Claude Lanzmann, French Director of Holocaust Documentary 'Shoah,' Dies at 92

Courtesy of 2016 OscarĀ® Nominated Short Films/SHORTS HD
Claude Lanzmann

The film won the New York Film Critics Circle award for best nonfiction film and the BAFTA award for best documentary.

Claude Lanzmann, the French director behind the landmark nine-and-a-half-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah, has died. He was 92.

A spokesperson for the Gallimard publishing house, which published his memoir, told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday that Lanzmann died June 28 in a Paris hospital. No cause of death was given.

Released in 1985, Shoah — considered one of the greatest films ever made about the Holocaust — won the New York Film Critics Circle award for best nonfiction film and the BAFTA award for best documentary.

His other documentaries include Tsahal (1994), about the Israel Defense Forces; The Last of the Unjust (2013), about the last president of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadt ghetto in the former Czechoslovakia; and Napalm (2017).

Lanzmann was honored at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival with a Golden Bear for lifetime achievement.

“Claude Lanzmann was one of the great documentarists," Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick said in a statement. "With his depictions of inhumanity and violence, of anti-Semitism and its consequences, he created a new kind of cinematic and ethical exploration. We mourn the loss of an important personality of the political-intellectual life of our time.”

In 2015, filmmaker Adam Benzine documented Lanzmann's 12-year process in making Shoah with a 40-minute documentary, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah. It included never-before-seen outtakes from Lanzmann's interviews with Holocaust survivors and received an Academy Award nomination for best short-subject documentary.   

Lanzmann's final project, The Four Sisters — a four-part documentary series that was made for the Franco-German broadcaster Arte — was released theatrically in France on the day before his death.

Composed of footage shot for Shoah but not used in the final movie, The Four Sisters consists of interviews with four women who survived the Holocaust. It premiered in the U.S. in October at the New York Film Festival and was acquired by Cohen Media Group, which will release it this year.

In the 1950s, Lanzmann lived with French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir. He was married three times: to Judith Magre, a French actress; Angelika Schrobsdorff, a German writer and actress; and Dominique Petithory, a nutritionist.

In his 2012 autobiography, The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir, Lanzmann revealed about how he came up with the title for Shoah.

"How could there be a name for something that was utterly without precedent in the history of mankind? If it had been possible not to give the film a title, I would have done so," he wrote. "The word 'shoah' occurred to me one night as self-evident because, not speaking Hebrew, I did not understand its meaning, which was another way of not naming it. But for those who speak Hebrew, 'shoah' is just as inadequate. The term occurs several times in the Bible. It means 'catastrophe,' 'destruction,' 'annihilation' … For me, 'shoah' was a signifier with no signified, a brief, opaque utterance, an impenetrable, unbreakable word." 

Rhett Bartlett contributed to this report.