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Raul Hilberg

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5045 | Film ID: 3768, 3769, 3770, 3771, 3772, 3773, 3774, 3775, 3776, 3777, 3778, 3779, 3780, 3781, 3477, 3478, 3480

Raul Hilberg is the author of the seminal book, "The Destruction of the European Jews." In this interview with Claude Lanzmann for SHOAH, Hilberg discusses several aspects of his research, including the culpability of the German railways in the deportation process of European Jews, as well as the significant roles Adam Czerniakow and Rudolf Kasztner played in the genocide of the European Jews. Hilberg also addresses the general bureaucratic processes at work in the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. Hilberg is filmed in his home in Burlington, Vermont and on campus at the University of Vermont, probably in late November 1978.

FILM ID 3768 -- Camera Rolls 1-3
CR1 Hilberg discusses the various means by which the genocide of the European Jews was enacted. Hilberg's research focuses on the railroad system (Reichsbahn), as transportation was a critical element in the successful implementation of the Final Solution. Hilberg explains that a clearer understanding of the railroads, which were generally ignored until he began his research, further reveals the extent to which Nazi Germany acted as a totalitarian society. Hilberg states that the Reichsbahn operated with the same "effectiveness and relentlessness" of other bureaucratic agencies and institutions. Like other agencies, the Reichsbahn approached the Jewish Problem with technical solutions.

CR2 Hilberg discusses the banality of the operation and decision-making of the Reichsbahn, the German railway system. The Reichsbahn would transport any cargo--supplies, raw goods, even people--for compensation. The Official Travel Bureau handled the billing details for the regular travel of citizens, as well as the mass deportation of Jews. The Reichsbahn acknowledged no difference between the mass deportations of Jews and the regular trains, as long as appropriate payment was made. Hilberg discusses the administrative problems and compromises made between the Army and the Reichsbahn regarding the funding of the mass deportations.

CR3 Hilberg discusses the banal operation and scheduling of trains within the Reichsbahn. He provides reasons for the surprising lack of priority-scheduling for the deportation trains. Hilberg describes the administrative difficulties of trying to schedule the Sonderzug, the "special trains," that acted as deportation trains between the regularly scheduled trains.

FILM ID 3769 -- Camera Rolls 4-6
CR4 Hilberg discusses the complicated scheduling of the Sonderzug by examining a document from the Generalbetreibsleitung Ost (General Business Line) for the Reichsbahn, dated January 16, 1943. Hilberg discusses the bureaucracy of the Reichsbahn, as he points out how the administrator for the Personenwagen (the regular trains) also approved the scheduling of the Sonderzug. Several officials from the Generalbetreibsleitung would coordinate the regional schedules and produce documents like the one Hilberg shares with Lanzmann.

CR5 Hilberg explains the complicated scheduling of the Sonderzug (the deportation trains) by examining a Reichsbahn document. The Fahrplananordnung, dated September 15, 1942, documents the times each train arrived and left each station, as well as when the trains were emptied. Hilberg emphasizes the bureaucratic nature of the Reichsbahn, despite its involvement in the mass genocide of the European Jews, by how the document is not "classified." The transparency of the Fahrplananordnung reveals how all levels of German economy were participating willingly in the Final Solution.

CR6 Hilberg explains the complicated scheduling of the Sonderzug (the deportation trains) by examining a Reichsbahn document. Hilberg analyzes the specifics of the Fahrplananordnung No. 587, such as how many train cars the transport carried, what time the train arrived, and then when the train had to be ready for another transport. Hilberg describes how documents like the Fahrplananordnung No. 587 are significant to his research because they are the only remaining artifacts that connect him to the bureaucrats who organized the deportations. These documents are the physical proof of how mundane, yet efficient, procedures played critical roles in the destruction of the European Jews. Picture is MISSING sound for part of CR6 - listen to Audio FV3458.

FILM ID 3770 -- Camera Rolls 7,8
Silent CUs, German documents including the Fahrplananordnung and Hilberg’s book, “The Destruction of the European Jews.”

FILM ID 3771 -- Camera Rolls 9-11
CR9 Hilberg describes the length of the train journey for Jews, particularly the Greek Jews to Auschwitz. He emphasizes the significance of the railroads and ordinary men in the Nazi machinery of destruction. Hilberg points out that the railroad resumed operations very quickly in the post-war period and several key men were able to pursue their careers. Sound cuts out and ends abruptly with Hilberg mid-sentence.

