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The Legacy of Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann

His film, Shoah, is widely regarded as the seminal film on the subject of the Holocaust.

Filmmaker Legacy

November 27, 1925, to July 5, 2018

Claude Lanzmann spent 12 years locating survivors, perpetrators, eyewitnesses, and scholars for his nine-and-a-half-hour film Shoah, released in 1985. Deliberately rejecting the use of archival footage in his film, Shoah weaves together extraordinary testimonies to describe the step-by-step machinery implemented to destroy European Jewry. Critics have called it “a sheer masterpiece” and a “monument against forgetting.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum purchased the Shoah outtakes from Claude Lanzmann on October 11, 1996, and ever since Museum staff have been performing the painstaking work necessary to reconstruct and preserve 185 hours of interview outtakes and 35 hours of location filming. The Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection is jointly owned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

About Claude Lanzmann

Claude Lanzmann (right) interviews Holocaust survivor Abraham Bomba (left), September 1979. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, RG-60.5011.

Claude Lanzmann was born in Paris to a Jewish family that immigrated to France from Eastern Europe. He attended the Lycée Blaise-Pascal, a high school in Clermont-Ferrand, France. His family went into hiding during World War II. At 18, he joined the French Resistance and fought in the Auvergne. Lanzmann opposed the French war in Algeria and signed a 1960 antiwar petition. From 1952 to 1959 he lived with French writer and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir. In 1963, he married French actress Judith Magre. Later, he married Angelika Schrobsdorff, a German-Jewish writer (who served a vital role as interpreter and editor on the film), and then Dominique Petithory in 1995. He is the father of Angélique Lanzmann, born in 1950, and Félix Lanzmann (1993–2017).

Lanzmann’s most renowned work, Shoah, is widely regarded as the seminal film on the subject of the Holocaust. He began interviewing survivors, historians, witnesses, and perpetrators in 1973 and finished editing the film in 1985. In 2009, Lanzmann published his memoirs under the title Le lièvre de Patagonie (The Patagonian Hare). He was chief editor of the journal Les Temps Modernes, which was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, until his death on July 5, 2018.

About the Archive


Gertrude Schneider (who later wrote a book about her experiences during World War II) and her family were deported from Vienna to Riga, Latvia in February, 1942. In this clip, Schneider, her sister, and her mother discuss the Germans' attempts to prohibit pregnancy in the ghetto and the consequences for women who became pregnant. They laugh at the idea that the Germans issued official orders forbidding sex in the ghetto, and Gertrude's sister speculates that disobeying this prohibition against sex was a form of spiritual resistance. Later in the interview (available in Collections Search) Claude Lanzmann encourages the three women to sing songs from the ghetto, one of many examples of Lanzmann's interest in recording songs written and sung by Jews during this period. November, 1978, New York, NY.


Roswell McClelland, serving as a representative of the American Friends Service Committee, describes to Lanzmann his attempts to ameliorate the situation of the French Jews at a meeting with Vichy French official Pierre Laval in 1942. He recalls that Laval regarded the foreign Jews as a particularly negative influence, and supported their relocation to an "ethnic reservation" in Poland. Laval also denied that Jews were being murdered in Poland. Roswell McClelland continued his efforts to aid Jews in Europe and later became the US Representative to the War Refugee Board in Switzerland. November, 1978, Chevy Chase, MD.


Lanzmann was relentless in his pursuit of interviews with perpetrators. In some cases he used a camera hidden on his body, or adopted a fake name and framed his project as either neutral or even sympathetic toward the Nazi point of view. This compilation of clips shows Lanzmann and his interpreter, Corinna Coulmas, ringing the doorbell at the home of Gustav Laabs, an SS commander and gas van operator who murdered between 100,000 and 200,00 Jews at Chelmno, for which he served 13 years in prison. Getting no answer at Laabs's home, Lanzmann talks to some of his neighbors. One couple with whom he speaks are, throughout the conversation, irate at being filmed without permission. In response to Lanzmann's questions, the couple say they know Mr. Laabs and that he is a very nice neighbor. Lanzmann asks if they know about his past, whether they know what a gas van is, and if they are aware that their nice neighbor murdered 200,000 Jews by gassing them. The man seems taken aback and can only answer that they are the next generation, implying their innocence. The next neighbor Lanzmann speaks with denies knowing anything about Laabs,including his age or career. Lanzmann then states bluntly that Laabs killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in gas vans at Chelmno. The man claims that his only knowledge of these events is from the TV series Holocaust. This man, too, does not like the presence of the camera. Lanzmann asks him what he thinks in general about the activities of the Holocaust. The man says perpetrators should be judged but keeps a very distant stance throughout. Corinna and Lanzmann walk toward their van as if followed (out of frame) by one of the neighbors who is insisting that they leave. In these scenes the viewer can sense both the determination of Lanzmann to compel his subjects to reveal as much as he can, and the personal danger that might result from his aggressive tactics. 1980, Germany.


Lanzmann sits in a hotel room reading some papers, preparing for a secretly taped interview with Karl Kretschmer, a senior official with Einsatzgruppe 4a (Babi Yar). Lanzmann takes off his jacket and shirt and sound engineer, Bernard Aubouy, fits him with the hidden camera. The camera is held in place on Lanzmann's left side by a strap around his chest. Aubouy helps him with his shirt and tie, and they speak in French as Lanzmann continues to dress. Lanzmann reads from the French translation of Kretchmer's letter to his family in September 1942 about Babi Yar. Later in the hidden camera interview, Kretschmer is reluctant to talk. 1980, Germany.

The Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection contains over 220 hours of footage and includes thousands of original 16mm film reels with corresponding separate sound tapes, negative logs, interview summaries, and transcripts. Most of the film material consists of Lanzmann’s penetrating interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses, and Nazi perpetrators, but there are also dozens of reels of so-called location footage—illustrative scenes of the forest in Poland, for example, or of the railroad tracks leading up to the gates at Auschwitz—shot by some of France's greatest camera operators. The collection is comprised only of outtakes, that is the scenes that were shot in the course of making Shoah but that were not used in the final version.

The Museum has been strongly committed to preserving and safeguarding the archive of Lanzmann’s cinematic achievement and exposing its contents to a broad public. We have undertaken extensive, complicated, and expensive work to reconstruct the film materials, so that over 85 percent of the Shoah interview and location outtakes are fully available for research and freely accessible for viewing on the Internet, accompanied by original transcripts.

SHOAH: The Unseen Interviews (2012)

This film, produced by the Museum’s Spielberg Film Archive staff, features 55 minutes of previously unseen interviews from the Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection. SHOAH: The Unseen Interviews includes the testimony of Abraham Bomba, a barber in the Treblinka killing center, who escaped, was smuggled back into the ghetto, and tried to warn friends, who refused to believe what was happening; details of American responses to the Holocaust from Peter Bergson, who tried to rally American Jews and the US government to act sooner to save the Jews in Europe; and Ruth Elias’s harrowing tale of survival in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz-Birkenau.