(The University of Sheffield)

“Revisiting Modernity’s ‘Soliciting the Victims‘ Cooperation’: Zygmunt Bauman, Claude Lanzmann and the Outtakes of Shoah”

Zygmunt Bauman’s classic Modernity and the Holocaust (1991) concludes with acknowledgement to Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary Shoah and what he calls its exposure of ‘the evil of rationality’.

Bauman’s verdict is that Shoah reveals ‘how few men with guns were needed to murder millions’, is made in support of his contention that the modern state’s suppression of morality via bureaucracy and technology reached its apogee in the Nazi genocide. It shares with Lanzmann the influence of Raul Hilberg’s and Hannah Arendt’s arguments about the perpetrators’ solicitation of the victims’ seemingly ‘rational’ compliance.

However, even if this perspective exists in Shoah, a very different image of Jewish responses that serves to challenge Bauman’s thesis emerges from interviews among the 220 hours of excluded footage in Lanzmann’s archive. These outtakes centre on attempted rescue and resistance during the Holocaust years, by contrast to Shoah’s focus on the process of murder in the extermination camps.

Part of the reason for excluding from Shoah these interviews, with such survivors as Abba Kovner, Ya’akov Arnon, Hansi Brand, and scholars Yehuda Bauer, Henry Feingold and Richard Rubenstein, is that they conflict with the very impulse that motivated their filming. Lanzmann’s attempts to address what he considered a failure to rebel, submission by Jewish Councils and unethically selective rescue, are subverted on-screen at the moment they are raised. Invocation of the very same instances of alleged ‘cooperation’ from Vilna and Amsterdam in Lanzmann’s outtake interviews and in Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust emphasizes the limitations of a stance focused on the victims’ compliance.

When considered alongside Lanzmann’s excluded interviews on the international failure to rescue, with War Refugee Board and Red Cross members, these outtakes convey an image of a more widely shared responsibility for the Jews’ wartime fate, and its possible representation in experimental cinematic form. Shoah’s outtakes allow us to reconsider Bauman’s modernity thesis and envisage an oppositional artwork to this effect, arising from Lanzmann’s filmic discards.