‘The Zone of Interest’ and Creeping Desensitization

Content Warning: Genocide

Adapted from a Martin Amis novel, Jonathon Glazer’s The Zone of Interest follows the inner lives of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolph Höss and his wife Hedwig, focusing its attention on family strife and workplace politics rather than the unspeakable horrors happening on the opposite side of the camp’s walls. Constantly breaking the 180-degree rule, diverting into avant-garde infrared sequences and displaying long, would-be boring depictions of domestic life, the film sets out to put off its own audience, confronting both the ability of cinema to narrativize evil and the startling comfort of an audience in engaging with it. Nearly every scene is set against a vomit-inducing soundscape that combines the machinery of death with the human reactions that it inspires (and the subsequent gunfire and dog barks part and parcel to the repression). It’s one of last years’ most difficult films but also one of its most essential, a treatise on the ease with which horror is tuned out just as its modern analogue is more visible than ever. 

The obvious comparator text for The Zone of Interest is Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, possibly the definitive visual document of the Holocaust and a film most notable for its refusal to show a second of archival footage. Glazer, who isn’t painting with a documentary canvas, must represent Auschwitz as an operating camp, but he too restrains his camera from ever actually depicting images either of genocide or those doomed to it.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: ‘A Jewish Case for Divestment’

To the Editor:

In a March 25 guest column, “A Jewish Case for Divestment,” four students argue for divestment from Israel. The authors attempt to revise history with false claims about Israel and the Jewish people. They write, “To pretend as though European Jews, without a state, were helpless in the face of Nazi genocide is to erase the sacrifices of countless Jews who fought and died in the Soviet and Polish armies, in antifascist partisan detachments and in ghetto uprisings.”

This statement is not only false — it is extremely offensive. Valiant as they were, the efforts of the partisans were not enough to save the Jews of Europe. Despite the brave souls who fought until the end, six million Jews were still murdered by the Nazi killing machine.

Cornell Professor Shares Personal Experience as Holocaust Survivor

A Cornell professor and Holocaust survivor shared his story of survival during World War II in a ceremony on Wednesday that commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day. The ceremony, which featured the lighting of six candles to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, was hosted by Cornell Jewish Studies and the Hillel Cultural Programming Committee. Roald Hoffmann, the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus and recipient of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, recounted how his family was captured by the Nazis, went into hiding and eventually regained freedom in a period of three years. “First of all, I am here,” Hoffmann said, pointing out that it is already remarkable that he survived the Holocaust and could be present for the Cornell event. Born to a Polish Jewish family in 1937, Hoffmann described his journey from growing up in the bloodlands of Nazi-occupied Poland to becoming a Harvard graduate and a world-renowned chemist.

Son of Saul: Harrowing and Focused

And Every Single One Was Someone is a 1,000 page-long book that has only one word in it; reproduced more than 6,000,000 times throughout its thin, harrowing pages is the word “Jew.” As an elegy to those who lost their lives to the Holocaust, it imbues the detached, abstract notion of “six million deaths” with a palpable intimacy — a literal weight that physicalizes the immensity of what is arguably humanity’s darkest chapter. I’ve never held a physical copy of the book, but those who have claim that they felt unable to stop turning its pages, encountering the same word repeated over and over, as if the dead were pleading for our remembrance. To represent the Holocaust is to bear witness to an atrocity that eludes any sense of holistic representation. The implicit argument of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, a nine-hour documentary constituted entirely of survivors’ testimonials, is that art — despite its beauty and nuance as a means of describing the indescribable — is unable to account for a total representation of murder on such an industrialized scale. It instead posits that the only way we can somewhat comprehend the barbarity of what occurred is by allowing those who endured it to recount their suffering: that the closest we can get to an “objective” understanding is to weave together a tapestry of subjective experiences.

BROMER | Shoah: On Not Remembering

Correction Appended

Over winter break, while you were doing something normal like watching the Bill Murray Christmas Special, or something, my friend Zach and I spent two days watching something decidedly more intense: Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 Holocaust documentary, Shoah. To say that one does not watch, but endures, Shoah, Claude Lanzmann’s nine -and-a-half hour documentary about the Holocaust, is not meant to denigrate the film in any way. It is uncompromising, nauseating, obsessive — and required viewing for anyone who wishes to grapple with this stain on human history and the horrifying absence left in its wake. The film comprises of interviews with survivors, witnesses and German perpetrators, as well as footage from Nazi extermination sites in Poland and their surrounding areas. Lanzmann often used hidden cameras and other forms of deception to capture the testimony of those who, for obvious reasons, preferred not to have their role in systematic murder broadcast to international audiences.