Claude Lanzmann's 1985 documentary film, Shoah, is considered groundbreaking for several reasons.1 Lanzmann did not rely on graphic photographs or historical footage to show viewers the brutality of Nazi crimes during the Holocaust. Instead, his use of testimonies of survivors and witnesses—including perpetrators—focuses on individual perspectives and experiences. Lanzmann's interview techniques and editing choices, however, have become controversial. The nearly ten-hour-long Shoah was assembled from over 300 hours of footage from dozens of interviewees. Hundreds of hours of different testimonies were cut, including many women's voices.2
Gertrude Schneider, a survivor whose interview with Lanzmann spanned over two hours, appears in Shoah for only two minutes. Schneider earned her PhD after the war and wrote and edited several books on the Holocaust in Latvia, but her education and expertise go unrecognized in Shoah (unlike male scholars featured in the film).3 The interview takes place in Schneider’s New York City apartment in the presence of her mother, Lotte Hirschhorn, and her younger sister, Rita Wassermann, both of whom also share their memories. Both women are unnamed in the outtakes and in the final film. The brief portion included in the film focuses on the German Jewish population deported to the Riga ghetto in the months after the mass murder of thousands of Latvian Jews.4
Schneider's detailed and thoughtful testimony ranges from topics of sex, pregnancy, and abortion, to music and songs. In the second half of the clip, Schneider, her mother, and her sister recall several melodies from their time in the Kaiserwald concentration camp in 1943, located just north of Riga. At the end of this clip, Lanzmann asks Schneider if she knows any Polish songs. One of the most striking melodies Schneider remembers from her time in the Stutthoff concentration camp. Schneider recalls how this song in particular seemed to represent life and hope to the camp inmates. This song also became the iconic opening of the final version of Lanzmann's film, sung by a male survivor of the Chełmno killing center, Simon Srebnik, in a very different context.5
Only two minutes of Schneider singing the German folk song "That's How It Must Be" actually made it into the final film. Given the rich detail of Schneider's interview, however, one wonders how the inclusion of more women's voices might have added to this groundbreaking film.