Shoah: Background information when reading The Patagonian Hare

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The Patagonian Hare

A Memoir

by Claude Lanzmann

The Patagonian Hare by Claude Lanzmann
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 544 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2013, 544 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Shoah

Print Review

In 1974, Claude Lanzmann took a leave from journalism to begin work on his landmark, nine-and-a-half hour long film about the Holocaust, Shoah (1985). As he explains in an interview with NPR (March 2012), he chose the title Shoah (Hebrew for "catastrophe") because he dislikes the word "holocaust," which translates as "a burnt religious sacrifice." He couldn't see for which Gods so many innocent people had been killed. The word shoah was less familiar, inexplicit, and not as easily understood. It more accurately depicted his feelings about such a terrible event. He reflects that, "...the truth is that there is no name for what happened."

movie poster for Shoah In contrast with many other works concerning the Holocaust, Shoah contains no historical footage but relies on interviews with survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators. Images of Treblinka, Auschwitz, and the Warsaw ghetto as they looked in the later 1970s are interspersed with first-hand accounts of what happened there. One of the former Nazis interviewed was recorded with a secret camera.

The film has garnered nearly a dozen cinematic awards over the years in both Europe and the United States. Roger Ebert called it "One of the noblest films ever made... It is not a documentary, not journalism, not propaganda, not political. It is an act of witness."

In March 2012, at The Harvard Colloquium, Lanzmann said about his film, "Shoah is not a documentary. The word makes me want to take a pistol and shoot... I could never have made Shoah if I had been in a camp. Shoah is not about survival. It is not about survivors. It is about death."

Since Shoah Lanzmann has continued to make controversial films about Israel, Judaism, and the Holocaust:

  • Tsahal (1994) - about Israel
  • Un Vivant Qui Passe (1999) - an addendum to Shoah
  • Sobibór, 14 Octobre 1943, 16 Heures (2001) - covers an uprising at the camp in 1943
  • Le Rapport Karski (2010) - expands on an interview with a WWII resistance fighter

To learn more, read the New York Times review of Shoah from 1985, or click on the video below to watch the trailer:

Article by Judy Krueger

This article was originally published in April 2012, and has been updated for the June 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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