Head to Head / Claude Lanzmann, Is Another Holocaust Possible?

Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit

Claude Lanzmann is a French Jewish intellectual whose most famous work is the nine-and-a-half hour documentary film Shoah (1985 ), an oral history of the Holocaust, widely considered to be the most important film on the subject. His other films include "Porquoi Israel?" (1973 ) and "Tsahal" (1994 ), which attempt to understand Israel in the context of the Holocaust. Lanzmann, who arrived in Israel yesterday, has just published his memoir, "The Patagonian Hare."

Claude Lanzmann, was Hitler victorious? Did the Nazis cause the Jewish people damage that we are having difficulty recovering from? Yes. Hitler was victorious because the six million people who died will not return. They are dead forever. Hitler was victorious also in another way. It would have been possible to assume that, after what happened, anti-Semitism would disappear. But that did not happen. Anti-Semitism is back. It is like a Hydra - when you chop off one of its heads, other heads immediately appear. But in one sense Hitler was not victorious - the State of Israel exists. People who did not live in the past, and in particular Israelis who did not live in the past, don't understand this amazing achievement. The existence of the State of Israel also changes the way in which the world views the Jews and the way in which the Jews view the world. And contrary to what many people think, this state is an exemplary state with an amazing army. Israel is a tremendous victory over Hitler.

Do you see a response to the Holocaust in Israel's existence?

That is a complex question. There are people who claim that Israel is the justification for the Holocaust. I don't accept that. There is no justification whatsoever for the death of six million. They are dead. And the six million who died did not die so that there would be an Israel. But at the same time, there is an absolute connection between the Holocaust and Israel. That cannot be ignored.

There are some who say that the Holocaust not only shattered the Jewish people but also turned us into handicapped people emotionally. We always see ourselves as victims. We have difficulty living the life of a normal people.

I don't agree. My impression is that Israel is full of vitality and energy. I don't see a collective psychological problem here. I am very enthusiastic about the Israeli way of life that I see.

Our prime minister thinks that [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is a new Hitler. Others find Nazism in Hamas. Are these comparisons justified, legitimate, or sick?

These comparisons are idiotic. Ahmadinejad is not a new Hitler. There is no new Hitler. There are no two Hitlers. One Hitler was enough. When Hitler had power, the Jews didn't have power to defend themselves. The Holocaust was a massacre of a defenseless people. That is not the case today. I hope that is not the case today. Although there are moments when I'm nevertheless concerned.

Some people think that because of what we experienced in the Holocaust, you love us too much. You don't criticize us. You forgive us for our sins.

Only stupid people say that. There are Israelis who are anti-Semites. In the beginning, they were anti-Semites when they hated the Jews of the ghettoes. Today they are anti-Semites because you are in the midst of a civil war. You hate one another in the worst possible way. You don't show any gentleness or any pity toward one another. As a result, there are Israeli anti-Semites who fan the flames of anti-Semitism in the world. They are the reason journalists and intellectuals in the West get an oversimplified and one-sided picture of a very complex conflict. They don't understand the implications of what they say. They are motivated by a horrible hatred of other Israelis. For them, the other Israelis are the devil. Some of them have not yet gotten over the fact that Menachem Begin rose to power in 1977. I knew Begin. I had the utmost respect for him. He was an honest man, he was decent and not corrupt. But the bourgeoisie of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem demonized him. They thought of him in terms of the "Altalena." And since then, and to this day, that war has not ceased. The civil war in Israel and the internal hatred in Israel cause some of you to be anti-Semites.

Allow me to return to the Holocaust. People in Israel are preoccupied with the fact that Auschwitz was not bombed in 1944. The Allies' victory was at hand. The United States and Britian could have stopped the transports. It would have been possible at least to save the one million Hungarian Jews. Did Roosevelt and Churchill not commit a crime here?

I have studied this question thoroughly. I interviewed the people in the State Department in Washington. I saw the people who were responsible in the American administration. In the summer of 1944, there were many who supported the idea of bombing Auschwitz. The decision was taken by the Strategic Air Command. Serious deliberations were held. There were pilots, including Jewish pilots, who said no. They asked what the significance would be of killing the Jews who were there. That is why I don't think that Roosevelt and Churchill were guilty. It was an extremely complex matter. Part of the information was hidden from them by senior bureaucrats. The opinion I formed was that the Jews should have been saved a long time before that.

Israelis are preoccupied with this matter, among other reasons, because it isn't clear to them whether in the future, if heaven forbid we are in deep trouble, the West would come to our aid. In 1944 they didn't bomb. In 1967, France betrayed us. In 1973, no enlightened European country allowed the American planes that were on their way to us, to land at their airports.

I don't want to think at all about a situation like that. Israel is a strong power. But if a dangerous situation were created, the Americans would act. The Americans would act. That is what I hope.

Of all countries, America? After all, at the very end, the Holocaust was a European project. It wasn't merely a Nazi affair. It was the Poles and the Dutch and the Frenchmen who collaborated. That is the depth of the abhorrence in Christian Europe toward the historical other. Don't you think that it is Europe that has to internalize its moral responsibility for the Holocaust? The Holocaust was a Nazi project in an anti-Semitic world. There is a responsibility on the part of Europe as Europe for the Holocaust. There is the responsibility of the world which was anti-Semitic. But there was a specific phenomenon here that does not resemble any other phenomenon. That was the phenomenon of the Nazis.

Claude Lanzmann, is another Holocaust possible?

I don't think so. Perhaps I lack imagination. Perhaps a nuclear bomb could cause that. But when I observe Israel, I don't think you are in danger. Only one bit of advice - be cautious. Take care. Open your eyes.