CR10 Hilberg describes the lack of prosecution of railroad officials following the war. As an institution that played a critical role in making the Final Solution feasible, the Reichsbahn's reputation remained untarnished for many years after the war. Hilberg believes that the conversations about culpability must be explored because it is only with a clear understanding of the role the Reichsbahn played that we can fully grasp the totalitarian and mobilized nation that was Nazi Germany. Hilberg begins to address the prerequisites that needed to exist for the Final Solution to have been made possible in Europe.

CR11 Hilberg explains how it is the nature of bureaucratic institutions to implement the ideologies and actions from history in their own modern crusades. In the case of Nazi Germany, the Final Solution was the only unprecedented element at play. Hilberg says that the Final Solution was the inevitable step after the incidents of mandatory conversion and Jewish expulsion within history did not solve the Jewish Problem. Hilberg identifies how the invention to totally annihilate European Jews was problematic for the Regime because was that there was no historical precedence from which to learn. Nazi Germany began to carry out the Final Solution with only a general direction in mind. While many people in retrospect understand the efficiency of Auschwitz to be indicative of the whole system of Jewish genocide from the onset, Hilberg points out that this was not the case. The Final Solution eventually became well-defined and highly-efficient after the chaotic and disastrous first steps had been made.

FILM ID 3772 -- Camera Rolls 12-15
CR12,13 Hilberg names specific examples of how the Nazi decrees of the 1930s were reiterations of similar anti-Jewish legislation from history. Hilberg explains that beyond the synods and laws enacted against Jews throughout history, the racist themes from Nazi propaganda were also present in historical church literature. Hilberg discusses the sequential process of seizing Jewish property and eliminating Jewish autonomy. The confiscation of Jewish property began with the removal of all Jews from civil service positions in 1933. This was followed by Aryanization laws, which seized Jewish enterprises and large businesses. Hilberg notes how ironically many Germans were reluctant to change the names of the former Jewish businesses in fear of tarnishing their economic success with new labels.

CR14 Hilberg discusses the process of seizing Jewish property and eliminating Jewish autonomy. Nazi Germany imposed strict wage regulations and taxes, as well as the seizure of large properties and retirement pensions. Personal possessions and apartments were confiscated and redistributed to German families affected by the war, as Jews were relocated in ghettos. Hilberg partially attributes the impetus for the first deportations to the significant apartment shortage in Germany. Hilberg describes the last sequence of confiscating Jewish property, as possessions were seized during roundups and finally removed after they were gassed.

CR15 Hilberg discusses the inefficiencies of the Final Solution, particularly regarding ghettoization. The use of Jews as free labor within the ghettos caused many Jews to wrongfully believe that they would not be killed so long as they worked. Hilberg emphasizes that the ultimate ideology of Nazi Germany, however, held that "a Jew is a Jew." Nothing would save the Jews, not even the economic gain that their free labor provided for the regime.

FILM ID 3773 -- Camera Rolls 16-18
CR16 Hilberg explains the time of uncertainty leading up to the implementation of the Final Solution. He explains that while the plan was not clear and the goal not fully articulated, the general direction was inevitable as early as 1933. A period of hesitation between the second half of 1940-1941 and the unmanaged destruction of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 prompted the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. Hilberg explains that all participants understood the gravity of the Final Solution conference, as it was the end of the period of uncertainty.

CR17 Hilberg explains that Operation Barbarossa, which had been in the works as early as July 1940, marked the point of focus of the Final Solution. Hilberg describes how at this point in time, orders were more defined on the Eastern Front. Yet, there was still no clear idea of what to do with the Jewish population in Europe. Hilberg discusses the use of Fuhrerbehfel and the power of inferred directives.

CR18 Hilberg discusses the initial stages of invention as Nazi Germany began to plan the Final Solution. He describes a letter Rolf Heinz Hoppner sent to Adolf Eichmann on July 16, 1941 in which he proposes mass execution to solve the problems within the ghetto system. Hilberg suggests that Nazi officials were increasingly aware of the focused direction in which the Final Solution was headed by 1941. However, the Reich's first solution to send the ghetto Jews out East where the Einsatzgruppen (the task forces responsible for mass executions) were already operating quickly needed to be amended. By the end of 1941, the Einsatzgruppen began to utilize gas vans for the extermination of women and children.

