Claude Lanzmann, who died in July 92, repeatedly returned to the material for his groundbreaking film "Shoah" (1985), most recently in the passionate documentary film "The Last of the Unjust" (2014).
"Shoah: Four Sisters" – screened at last year's New York Film Festival, before Lanzmann's death – consists of four short drawings drawn from the interviews he made for "Shoah" in the 70s, each of which includes the testimony of another woman who survived the Holocaust. stories are equally shocking, complicated and abound in imponderables, like every filmed Lanzmann. Collected together in a form that is much less labyrinth than "Shoah", they are the perfect introduction (and final) to the Lanzmann project.
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While installments can be viewed independently, they have total power. Their confluence points – death of family members, unlikely escapes, difficulties in living in ghettos and camps – emphasize the horror and sometimes grim absurdity of the saved extermination.
The theme of the episode "Merry Flea", Ada Lichtman, from Poland, reminds how she was forced to clean dolls taken from Jewish children, to prepare them for the Germans to give them to their own offspring. "It's unbelievable, dressing dolls in the death camp," says Lanzmann. "But everything is unbelievable," he replies. "It's incredible being in the death camp."
In the "Hippocratic Oath," Ruth Elias, born in Czechoslovakia, recalls a journey that took her from the Theresienstadt camp to Auschwitz – where she barely made the eighth month of pregnancy – to Hamburg and again to Auschwitz, where her return was greeted as a sensation. (Nobody ever came back.) She soon gave birth to Josef Mengele, dictating what would happen to her and her child.
Elias (one of the two women here, who also appears in "Shoah") repeatedly talks about happiness and instinct, about choices that could go the other way. But for her even life came with an unspeakable fee: her descriptions of birth and what has taken place are among the most annoying of anthology.
Chance also hangs heavily on Noah's Ark, in which Hanna Marton, often checking her husband's diary from 1944, remembers that she was part of a convoy of Hungarian Jews rescued by Rezso Kasztner. Kasztner negotiated with Adolf Eichmann to ensure a safe passage for almost 1,700 Jews. After the war, he was called a collaborator and criticized for not warning others.
Lanzmann, always interested in the way they survived, the moment they survived (and to what extent they knew about events in Europe), pushes Marton on how she felt in Kasztner's elite. Marton claims that her husband was a fatalist – he had already served in the Hungarian army, in which Jews were used as human detectors. – and he took their happiness. Sam Marton is in conflict, knowing that not everyone will be saved, but he emphasizes that he owes his life to what Kasztner did.
Special advantages also appear in "Baluty", which, like other segments, appear as meditation on the guilt of the survivor. Paula Biren, who comes from Poland, shares her memories of attending a high school in the Lodz ghetto and working for the Jewish police, including one night in which she helped a trader to probe deportation.
Did she have a choice but to take part in a machine in the ghetto? He has been struggling with this question for years. But Biren shares Lanzmann's concern for the ethics of giving testimony. (At some point he refuses to answer the question, saying: "This is for other people to say.") And when he once felt "very Jewish and very much Polish", he suggests that she lost her identity, feeling twice banned from Poland – firstly by Germans and then by Poles. She even forgot Polish, her first language.
But thanks to this unforgettable quartet of movies is not quiet.