Bear Witness

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch “Shoah.”  It will show you just how vicious people can be to one another.  Shocking how the Nazis referred to “the final solution” in such “professional” speak.  They refer to the transports as “special shipments,” called the human beings “merchandise,” and the whole sick business is often referred to as “production.”

To me, the most heart-breaking stuff comes from the Poles, and the filmmakers start with them to help us enter the film.  They are the gateway into this horror, because they are the most like us.  It goes to show the tools used against the masses.  While they themselves were subjogated to pretty harsh treatment from the Nazis, they were all but complicit in the destruction of their neighbors.  Why?

1. Jealousy.  The fact that most Poles were farmers and most Jews tended to be merchants was enough.  The valuables the Jewish people brought along when they were being “relocated” were so they could barter for basic needs (water, food) but only reinforced negative stereotypes as “they had suitcases full of gold.”  The women were also jealous of the Jewish women, because, afterall, class does offer opportunities for fineries not available to simple peasants.  And after the Jews were carried off to their deaths, the Poles were free to pillage.

2. A lack of sophistication can not be understated.  The Poles in these tiny villages could not be described as being educated, even by the period’s standards.  This allowed for propaganda to take hold with deeper claws.

3. And finally, religion.  When the Jews in one town were rounded up and put into the church, for example, the preist stood before the community and urged them to do nothing.  “When the Jews killed innocent Jesus, they said, ‘Let his blood be on our heads and our children’s.”  It shows the power of one verse in one book in one religious tome.  A shame that the lessons of Christ didn’t take hold instead.  Or even the fact Jesus was a Jew, because that lack of sophistication once again.  As apparant when one woman said while describing the moans of the Jews locked in the church, “They cried out to God and Mary and Jesus.”

Ignorance and Envy are the true weapons here, but religious belief justified the others.

“Shoah” grinds forward like the locomotive and engineer, the symbol of the film.  We are the cargo, the merchandise.  We are the ones who the Poles are gesturing toward when they sinisterly run their fingers across their throats.  We are bearing witness to countless atrocities, laid out by those who were most present – by the survivors, neighbors, and the Nazis themselves – but we are on a nine hour journey to a moment of unspeakable sorrow.

It’s not an easy trip, and unfortunately, it’s not the only one of it’s kind.   “The Act of Killing” is a journey through Indonesia’s unchecked genocide.  Rwanda, the native Americans, the list of examples of jealousy and ignorance, of the depths of human misery and horror, grinds on.  But “Shoah” forces you to bear witness as it reconstructs long buried sins.

This is not a documentary.  It does not borrow from the archives; with its release, it became the archive.  It is a detective story, a western, a horror story, and if you want an informed opinion of the Holocaust, unless you were there, it is necessary for you to watch “Shoah.”

Ten stars

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