Lanzmann, Claude

Lanzmann, Claude, 1925–2018, French filmmaker and journalist, b. Paris. While his Jewish family was in hiding in rural France during World War II, Lanzmann joined the Resistance and fought the Nazis. In 1944 he returned to Paris, where he studied at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and received (1948) a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne. He subsequently taught in Berlin and worked as a journalist for Le Monde. A Marxist and a follower of the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, he became part of Sartre's circle; he also lived (1952–59) with Sartre's ex-lover and close friend Simone de Beauvoir.

In the 1960s he began working in television and film and later made the documentary Why Israel (1974). His nine-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, Shoah [Heb.,=catastrophe] (1985), the result of 11 years of research and filming, tells of the Nazi death camps in Poland through interviews with Jewish survivors, German guards and functionaries, and Poles who lived near the camps. Combining existential philosophy with New Wave film techniques, the documentary is one of the finest works of both art and history to emerge from World War II, an unforgettable first-person record of the Holocaust. His other films are Tsahal (1994), a documentary about the Israeli military and the terror of war, and three feature-length films (1997, 2001, and 2010) made from Shoah's outtakes. Also originally intended for inclusion in Shoah, The Last of the Unjust (2013) is a nearly four-hour documentary that focuses on the memories and self-justifications of Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, who collaborated with Nazi authorities in running and maintaining the fiction of a “model ghetto” at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Lanzmann also was the editor (1986–2018) of Les Temps Modernes.

See his autobiography (2009, tr. 2012).

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