A Visitor From the Living | Chicago Reader

A Visitor From the Living

Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann originally interviewed Maurice Rossel, a Swiss Red Cross official who inspected the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt, for his epic 1985 Holocaust documentary Shoah. In this 65-minute video (1997), distilled from their three-hour conversation in 1979, the two men chat comfortably, Rossel shooing away an offscreen child who coughs on the sound track, and Lanzmann lets him describe his experiences, contradicting him only occasionally. Yet Rossel's gentility becomes a devastating self-indictment. He describes the Auschwitz commandant as “elegant” and “blue-eyed” but can?t remember the Jew who led him around Theresienstadt. He's bothered by the “servility” and “passivity” of the inmates but doesn't seem to comprehend their enslavement. He found Theresienstadt, a ghetto constructed by the Germans to fool the world, to be a bit “overcrowded” without realizing that just before he arrived the Germans had reduced the overcrowding by murdering 5,000 inmates. Lanzmann's almost friendly treatment causes Rossel to reveal himself, allowing us to see how smug, self-satisfied people who refused to see what was right in front of them helped make the Holocaust possible.

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