FILM ID 3774 -- Camera Roll 19,20,26,21,22
CR19 Hilberg describes the chaotic state of Poland by the end of 1940 and into 1941, as the Reich continued to deport Jews to the Eastern Front. Hilberg describes how the East was a vague concept for even high ranking Nazi officials, and the constant transports to the Eastern Front forced Reich officials to begin working on concrete solutions to the Jewish Problem. In December 1941, the first deportation of the Łódź Jews was sent to the extermination camp in Chelmno.

CR20 Hilberg describes the Einsatzgruppen, the special operation force that was responsible for mass killings in the East. Hilberg describes the Seelisch Belastung, or psychological distress, that the Einsatzgruppen experienced, as well as the gas vans at Chelmno. The lack of secrecy of the Einsatzgruppen's operations, as well as the effects the perpetrators experienced following the pogroms, contributed to the Nazi Regime's push for secrecy. Camp enclosures and gas chambers were constructed to hide the reality of the Final Solution from the civilians and the victims.

CR26 “2 perfo 404” Hilberg continues to discuss why the Germans didn’t want the information about the killings to be known.

CR21 Lanzmann introduces the concept of secrecy and Hilberg responds that the secrecy of the Final Solution relied upon how many people knew about the camps (“a quantitative issue”) and more importantly how many people believed and openly talked about what was happening in the camps. The Nazi regime cultivated a language of euphemisms, keeping those who knew the reality of the situation from saying anything condemning or giving victims an explanation.

CR22 Hilberg continues to talk about secrecy and the attempt to reduce anxiety or reinforce hope among the Jewish community about their fate. They talk about the amount of information in contrast to the amount of silence.

FILM ID 3775 -- Camera Rolls 27-29
CR27 Lanzmann briefly explains that Czerniakow was the Jewish Chairman (Judenrat) for the Warsaw ghetto, and that no other diary like Czerniakow’s has been discovered. Hilberg calls the diary the most unique and important document from the Jewish perspective about the Holocaust. Hilberg says that Czerniakow recorded every day over a three-year period in his diary, in a very honest and matter-of-fact style, up until the day he took his life on July 23, 1942. It covers all subjects relevant to life in the ghetto including “food, space, labor, hostages, children, shootings, violence, deportations, ghettoization.” Hilberg says the diary transcends time, acting as a “window” into the Jewish community. Lanzmann says Czerniakow never had any illusions, to which Hilberg responds that Czerniakow never had the illusion of himself being a great man.

CR28 Lanzmann mentions that Czerniakow was different, because he commits suicide instead of doing the terrible things that the three other chairmen did. Czerniakow had a bottle of cyanide pills in his drawer. In his diary, he was always talking about the end, knowing even in the first week that the Germans would soon come. He knew about the ghetto wall being built and was not surprised by the events that unfolded. Lanzmann asks why Czerniakow took the job, and why did he keep it. Hilberg says he took it when the existing chairman of the Jewish community fled, and he felt a sense of responsibility. Up until that point, at 59 years old, Czerniakow was not a majorly successful or prominent figure in the Polish Jewish community. His life goals were to be loyal and steadfast. Czerniakow says in his diary that he suffers because of his job, but he does it because he has to, “as a matter of duty”. Hilberg highlights two parts of the diary: 1) a woman in Warsaw who reburied her love, representing the highest virtue and 2) a conversation in the Jewish council about mentors.

