Friday, May 24, 2013

Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State (2005)

Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State (2005) is a six part BBC documentary on the final solution.  The film employs all the tricks of documentary film style, while mostly avoiding its pitfalls.

There are contemporary interviews by both survivors and SS men involved at the camp.  Simple, accurate questions are asked of these people, which are almost always answered in a context that none of us can understand.  The rules of a place like Auschwitz move beyond conventional morality in any sense.  Even asking in asking some of these question, the film veers into a kind of critical pose it should have avoided.

The documentary also employs actors recreating scenes.  Generally, the production values are high and the acting done well, and in the original languages.  There is no poor acting executed in accented English in this BBC work that we find in so many documentaries.

Perhaps the most instructive part of the film is the use of CGI to enhance our understanding of how the camp looked, and therefore it function.  The gas chambers and crematoria were destroyed by the Nazi’s as the Russians approached.  With CGI the buildings are rebuilt on their ruins; we get a glimpse of what was there, and how it was used.

The film ends with a fitting metaphor.  A survivor named Thomas Blatt recounts his return to  Izbica Poland after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  He visits the home he grew up in and finds much of the same furniture still in place.  The owner claims he recently bought them, but the Blatt lifts a chair and shows his family name on the bottom.  Finally, the owner of the house asks the Blatt to fess up: he is here because his family hid money in the house.   He offers to give Blatt half the money if he reveals its location. Disgusted, the Blatt leaves the house without a word.

Years late he returns again to find the house boarded and abandoned.  Blatt finds out from the neighbors that after his first departure, the owner of the house systematically took apart the house, looking for the treasure.  He continued to do so until the house was uninhabitable (see picture above).

If any one tale can sum up the Holocaust’s awful legacy, it might be this story.

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