Shoah Movie Review
I am hard pressed to say what Shoah (Hebrew for ‘catastrophe’) is. It is certainly not a movie, nor is it a documentary in the ordinary sense of the word. It is a 900-minute manifesto and testimony. It brings back landscapes of an anti-world, a place that hates life and is mindlessly yet systematically determined to destroy all traces of it. It is a huge monument to the Holocaust, and the footage is a world treasure. We will never meet these people again; they all will soon be or have already died of old age.
The only thing that happens in the ten hours of Shoah are the interviews- words and faces, slow, detached pans of Polish landscapes, trains (lots of trains), towns as they are today, and the extermination camps where the many millions were murdered. But Shoah is not yet another sensational documentary of the Nazi holocaust. It gives us no grim footage of liberated camps or demonizing portraits and footage of brutal Nazi SS leaders. Through intimate interviews with survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators, Shoah first stuns numbs us with its minute detail of everything seen and heard at the time of the transports and as we gradually come to our senses forces us to examine what it means to be human.
Shoah does not let the viewer escape without a new and profound sense of not only an evil that has gone beyond human control, but also of the hope that we must carry in our hearts as an eternal torch that we are capable of stopping such things from happening. Shoah is the most heartbreaking accounting of human events that I have ever seen, but seeing it also gives one an imperative passion and duty to seek joy in life, or else there is no point in living. Shoah does not demonize or victimize intentionally; it is like a runaway train out of control. All the faces in Shoah are human, and all demand our compassion, even the SS officers.
Shoah is a mammoth and monumental contribution to the Holocaust Museum, and its interviews are priceless. To say that it goes beyond our conception of human life and behavior just scratches the surface of this profound masterpiece. Shoah is many things at the same time, and if it is dazing it is also reaffirming. If it is bleak and merciless it is also hopeful and kind. It is never apologetic nor is it propagandistic. In the final analysis, to see this film is tough, but it forces a metamorphosis of the mind, and in the end one is left with a strong sense of dignity. This film is one of those very rare pieces that can change one’s life for the better.