“Austerlitz”, by Sergei Loznitsa, provides a curious film concept. In a 94-minute exercise in trolling people in black and white, the filmmaker portrays tourists to visit the museum-exhibits of the Nazi Holocaust concentration camps Dachau and Sachsenhausen.
The first ten minutes of the film portrays nothing but a people-watch of tourists entering the gates near a sign reading “Arbeit macht frei”. We notice many are carrying phone headsets to listen to commentary. Then we do start hearing some tour guide content. One of the most interesting is that the early camps were set up for intelligence purposes: to interrogate possible dissidents against Hitler, and even intercept plots to kill Hitler. Only later did the Jews, as well as gypsies and homosexuals, become recognizable populations.
There is a chilling scene where a guide with a British accent explains how the victims were told to expect a shower, before getting gassed with Zytron. One couple has a picture taken in front of a black crematorium.
As for the tourists, many are attractive, slender, young white males, ironically what you expect in a gay bar. You will see the same people, with recognizable T-shirts, based on companies or sports teams, more than once.
I was not aware of this massive level of tourism. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on a Tuesday morning in late May, 1999, having arrived on the night train to Krakow from Berlin, and then taking a taxi to the site (about $60 for the day). I don’t recall that there was any crowd, maybe a few other tourists walking around at some distance from me. I did visit rooms with shoes and skeleton remains, and dorms. I walked along the notorious railroad tracks. I don’t recall having a headset.
In the first chapter of my novel “Angel’s Brother”, a “part time” CIA agent, married and living a normal life of a history teacher in Texas, visits Birkenau the way I did, and in a light crowd, meets a mysterious college student and rides back with him. Why both are there develops with the story. There was one scene in the film of a young man off by himself, on a cell phone, sitting near a wall, who looked like the college student in my novel. There may have been one other person from the US that I recognized, appearing twice with the camera going blurred the second time, a rather strange effect.
Wikipedia picture of Dachau.
Auschwitz-Birkenau visiting information.
|Director, writer:||Sergei Loznitsa|
|Format:||1.85:1, black and white|
|When and how viewed:||MICA Brown in Baltimore, 2017/5/7, fair audience|
(Posted: Monday, May 8, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)