CR29 The camera momentarily focuses on a book in front of Hilberg that says “Documents of Destruction” before panning right and zooming out on Hilberg. Hilberg continues to tell the story of the boy who was shot. To Czerniakow this boy was a representation of a mentor, of loyalty. Hilberg discusses how Czerniakow’s diary reveals that he despised all emigrants. He believed that they were not helping the Jewish community by being on the outside, even if they said they were leaving with those intentions. Czerniakow thought it was better to stay, even if it meant collaborating with the Germans. Hilberg then highlights the paradoxical dilemma of those members of the Jewish council. Lanzmann focuses on this idea of collaboration, asking Hilberg what he thinks about the people who call the Jewish councilmen collaborators. Hilberg says that one really needs to put themselves in the perspective of the Jews at that time. Camera zooms out. Hilberg says that this concept of collaboration may not really have existed at the time, because there was not a single Jewish person who would have wanted to aid the German cause. When Germans put the Jewish people in these positions of power, they weren’t choosing them, they were just appointing the men who were “on hand”. At least they were from within the Jewish community, rather than Germans from the outside. CU of Hilberg as he says that this was the real disaster, because this way they managed to retain the trust and allegiance of the Jewish people. They discuss Jewish traitors. Hilberg says that the Jews did not ever mean to help the Germans, and when it happened, they were actually making those extreme concessions in order to help the Jews. If they could not do that, they would commit suicide as Czerniakow did. Zooms out. Hilberg mentions how briefly he talked about Jews aiding in their own downfall. Hilberg says that he really elaborated on the story since then and tries to relay it in a more consoling way. Lanzmann suggests the term “human”.

FILM ID 3776 -- Camera Rolls 30-32
CR30 Hilberg discusses the morale-building devices Adam Czerniakow organized in the Warsaw Ghetto. Hilberg believes that the festivals reflected Czerniakow's desire to display hope and the continuity of life despite the inevitability of death facing the people of the Warsaw Ghetto.

CR31 Hilberg describes Adam Czerniakow's appeals to the deportation notices scheduled for July 22, 1942. Czerniakow fought for the survival of orphans above all others as he petitioned to the Germans.

CR32 Hilberg discusses the "mute heroism" of the Jewish community. Hilberg rationalizes Jewish passivity to the deportations. Hilberg describes how their rationalization was a mistake, as most people did not recognize that the deportations were indicative of the solution to wipe out their entire population.

FILM ID 3777 -- Camera Rolls 33,43,44
CR33 Hilberg discusses the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place between April 19 and May 16, 1943. He describes how the Warsaw Jews' violent resistance to Nazi Germany was an indication that they understood the fate of the Jewish race in Europe. Hilberg notes how the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was a unique and significant moment because it was unlike the classic appeals and concessions Jewish leaders made to their persecutors throughout history.

CR43 Hilberg discusses the ways in which various Jewish Councils were engaged in hope and how they appealed to Germans in order to save the Jewish population. Hilberg describes how the Jewish Councils often complied with the deportation lists because many of them believed that sacrificing some Jews would ensure the survival of the general population. Hilberg describes this as a "formula for disaster," as it did not appease the Nazi regime, nor did it save more lives.

CR44 Hilberg discusses the deportation situation in Hungary and the role Rudolf Kasztner (a leader of the Rescue Committee) played in the destruction of the Hungarian Jews. Hilberg notes how Kasztner had an unusual-albeit correct-understanding of the Final Solution. Unlike Adam Czerniakow and other Jewish council men who wrote and approved deportation lists, Kasztner composed a list of names of Hungarian Jews to save. The rest of the Hungarian Jews were deported to camps.

FILM ID 3778 -- Camera Rolls 35,36,37,38,39
CR35 Silent shots of the University of Vermont campus in Burlington. Hilberg exits a building and walks along the sidewalk. CR36 More shots of campus and Hilberg. CR37 Similar shots, pan of campus, American flag, automobile traffic. CR38 UVM campus and suburban homes. CR39 Brief INTs of HIlberg’s home with Hilberg and Lanzmann seated during the interview.

FILM ID 3779 -- Camera Rolls 45-49
CR45 Hilberg explains why he gives credit to Jewish leaders like Adam Czerniakow and Rudolf Kasztner, who were put in the difficult position of approving deportations and compromising with Nazi Germany. Hilberg credits the men with the ability to see the reality of the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem over the illusion they would have preferred to be true.

CR46,47 Hilberg describes the Nazi regime's bureaucratic process of eliminating Jewish autonomy in Europe. He notes the Nazi regime's total seizure of power over Jewish life, as the Reichsvertretugg, the organization that represented all German Jews regardless of political, religious, or social differences, was subsumed by the Interior Ministry in 1939. The organization would eventually aid in the deportation of German Jews. Hilberg proceeds to explain the bizarre nature of the all-encompassing, bureaucratic system. Hilberg explains how mundane procedures were necessary in order to implement the Final Solution. This meant that solutions to transportation, billing, and housing, among other things needed to be solved as the system continued to work. Hilberg describes how everyone participated in helping solve these administrative and psychological problems at one time or another.

