The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir
Atlantic Books, $35 pb, 532 pp, 9781848875760
As the maker of the nine-and-a-half hour film Shoah (1985), Claude Lanzmann created a work of major and enduring historical importance. Through its electrifyingly tense interviews with victims and perpetrators, it opens an indispensable, if harrowing, dimension to our understanding of Hitler’s Final Solution. A work that unrelentingly has as its subject death rather than survival, it will always confront and resist any temptation to forget the terrible specificity of the concerted extermination of millions of European Jews, or to repress the knowledge that this was the work of human beings. Towards the end of The Patagonian Hare, a hundred or so pages are devoted to the genesis and making of Shoah. We find here a Lanzmann driven by passion and determination, criss-crossing the world in the service of his all-consuming idea, part detective, part spy, as he tracks his witnesses, and persuades, cajoles, or tricks them into taking part in his project. It is a story full of adventures and mishaps, of funding setbacks, brushes with police, moments of disappointment or uncertainty; the story of more than a decade of research and labour, carried out with the urgency imposed by the awareness that the people he most needed to reach could die before he got them on film. It is riveting reading.