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Depiction of Holocaust in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler's List

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Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List are known as two of the most important films in the 20th century that portray the historical tragedy of the Holocaust. Although made eight years apart, both directors used techniques to present specific aspects of these historical events, specifically “slowing down” a scene with silence to create an emotional affect. By using this technique these two films have served a significant purpose in preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah could be considered one of the best documentaries created in history. His extraordinary documentary tells the story of the Holocaust without the use of voice overs, narratives, and any historical film clips. Lanzmann featured interviews with survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators all living testimony. He does the opposite of Spielberg, as he abandons historical film and instead uses personal interviews from the Nazi extermination camps in Poland during World War II to show the tragedy of the Holocaust. Lanzmann made his film to connect the present with the past, which he believed is more powerful than a typical historical documentary.

During the first twelve minutes of Shoah, we immediately are introduced to Simon Srebnik, a Holocaust survivor singing in a boat. He is singing a song that he had last sung 35 years ago, when he was 13. As Simon sings, the bystanders are aware that something is going on, this technique is similar to what Spielberg did in Schindler’s list. They used sound that is not linked to the scene we are watching, but we can draw the conclusions and connect the two. In addition, Lanzmann’s purpose was to show how the memories of two different individual memories could have the same meaning. In the opening scene, we see the camera slow down as the boat slowly flows down the stream. Lanzmann’s creativity by use of both tempo and silence brings othe manipulation of the tempo as the song speeds up. We see him gazing, and as the song fades the emotional power of silence takes over as he is just gazing at what use to be a concentration camp, the camera then moves slowly to depict the camp in its entirety in silence. The film movement sequences slow to cause an emotional effect on the audience causing us to wonder and think of what is the purpose of this memory and connect it to others. He then says “it’s hard to recognize but it was here”…“they burned people here”…“no one ever left here again”. To achieve this emotion, Lanzman had to use all aspects of film, specifically hidden cameras to slowly expose the camp in its entirety to depict this testimony.

Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, also known as the “first foundational encounter with the Holocaust” is considered one of his most acclaimed films of his career. This film acts as a time machine, taking us back into the past using one of Hollywood’s most old and famous storytelling techniques. This films purpose was to put viewers in the shoes of those who witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust and provide awareness of the Holocaust to ensure that it is never forgotten. However not everyone appraised it. Claude Lanzmann despised the film, as he does not believe the past should be reenacted. He does not want actors and actresses to read a script to retell a story that they did not personally witness, as testimony is something that should never be restaged. He believes that the best way for Holocaust awareness is for the people who witnessed them first hand.

In Schindler’s List at 1:08-1:11, we see Schindler with his mistress on a horse observing from a hill as the ghettos are being evacuated. His mistress is in distraught and asks him to leave, and we see Schindler just gazing horrified. In this scene, similar to Lanzman, Spielberg used the emotional power of sound as we see the heinous actions of people being killed in the street. In fact, this was the only historical footage in the film was of the Nazi’s ruthless actions, abolishing the ghetto. The historical footage was used within the context of storytelling to help make it realistic. As we hear the gunshots and the screams as the camera goes back and forth from Schlinder to the streets, but then we see the little girl in the red coat, and a Yiddish song comes on to produce an emotional affect. It is important to note that, this is also one of few moments in the film where we see color. This little girl is by herself, losing innocence in the midst of chaos, as Schindler is a bystander watching her unable to stop as if he felt a connection to her. The scene ends and the camera slows down as the ghetto is decimated creating that emotional effect once again. The scene began with Yiddish music and ends with gunfire as the Yiddish music fades out until the end of the scene, coming full circle. This helps connect the audience to the atrocities of the desecration of a ghetto. In making this movie Spielberg’s intent was to have the audience feel a personal, emotional and intellectual connection to hopefully come away with an understanding of the true gravity of these tragic historical events.

At the end of both Schindler’s List and Shoah the film depicts the actors and survivors visiting Schindler’s grave, which is very similar to Shoah’s interviews. Years have passed and these films are still incredibly important and relevant. History is often forgotten, denial is real, and we can not let history repeat itself. This is why it is vital that people watch these films and continue to discuss the tragic events and never forget the reality of the Holocaust.

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Depiction Of Holocaust In Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah And Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from
“Depiction Of Holocaust In Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah And Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.” GradesFixer, 18 Mar. 2021,
Depiction Of Holocaust In Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah And Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 Sept. 2022].
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