Claude Lanzmann, filmmaker behind famed Holocaust documentary ‘Shoah,’ dies at 92

Claude Lanzmann at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 19, 2013. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Claude Lanzmann at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 19, 2013. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

(JTA) – Claude Lanzmann, one of the world’s foremost makers of documentary films about the Holocaust, has died.

Lanzmann, a French Jew who directed the canonical 1985 film “Shoah,” died on Thursday at the age of 92 at his home in Paris, Le Monde reported.

Although he is best known for the 9-hour-long documentary bearing the Hebrew-language name of the Holocaust, his many projects “have changed the history of film making forever,” a Le Monde author wrote in an obituary for Lanzmann.

His works about the Holocaust were extensive and innovative in how they were among the first to tackle for a wide audience aspects of the genocide that had been scarcely discussed for their sensitivity, including the role and level of knowledge of locals in Eastern Europe about the mass murder of Jews in their countries. He also dealt with the sensitive and divisive subject of Jews working in the service of the Nazis in the framework of the annihilation.

Lanzmann, who in 2011 received the French Legion of Honour, the country’s highest distinction of merit, had two children, one of whom, Felix, died last year of cancer at the age of 23. Lanzmann was deeply affected by Felix’s death, Le Monde wrote.

Parallel to his filmmaking career, Lanzmann was also an author and frequent contributor of essays to mainstream publications in France and around the world. In 2012, he published a biography titled The Patagonian Hare, which covers a range of subjects in which Lanzmann had been involved, including human rights violations in North Korea and the fate of Holocaust survivors who had been maimed in medical experiments.

One of Lanzmann’s most recent and profound cinematic works was released in 2013. A documentary titled “The Last of the Unjust,” it is based on interviews that Lanzmann conducted in 1975 with Benjamin Murmelstein, the only surviving president of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Shunned after the war as a collaborator, Murmelstein was imprisoned and then acquitted by the Czech authorities. Yet the perception of guilt over what was then largely a taboo remained, and analyzed openly in Lanzmann’s intimate interviews, conducted over the course of a week during which the two develop what looks like a friendship.

“Claude Lanzmann was single-handedly responsible for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive in the hearts and minds of so many around the world,” Natan Sharansky, outgoing chair of The Jewish Agency for Israel. “His magnum opus, ‘Shoah,’ captured the horrors of that period through the personal testimonies of survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators alike and was the first time many were confronted with the reality of the Holocaust as told by those who were there. His personal dedication to commemorating the Shoah was unparalleled, and he traveled around the world, even in his later years, to ensure the memory of the victims was never forgotten. For that, we owe him a great debt of gratitude. May his memory be a blessing.”

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