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Review: Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M.

Claude Lanzmann’s stringent gaze hardly moves from the stoic face of Yehuda Lerner.

Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M.
Photo: New Yorker Films

On October 14, 1943, a plan was set into motion whose success was predicated on the presumption of German punctuality. Greischutz, a Nazi soldier, steps into a concentration camp’s tailor room to pick up a fur-lined coat. Standing by Greischutz, Yehuda Lerner drives an ax into the German man’s skull; the man’s blood is mopped from the floor as he is placed beneath a stack of fur coats. Lerner’s face pales as he recalls the fear and joy that overwhelmed him that day. Had Greischutz not kept his 4:00 appointment, Lerner and his men would surely have perished. Comforted by the deaths of so many Jews, the Nazis became oblivious to the possibility of a Jewish revolt. In Claude Lanzmann’s Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M., this naïveté reveals itself as a life-affirming weapon. Omitted from the classic Shoah, this 1979 interview between director Claude Lanzmann and Lerner is an unsentimental celebration of Jewish perseverance at the Sobibor concentration camp. Lanzmann’s slow-crawling camera stresses how Poland is still haunted by Hitler’s slaughter: the moans of the dead seem embedded in blades of grass and pieces of stone. Lanzmann focuses on a field of geese as Lerner recalls the twisted poetry of Nazi pathology; spectators claimed that the Jews “cried like geese” when they were slaughtered (the animals were reared at some camps, provoked into quacking during exterminations). These are minor yet tragic asides to Lanzmann’s stringent gaze, which hardly moves from the stoic face of Lerner, whose story of survival is an affront to the shameful notion that Jews accepted their fates without struggle.

Cast: Yehuda Lerner Director: Claude Lanzmann Screenwriter: Claude Lanzmann Distributor: New Yorker Films Running Time: 95 min Rating: NR Year: 2001 Buy: Video

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