Film: Saving Auschwitz? (2017)

May 15, 2018 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / WWII / Holocaust

Synopsis: Fascinating documentary on the events and political decisions that transformed the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz into a museum and tourist attraction instead of a protected mass grave.

Special Features:  n/a




There’s a chilling moment in Jonathan Hayoun’s hour-long documentary in which a city mayor isolates the dark history of Auschwitz to a 4 year period in which the Nazis invaded Poland, built their largest killing centre, and fled or were arrested by Soviets liberators – 4 years in the city’s 800 years as a centre with its own history and culture. It’s a defensive stance that captures the unique conflict in which a city recovering from the horrors of WWII gradually rebuilt itself around remnants of the three-complexes that comprised Auschwitz-Birkenau, and land housing the remains of European Jews is being overtaken as the needs of expanding residential sectors require more land.

Hayoun’s approach doesn’t overtly take sides, but he presents a series of interpolated arguments after tracing the politicizing and remaking of what’s likely one of the largest mass graves in modern history. From the Soviets who recreated their liberation of the camp for propaganda cameras, to the country’s leader who designated the death camp as a museum to victims of Nazi atrocities without citing Jews as its overwhelming dead, Auschwitz’s transformation to a must-see remnant of Nazi evil was seeded over several decades. It’s a complex, sad, and sometimes bizarre series of maneuvers which undoubtedly left survivors and descendants of victims in a surreal position of seeing traces of mass graves disappear, and even symbolic restoration of key sites lose significance from repurposing, encroaching construction, and zoning rules for the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The question mark that punctuates the title represents the quandary of what will ultimately befall the camp. Its designation as an official museum and a focus on select historical artifacts changed the narrative to a killing centre with a broad, almost non-denominational mass of unnamed victims. Efforts to remove a residential unit and re-sanctify the first gas chamber, reconstruct the receiving rail ramp, and the ruins of the Birkenau section with fences and symbolic tombstones and placards seem doomed to apathy, and future eyesores of weeds, splintered wood, and dangerous hulks of weathered concrete and rusting rebar. It’s not impossible to imagine less overt remnants of the architecture and machinery becoming parks, commercial centres, or something similarly banal.

Hayoun’s film is formally about the future of the world’s best-known centre of industrialized mass murder, but the words of the Jewish historians go farther than Auschwitz proper: the question mark can easily be applied to subsequent mass killing centres, graves, and sacred areas in other countries where the darkest degrees of depravity are  blurred to soften blame and specificity; a scheme that relies on time, withering memory, and revisions to transform a place of reflection into what one historian says with near resignation as something akin to visiting ‘Count Dracula’s Castle,’ with rival overpriced parking lots and brand name takeout food outlets to feed the hungry curious taking selfies.



© 2018 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogListing  – TJFF 2018
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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