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Shoah Outtake with Gertrude Schneider

Schneider for Gender
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem

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 Che┼émno 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.

For a general analysis of Lanzmann’s extensive outtakes, see Jennifer Cazenave, An Archive of the Catastrophe: The Unused Footage of Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah," (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2019). 

For more details, see Gertrude Schneider, Exile and Destruction: The Fate of Austrian Jews, 1938-1945 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995); Gertrude Schneider, Journey into Terror: Story of the Riga Ghetto (New York: Ark House, 1979); Gertrude Schneider, ed., Mordechai Gebirtig: His Poetic and Musical Legacy (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000); and Gertrude Schneider, ed., The Unfinished Road: Jewish Survivors of Latvia Look Back (Konstanz: Hartung-Gorre, 1999).


For a history of the Holocaust in Latvia, see Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941-1944: The Missing Center (Riga: Historical Institute of Latvia in association with USHMM, 1996).

For more information about Simon Srebnik's songs in the final film, see Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History (New York: Routledge, 1992).

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*Dialogue in German from 00:00:08:

Schneider: "Mom, can you remember if it was forbidden to have sex in the ghetto?"

Scheider's mother: "Yes."

Schneider: "Why was that that?"

Schneider's mother: "They didn't let you. They didn't let you go, didn't let you do anything."

Schneider: "Tell me, do you think the people complied with it?"

Schneider's mother: "Many, yes. And many maybe not. Yes."

Schneider: "And could the Germans know that the people didn't have sex? Did they come into the apartment?"

Schneider's mother: "They came."

Schneider's: "At night?"

Schneider's mothe [Lotte Hirschhorn]: "Maybe that too, I don't know. I can't say."

*Dialogue in German from 00:15:21

Schneider: "Not everyone did that, no."

Schneider's sister [Rita Wasserman]: "I remember one guy."

Schneider's sister: "Yes, you remember one guy, but they were many and they had to do it. One was even shot, because he didn't do anything. He was shot."

Schneider: "You mean Kube." 

Schneider's mother: "I can tell you, you can believe me, not everyone wanted to do that."

Schneider: "He was the commander of the Ghetto in Minsk." 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
RG Number 60.5015
Date of Interview
November 1978
Duration 00:07:18
Gertrude Schneider
Claude Lanzmann
New York, USA
Reference Location
Riga, Latvia
Interview Type Interview
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