CR48,49 Hilberg discusses the Nazi Regime's bureaucratic process of defining a 'Jew.' There was a great need to determine what separated a Jew from an Aryan before the larger process of removing Jews could be implemented. Hilberg describes how an entire profession of researching family histories was created to aid in the bureaucratic sorting system. Courts were also given more business, as appeals to decisions of race were made. The problem of "mischlinge," people with partial Aryan heritage, became too complicated an issue to solve, as Nazi officials identified varying degrees of mischlinge within German society. Hilberg notes how the Nazi regime chose every time to protect Germany economy and Aryan society. Therefore, problems were always resolved by making things more difficult for Jews, rather than pardoning them or making exceptions. Hilberg discusses the initiative and responsibility assumed by different sectors of the administrative regime. Hilberg describes how the Civil Service, the Army, the German industry, and the Nazi Party pursued their own set of goals and personal successes. The four sectors were forced from time to time to solve problems together in order to continue their general movement towards the Final Solution.

FILM ID 3780 -- Camera Rolls 50-51
CR50 Hilberg discusses how the Nazi Party ideologists did not play a major role in the bureaucratic system that implemented the Final Solution. Instead, experts from the German industry played a major role in the success of the German economy and the efficiency of the camps. Hilberg discusses IG Farben as a company that played a major role in the destruction of the Jewish population.

CR51 Hilberg discusses the presence of IG Farben in Auschwitz and the high-ranking officials' awareness of the mass genocide taking place in the camp. Hilberg cites a document that proves IG Farben's complicity. Hilberg finally remarks upon the general attitude Germans have towards their country's past. Hilberg says that the older generation, which is strikingly different from the younger generation, finds it necessary to eliminate the recent past from its memory. In this way of ignoring recent history, Hilberg believes that it is very unlikely that there is honest conversation between the young and old generations.

FILM ID 3781 -- Coupes -- CR24M,25M,52M,53M,54M,plus -- Documents Inter Ancien
Silent CUs Lanzmann during the interview with Hilberg. He smokes. 04:59 Lanzmann in different clothing, turning the pages of a book, smoking, and taking notes. 08:37 Lanzmann, without the sport coat, rolling up his shirt sleeves, cleaning his eyeglasses, taking notes, and listening to Hilberg. 10:49 CR52 CUs of German documents, including various sections of the Fahrplananordung. 12:37 Handwritten intertitle,“Holocauste”. Terms in the Fahrplananordung are underlined or circled in red. 16:57 “Holocaust Document No. 1” intertitle. 17:11 “Document No. 2” Again, the Fahrplananordung in closeup with red markings. End title, “Holocauste”.


FILM ID 3477 - 36,37, SON SEUL LONGER AMBIANCE CAMPUS, 040 (audio only)
CR36,37 matches to FIlm ID 3778
01:59 SON SEUL - ambiance on UVM campus.
03:27 SON SEUL - CR 040 Hilberg reads from the diary of Adam Czerniakow, the Judenrat of the Warsaw Ghetto, about activities of the Nazi propaganda filmmakers who traveled to Warsaw in May 1942. 12:45 Lanzmann interrupts with instructions for Hilberg and Hilberg goes on.

FILM ID 3478 - SON SEUL 041,042,043 (audio only)
SON SEUL 041 - Hilberg reads from the diary of Adam Czerniakow, the Judenrat of the Warsaw Ghetto, from his entry on June 14, 1942.
01:40 SON SEUL 042 - Hilberg reads excerpts from a daily newspaper circulated in the Warsaw Ghetto. The newspaper lists the prices of goods for sale each day.
03:07 SON SEUL 043 - Hilberg reads another excerpt from the daily newspaper circulated in the Warsaw Ghetto.
03:39 CR43 matches to Film ID 3777

FILM ID 3480 - SON SEUL 045 (audio only)
CR45 matches to Film ID 3779
06:22 SON SEUL 045 - Hilberg talks about the character of Kasztner.

Event:  January 1979
Production:  1985
Burlington, VT, United States
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2023-11-07 13:17:58
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