nuclear deterrent and South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s commitment to diplomacy — there is now an opportunity to forge a real and lasting nuclear agreement.”
What happens next won’t be simple. It will take long-term negotiating skill along with extraordinary honesty, goodwill and public awareness — indeed, public demand, public prayer — that transcends the limits of geopolitical expertise … “the foreign policy status quo” that assumes the necessity of war and regards peace as an impossibility except as it is enforced by Western dominance.
Julian Borger, for instance, reflects the status quo animosity toward the Trump-Kim accord in a recent piece in The Guardian. “Many arms control advocates,” he writes, “… argue that negotiations with North Korea that are not directly aimed at the speedy dismantling of its rogue nuclear weapons programme would give it legitimacy and send the wrong message to other regimes contemplating whether to build their own bomb.”
Subtle certainties of Western dominance resonate in this sentence. These are “regimes” we’re dealing with here, not actual governments. And oh my, we need a speedy dismantling of North Korea’s “rogue nuclear weapons” program. I hadn’t been aware that there was an official distinction between approved nukes and renegade nukes and somehow doubt that the Marshall Islanders or Americans who live near the Nevada Test Site — not to mention the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — take comfort in the fact that their radiation-induced cancer, their shattered lives, their lost loved ones were the result of legitimate nuclear testing and use.
The statement also implies that North Korea developed its nuclear weapons program — no small feat for a tiny, impoverished country — out of sheer orneriness and evil (unlike us), and Trump’s conferring legitimacy on it through give-and-take negotiations will only encourage other evil regimes to go nuclear.
There seems to be a huge media memory void surrounding North Korea — and the U.S. role in shaping its defense strategy. In 2002, notes Reese Erlich at Common Dreams, George W. Bush “declared North Korea to be part of the ‘Axis of Evil,’ which also included Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Korea feared it could be the next target for regime change. The DPRK withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and began a sprint towards developing a nuclear weapon.”
But the memory void goes half a century deeper than that: back to the Korean War, when the United States dropped 635,000 tons of explosives on North Korea, including 32,557 tons of napalm, destroying cities, farmland and hydroelectric dams, and killed as many as 3 million people. Even more might have died if Gen. Douglas MacArthur had gotten his way and the U.S. had used nuclear weapons.
The nuclear threat didn’t end with the armistice in 1953. By 1958, President Eisenhower had begun shipping atomic weapons to South Korea and by the mid-’60s “the United States had more than 900 nuclear artillery shells, tactical bombs, surface-to-surface rockets and missiles, antiaircraft missiles and nuclear land mines in South Korea,” according to Walter Pincus, writing in the New York Times. The nukes stayed in South Korea till 1991; their threat understandably shaped the country’s strategic thinking.
This is not a defense of North Korea, just an expansion of the context in which we evaluate the current situation. Over seven decades of murderous contempt for this tiny, communist country, we helped create it.
In terms of world peace, both countries are part of the same threat. Indeed, the U.S. Congress just approved a new defense budget: $716 billion for the Pentagon, up $80 billion from last year, and an additional $21.6 billion for nuclear weapons programs. This includes, according to the recent Nuclear Posture Review, the development of “flexible” — low-yield, usable — nuclear weapons.
Military thinking controls the United States, just as it does North Korea. Both countries have rogue nuclear weapons programs. Real peace negotiations would include members of the global public who want to transcend any possibility of nuclear war and would have the courage to bring up Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which the United States signed in 1970:
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.