“The Patagonian hare,” “Shoah,” “Tsahal,” “Lights and shadows,” “The last of the unjust.” Claude Lanzmann was France’s Holocaust orator, a vital testifier to the horrors and to the exceptionality of humanity’s most talked-about tragedy. He died in Paris today.
Lanzmann was born in Paris to a Jewish family that had immigrated to France from Eastern Europe. His family went into hiding during World War II. He joined the French resistance at the age of seventeen and fought in the Auvergne. From 1952 to 1959 he lived with Simone de Beauvoir. Lanzmann is chief editor of the journal Les Temps Modernes, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre. In 2009 he published his memoirs under the title Le lièvre de Patagonie (“The Patagonian Hare”).
Lanzmann’s documentaries were routinely shown at the Cannes Festival. It is there that I watched “The last of the unjust,” about his 1975 Rome interviews with Benjamin Murmelstein, the last President of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, the only “Elder of the Jews” not to have been killed during the war. This film and others before it, like “Shoah,” works that featured the director’s voice as narrative voice-over, marked me. Their wealth of archival footage, the first-person testimonies, the inevitable outcomes that are always expected but never quite fully assimilated. Every normally-constituted human being should have a self-assigned duty to watch, hear and read documents about the Holocaust and transmit their knowledge of it to future generations. Claude Lanzmann’s contributions, through his films and books, are invaluable.
Lanzmann died on 5 July 2018 at his Paris home, after having been “very very weak” for several days. He was 92. His death came one day after the theatrical release of Les Quatre Soeurs (The Four Sisters), which features testimonials from four Holocaust survivors not included in his Shoah.
See my review of Claude Lanzmann’s “Napalm”