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Sobibor - Sortie Messe Wlodowa (audio only)

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5079 | Film ID: 3658, 3659, 3660, 3661, 3662, 3663, 3664

Interview with local Polish people in and around Wlodowa, including long sequences of a Cathlolic mass.

FILM ID 3658 -- Sobibor 72 -- SOB 44,45
00:00:00 Muffled sounds of a Catholic mass celebrated in Latin in the town of Wlodawa, with occasional barely discernible commentary from Lanzmann and his crew.

00:08:32 Following the mass, Lanzmann asks one of the participants whether he knows what Sobibor is. The man, who tells the crew that he is 65, replies that he is from Wlodawa, so of course he does; he was there. At Sobibor, he says, there was a camp where they burned Jews. The man fought on both fronts during the war, and spent time in Wlodawa during the war and during the German occupation.

00:09:57 When asked whether there were Jews in Wlodawa at that time, the man replies that there were a great number-- half the population. When the Germans arrived, he explains, they began deporting Jews to the Sobibor camp, as well as to others. Before the war, he says, the Jews in Wlodawa were largely merchants and artisans. They lived all over town, and the man explains that the streets where Jews once lived have since been renamed. Lanzmann asks whether the Jews knew their fate when they were deported from Wlodawa, and the man replies that they could not have known exactly what would befall them. Even before the war, though, he says Jews knew they were doomed. They felt it. When Lanzmann asks whether the man is sad about what happened to the Jews, he replies that every faithful Christian thinks that every human being deserves to live.

00:13:07 Lanzmann asks whether this man got along with the Jews, and he replies that he did and that the non-Jewish residents of Wlodawa did their best to help Jews when there was a ghetto in the town. He explains that it was a transit ghetto, full of Jews from France and Vienna on their way to Sobibor. The ghetto lasted two years, and was totally closed. The ghetto was overseen by German, Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish police forces. Before the war, the population of Wlodawa was 7,500, of whom 4,000 were Jews.

FILM ID 3659 -- Sobibor 73 -- SOB 45
00:00:11 Lanzmann asks three elders whether there was a synagogue in Wlodawa, and a woman replies that there was one, and that it was very beautiful. When Poland was still ruled by tsars, the synagogue existed-- it's even older than the Catholic church. Lanzmann asks what has become of the synagogue now that there are no Jews, and the couple replies that there is still a Jewish family in the town, and that the synagogue has been returned to the state. Lanzmann asks how this family survived the Holocaust, and the gentleman replies that they hid in the forest. He also talks about several families in which the father is Catholic and the mother is Jewish, and the children are raised Catholic. The man cannot remember the names of these families. Lanzmann asks whether there is a Jewish cemetery in Wlodawa, and the woman replies that there are two. The Nazis destroyed the Jewish cemeteries during the war, and after the war, one was turned into a park, where a few of the tombstones still remain visible.

00:03:59 Lanzmann asks whether the Jews living in Wlodawa before the war were rich or poor, and the woman replies that there were all types, but most were small merchants and artisans who were not rich. Lanzmann asks them how they experienced, 'the annihilation of the majority of their town's population,' and how they feel about it now. The man replied that they were scared that they would be the next to be targeted. Lanzmann asks whether they prayed for the Jews during that time, and he replies that of course they did. They could not talk about the subject in church, because Germans often waited outside of the church to conduct raids. A church bell rings in the background.

00:05:43 Lanzmann asks why his interviewees think this all happened to the Jews in particular. The man replies that Hitler's great grandfather was Jewish, and that Jews assassinated him, so when Hitler became an adult, he decided to avenge his ancestor. Lanzmann makes an allusion to the story of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, and asks whether that might have anything to do with why the gentleman thinks the Jews were exterminated. The man responds that he is not sure, but he is a believer and that when Christ died, he said his death would be avenged, and that he was killed by Jews.

00:08:02 Lanzmann pulls another man out of the group of onlookers, who has something he wants to say. The man wants to make sure that listeners understand that the extermination of Jews took place not only in Wlodawa, but everywhere in Poland. He continues that the Germans simply wanted to exterminate every race that was not their own, starting with the Jews but eventually the Polish people, too. He says that there were two insurrections in Warsaw, one led by Jews and another by Poles.

00:09:05 One man in the group of onlookers says that everyone in Wlodawa knows what happened, but what they lived through was very different than the French experience, 'like night and day,' and so he cannot discuss it with Lanzmann because he cannot understand. Lanzmann presses the gentleman to speak further, saying that this is precisely why he (Lanzmann) is here in Wlodawa asking these questions, trying to understand. The man tells Lanzmann to visit Majdanek, where there is a memorial and all of the proof of what happened, but will not speak to him further, not even when Lanzmann replies that he has already visited.

