Screening Auschwitz

Wanda Jakubowska’s The Last Stage and the Politics of Commemoration

by Marek Haltof

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Screening Auschwitz examines the classic Polish Holocaust lm The Last Stage (Ostatni etap), directed by the Auschwitz survivor Wanda Jakubowska (1907–1998). Released in 1948, The Last Stage was a pioneering work and the rst narrative lm to portray the Nazi German camp. Haltof’s fascinating book offers to English-speaking readers

a wealth of new materials and sources, mostly from original Polish sources and obtained through extensive archival research.

With its powerful dramatization of the camp experience, The Last Stage shaped subsequent Shoah lms, establishing several quasi- documentary themes easily discernible in later Holocaust narratives: the dark, “realistic” images of the camp; the passionate moralistic appeal; and the clear divisions between victims and perpetrators.

Jakubowska’s lm introduced the images of camp life that are now archetypal—for example, morning and evening roll calls on the Appelplatz, the arrival of transport trains at Birkenau, the separation of families, and tracking shots over the belongings left by the gassed camp victims. These and other images reinforced the depiction of

Nazi German concentration camps and are discernible in a number of subsequent American lms, including George Stevens’s The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), Alan Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice (1982), and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993).

Haltof discusses the unusual circumstances that surrounded the production of the lm on location at Auschwitz- Birkenau and summarizes critical debates surrounding the lm’s release. The book offers much of interest to lm historians and readers interested in the Holocaust.

MAREK HALTOF is a professor at Northern Michigan University. He has published several books in English and Pol- ish on the cultural histories of Central European and Australian lm. His recent books include Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema; Polish Film and the Holocaust: Politics and Memory; The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski: Variations on Destiny and Chance; and Polish National Cinema.

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