Two scenes from Claude Lanzmann's Shoah: A Textual Analysis

Essay by attica7University, Bachelor's May 2004

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1st scene (2 min 47 sec)

The scene opens with the camera slowly closing in on a white surveillance van whilst a voice is singing (in German) a motivation song created by an SS guard in Buchenwald about heading towards an ideological goal involving a small village, Treblinka. The audience is made aware of the singer's identity by a simple white text on the screen: 'Franz Suchomel, SS Unterscharfuhrer'. The camera then cuts to two men presumably inside the van just viewed. They are watching various blue screens. All the while the audio of the song continues. Void of emotion Suchomel goes on to talk about the history of the song and how Jewish work detail prisoners were taught the song and forced to sing it by the end of the day. Lanzmann requests Suchomel to repeat the song but louder.

The camera cuts to a fuzzy black and white close up of Suchomel.

It appears as if he might not even be aware of the camera, and that the camera is behind a screen of some sort, hence the bad quality. The closing words of the scene are that of Suchomel with "That's unique [The song of Treblinka]. No Jew knows that today!"

Lanzmann has constructed the filming sequence so the meaning of that phrase can sink in and take effect as the audience is next presented with a still lake and the sound of a train. Lanzmann most likely intended it to solicit disgust and sorrow, but also to provide evidence of the events at Treblinka. Suchomel speaks directly and, what is in his mind no doubt, objectively. Yet guilt pervades the scene for just a moment after his first rendition of the Treblinka song when he says "we're laughing about it, but it's so sad!"...