FILM ID 3660 -- Sobibor 74 -- SOB 47,48
00:00:49 Lanzmann interviews an elderly woman who stands with two men; sounds of a church service in the background throughout. He asks her why she had thanked him for still being interested in this history. She replies that the war was a very difficult time, where one could not even go to church, and that thankfully life has returned to its normal rhythm. Lanzmann asks her to elaborate about not being able to go to church, and she replies that one could, but that Germans would often station themselves outside of the church at the end of mass, and would conduct raids there. Lanzmann asks her whether Nazis ever shut Jews in the church, and she says no. She continues that she lives in a small village 30 km from Wlodawa, where there were not many Jews. The Jews in her village dressed differently than Poles before the war, and you could recognize them from the rest of the population, but then they began to dress like everyone else, except for the yellow star. Lanzmann asks the woman and men what they think of the Jewish religion. They say they are not very interested in it. The woman continues, however, explaining that Judaism is the oldest religion and that 'our' ten commandments come from Judaism. Lanzmann asks what they think of Jewish religious dress-- their clothes, their beards, etc. One of the men responds that it is not so different from Christian friars who wear religious dress. They discuss Jewish religious dress further, and then Lanzmann asks whether they found the Jews "harmless people or worrisome people." One of the gentlemen replies that they were fairly harmless, and that the only reproach against the Jews was that they engaged in commerce, meaning that they made a lot of money and did not work as hard as the Polish people farming the land. Lanzmann asks whether Polish people now hold those jobs in commerce, and the man replies that they do not, that the Polish government does it.

00:07:30 One of the men discusses Jewish commerce before the war, saying that many Poles preferred to shop in Jewish stores because if they did not have enough money, the Jewish store owners would give them credit and let them pay later. Lanzmann asks whether the Polish state is as good at commerce as the Jews were, and the woman laughs and replies that she is content with it.

00:09:00 Lanzmann asks whether the interviewees considered the Jews to be members of the Polish population, or whether they saw them as outsiders. One of the men replies that they were commonly seen as "full members of the collective Polish society," and that they did Polish military service and worked among and alongside the Polish people. Lanzmann then asks them to show him the part of the town that had been the Jewish ghetto.

00:10:10 The sounds of a church service

FILM ID 3661 -- Sobibor 75 -- SOB 49
Audio of a baptismal church service

FILM ID 3662 -- Sobibor 76 -- SOB 50
Muffled conversation-- Lanzmann, his translator Barbara, and a few Wlodawa residents drive to the area of town where the Jewish ghetto was once ocated. The local woman explains that the first ghetto was created in 1940, and that a second, closed ghetto was created in 1942. Most of the buildings that were there at the time have been destroyed and rebuilt. Lanzmann asks to see houses where Jews live which still stand. They walk to a street where a local man points out the houses in which Jews once lived. He knows every house which was owned by Jews, though he cannot remember their names. He points out one of the houses, and recollects watching Germans throw three Jews, including an elderly woman, from the second-story balcony. He points out the home of a man named Yenkel, who was killed in Sobibor, as well as the old locations of different Jewish businesses. They walk through streets where the gentleman says that before the war, every home was Jewish. Lanzmann asks the gentleman tour guide several times how he knows so much, and how he remembers the old residents of every single home and building in what was one the Jewish ghetto, but he never truly answers.

FILM ID 3663 -- Sobibor 78 -- SOB 51
00:00:38 Lanzmann and his translator continue to drive around the old Jewish ghetto of Wlodawa with a local resident who points out the locations of what were once Jewish homes and businesses. He shows them the old synagogue, and tells a story of when, as kids, he and friends once caught a bird and set it free in the window of the synagogue during a service, 'just as a joke.' The streets still have the same names they had when Jews lived there. As they continue driving, Lanzmann remarks that the entire town center was Jewish homes and businesses, and the man agrees. He explains that most Poles lived further from the center of town. They drive to the old Jewish cemetery, which is now a park.

FILM ID 3664 -- Sobibor 79 -- SOB 56,57
Outside the old Wlodawa synagogue, Lanzmann asks whether the synagogue is very old, and a local gentleman replies that the synagogue was built before the Catholic church, and the church is 460 years old. Lanzmann asks how long Jews have lived in Wlodawa, and the man says he has no idea, but that they have always been here. He explains that the Jews are merchants, and almost nomads, and that they arrived here for commerce, stayed, and built the synagogue. The man continues that it is too bad they cannot go inside the synagogue-- it is currently being rehabilitated, and the old paintings inside are being restored. Lanzmann asks for what purpose it is being rehabilitated, and he says that the State is turning it into a museum. He says that Jews came from Palestine and saw the synagogue, which had been turned into shops, and asked for it to be restored.

Event Date
Wlodowa, Poland
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
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Record last modified: 2018-11-27 11:05:58
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