Columbia University Hosts Charlie Rose’s Interview With Claude Lanzmann

Claude Lanzmann and Masha Leon.
KAREN LEON
Claude Lanzmann and Masha Leon.

By Masha Leon

Published April 05, 2012, issue of April 13, 2012.
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“I hate the word ‘Holocaust’!” declared Claude Lanzmann, director of the nine and a half hour 1985 epic “Shoah,” during a March 20 interview with Public Broadcasting Service interviewer and broadcast journalist Charlie Rose at Columbia University’s Maison Française.. “To which god [were] 1 500,000 Jewish children sacrificed — gassed or killed — during World War II by the Nazis?” Lanzmann railed. “There is no proper word for what happened. During the 12 years [I worked on the film], I had no name for it. How could a name exist for something which never happened in the history of mankind? Some rabbis, at the end of the war, discovered the word shoah in the Torah, which means ‘destruction’…. It was barbarity. It should have been a film with no name.”

Rose asked about Lanzmann’s new autobiographical opus, “The Patagonian Hare” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), in which he details his seven-year affair with existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, a paramour of philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre: “Like ‘Shoah,’ your memoir is not linear. Why did you decide to write [it] at 87?” Lanzmann chuckled and then replied, “I thought I was younger.” Rose replied that de Beauvoir “was 17 years older than you. What was it that defined your relationship?” Lanzmann looked out at the audience — which included Nobel laureate neuroscientist Eric Kandel and David Marwell, director of The Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust — and shrugged. He said of de Beauvoir: “She had beautiful eyes, beautiful nostrils and an aristocratic face…. She lived in one room near the Cathedral of de Notre Dame…. We made love. Physically she was incredible…. Once, after making love, she put her ear on my heart and said, ‘I have had five men in my life.’ I was not prepared for this confession.” Rose said, “You went to Israel with Jean-Paul Sartre.” Lanzmann shot back: “People are vulgar! They think we were a trio. By then our sexual relationship was over!”

Returning to his film, Lanzmann said: “I never imagined that life is a passage. Even now, as [my] death approaches, it is purely rhetorical. I would not have been able to make ‘Shoah’ had there not been a stopping of time…. You can’t work 12 years on an abstraction like the 6 million’…. I lied to everybody [about the time I needed]. No single producer would let me work 12 years.”

“What was the point of ‘Shoah’?” Rose asked. “It contains no archival film.” Lanzmann, visibly uncomfortable, replied: “It was a film about extermination on the territory of Poland — not in Germany. Vicious people want to prove that it never took place…. Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno, Majdanek, Auschwitz — all extermination camps…. People were transported and died within three hours of arrival! There is not a single corpse in ‘Shoah’!” Lanzmann was reluctant to turn and watch a clip from the film on the screen behind him. But he was visibly shaken as he heard the part in “Shoah” when Abraham Bomba, a barber from Czestochowa, Poland, recalls cutting the hair of victims about to be gassed — several of whom were townsfolk who greeted him warmly, unaware of their fate.

“Neither Sartre nor de Beauvoir ever saw the film,” Lanzmann said.

As the interview drew to a close, Rose asked, “Is it possible to forgive?” Reflecting on his time with the French Resistance, Lanzmann replied: “I killed Germans with a sub-machine gun. After the war, I went to Germany…. I have many German friends. It does not mean I forgive or forget. I do not forgive the killers.” Asked by Rose about the title of his book, Lanzmann replied: “I have loved hares since childhood. Their main defense is speed. I am slow.”

Alexandra Lebenthal, Stephen Siegel, and Arthur and Edward Coppola Honored at Jewish Community Relations Council of New York 2012 Gala

In his welcoming address at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York’s 2012 gala, held on March 22 at the Pierre, JCRC-New York President Alan Jaffe announced that the event raised a record $1.7 million. He said, “The JCRC brings people together… .diverse groups of all ages, from secular to Orthodox, [and serves] emerging entities with different points of view.” Greeting the 550 guests, Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul general to New York, proclaimed, “Today our country is the greatest start-up nation in the world.” In what can best be described as a father-daughter “roast,” James Lebenthal, chairman emeritus of Lebenthal & Co., presented JCRC’s Continuing Legacy Award to his daughter Alexandra Lebenthal, president and CEO of Lebenthal & Co. and of Alexandra & James, LLC., which she and her father co-founded. The elder Lebenthal peppered his spiel with such endearments as “Babykins” and “Daddykins”; the younger quipped, “How can I fill those wing-tipped shoes?” She went on to thank “my 45 employees — the ‘wind beneath my wings,’” and to suggest that everyone “should finally acknowledge that Wall Street is doing good things” for the community.

JCRC board member Jacques Brand, whose Deutsche Bank responsibilities include co-head of investment banking coverage, presented JCRC’s Community Builders Award to brothers Arthur Coppola, chairman and CEO of Macerich, and Edward Coppola, president of Macerich “Queens Center Mall, owned by the Coppolas, is a thriving melting pot… where 180 languages are spoken in the community,” Brand said. Edward Coppola said: “God judges us after death if we lead a life as a good person…. We have been in business for 35 years and are the third-largest mall company in the U.S… an economic engine and social heart of a community. We do not put our names on centers.”

Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the City University of New York and a member of JCRC-N.Y.’s board of governors, presented JCRC’s Corporate Leader Award to Stephen Siegel, CB Richard Ellis’s chairman of global brokerage. Opting for brevity, Goldstein cited a 2001 Master of Business Administration graduation ceremony where the keynote speaker said “Make money!” Then the speaker sat down, receiving a standing ovation. Siegel’s New York City real estate accomplishments include arranging the sale of the southeast corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue —the last development site within the 42nd Street Development Project — to SJP Properties, which constructed 11 Times Square. Siegel stunned the guests with the revelations that Wendy Siegel, his beloved wife, had recently been diagnosed with leukemia and that he had planned not to attend the dinner. But he explained that “she said: ‘CEO, you go! Continue to buy seats at the dinner which helps so many.’” Tearfully he concluded, “Please pray for my wife, Wendy.” Michael Miller, JCRC-N.Y. vice president and CEO, delivered the evening’s closing remarks.


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