Adam Shatz on Claude Lanzmann

Adam Shatz has a superb piece in the latest issue of the LRB on Claude Lanzmann, the maker of Shoah. I highly recommend it to readers. (It requires a subscription, which I highly recommend since LRB is by far the world’s best political-literary publication).  Here’s an excerpt:

‘Everybody is somebody’s Jew, and today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis,’ Primo Levi said after the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. The bitter ironies of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians – all too evident to Levi, who had seen men and women in Auschwitz reduced to ghosts ‘who march and labour in silence’, known in the camps as ‘Muslims’ – are invisible to Lanzmann. He is fond of quoting Emil Fackenheim’s remark that the murdered Jews of Europe are ‘the presence of an absence’, but refuses to see that the Jewish state was also created ‘in the presence of absence’, as Mahmoud Darwish wrote. Only a few years after the war, Holocaust survivors found themselves living in the homes of another people who had been driven into exile, and on the ruins of destroyed villages. The Ben Shemen forest, where Lanzmann spoke with survivors of the Sonderkommando in Shoah, is only four kilometres east of Lod, where tens of thousands of Arabs were forcibly expelled in 1948. The Nakba – Arabic for ‘catastrophe’, or Shoah – has yet to end […]

Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the French Jewish community has been swept by a wave of communautarisme, or identity politics. Anti-semitism is one reason: clannishness is understandable in the face of incidents like last month’s killings in Toulouse. But anti-semitism alone can’t explain the Jewish community’s turn inward, or its drift to the right. A few years ago, troubled by the increasingly bellicose tenor of Jewish politics in France, Jean Daniel published a striking little book calledThe Jewish Prison. This prison, unlike anti-semitism, was self-imposed, and made up of three invisible walls: the idea of the Chosen People, Holocaust remembrance and support for the state of Israel. Having trapped themselves inside these walls, the prosperous, assimilated Jews of the West were less and less able to see themselves clearly, or to appreciate the suffering of others – particularly the Palestinians living behind the ‘separation fence’. Over the last four decades, Claude Lanzmann has played a formidable role not only in building this prison but in keeping watch over it. That a chronicler of the Holocaust could become a mystical champion of military force, an unswerving defender of Israel’s war against the Palestinian people and a skilled denier of its crimes, is a remarkable story, but you won’t find it in Lanzmann’s memoir.

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