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Claude Lanzmann

French director Claude Lanzmann, maker of the epic nine-and-a-half hour Holocaust documentary Shoah, has died at the age of 92. 

Local media reported the film-maker passed way in his native city of Paris on Thursday (July 5).

Lanzmann was best known for the 1985 landmark documentary Shoah capturing the horror of the Holocaust through extensive interviews with survivors, witnesses and perpetrators, against the backdrops of sites of death camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

He spent 11 years researching and making the film, at the same time as looking for finance to keep the ambitious project afloat.

It would become the benchmark and reference film for all other works – both fictional and non-fictional – about the Holocaust that came after.

Lanzmann had strong views about how the Holocaust should be portrayed or re-enacted on screen and courted controversy when he criticised Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and Roberto Begnini’s Life Is Beautiful for their “sentimental” portrait of the extermination of six million Jews in World War Two.

More recently, however, he endorsed Hungarian filmmaker Lazslo Nemes’s Son of Saul about a Jewish man working as a Sonderkommando in a Nazi death camp.


Lanzmann was born in Paris in 1925 to a Jewish family who had fled persecution in Eastern Europe.

The family went into hiding in World War Two, with Lanzmann joining the resistance towards the end of the war at the age of 17.

After the war, Lanzmann returned to Paris where he finished his schooling at the prestigious Louis-le-Grand Lycée and then studied philosophy at the Sorbonne University.

In 1947, he made the audacious move for someone of Jewish heritage to heading to Germany to study philosophy at the University of Tubingen and then went on to take a post as a reader at the Free University of Berlin.

On his return to France in the early 1950s, he broke into journalism and became part of the vibrant Left Bank intellectual scene of the time.

From 1952 to 1959 he lived with legendary French writer and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir, with whom he founded the political, literary and philosophical review Le Temps modernes alongside Jean-Paul Sartre.


Lanzmann broke into filmmaking in the early 1970s with the 1973 film Pourquoi Israel, looking at the first 25-years of the then-fledgling state through interviews with its early citizens from all walks of life.

It was the first of 10 documentaries by Lanzmann, most of which revolved around the subjects of the Holocaust and its legacy as well as the birth of Israel.

Another area of interest for Lanzmann was North Korea which he visited in the 1950s and returned to for one of his final works, the 2017 documentary Napalm, in which he goes on the trail of an old flame in its capital of Pyongyang.

Lanzmann’s final film was The Four Sisters - a quartet of interviews with four female Holocaust survivors originally shot for Shoah - which French-German broadcaster Arte showed earlier this year.