Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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Holocaust and Cambodia genocide in Cannes

memory and remembrance at the French parade

Among the many movies that were presented in Cannes, two deserve a particular attention for their handling of memory and remembrance: Le dernier des injustes, by Claude Lanzmann, and L'image manquante, by Rithy Pahn.

Lanzmann, author of the famous and monumental documentary Shoah, retraces an interview held in 1975 with Benjamin Murmelstein. He was the last President of the Jewish Council of the ancient Czechoslovak town of Theresienstadt, which was turned by the Nazis into a model ghetto that they wanted to show the world as a heavenly holiday resort. Murmelstein has always been considered as a particularly controversial figure. Chief rabbi in Vienna at the time of the German annexation of Austria, and in 1938, as he was involved in emigration issues, he managed to get 121,000 Jews to leave, by saving them from a tragic fate, and he managed to prevent the liquidation of the ghetto. Later he was accused of collaborating with the Nazis. 

Lanzmann, who alternates Murmelstein's words with footage shot in Austria, Poland, Israel and in Theresienstadt, archive material and his own appearances, tries to rehabilitate the rabbi, who could not even be buried in the Jewish cemetery of Rome due to the fierce criticism towards him.

The documentary also sparks a harsh row about the figure of Eichmann, who after the Jerusalem trial in 1961 became the symbol of the concept of banality of evil coined by philosopher Hannah Arendt. As reported in the Corriere della Sera, Lanzmann says:

 «He was all but a dull bureaucrat.. Eichmann was a devil: violent, corrupted, very sly. As to the trial it is worth nothing, it was carried out by ignorants... Ben Gurion wanted to do it in order to justify the foundation of the Israeli State. Arendt, who had followed everything from far, tells lots of rubbish. More than discussing the banality of evil we should discuss the banality of the conclusions reached by Ms. Arendt».

L'image manquante instead tells about the tragic events unfolded between 1975 and 1979 as the Khmer Rouges seized power in Cambodia. 
The director, who was an eyewitness to the destruction of his people through labour camps, famines and murders, brings to the stage his own childhood memories.
Rithy Panh, who was just nine years old when the Khmer Rouges entered Phnom Penh, in those years lost all his family to famine or diseases.
His tale takes the shape of small figures of earthenware, reproducing scenes of the oppression born by the Cambodian people, deprived of all rights and bent into relentless forced labour.

There are very few fragments of images shot at that time, some film clips and some propaganda pictures: in fact, the regime had also destroyed much of the existing audiovisual material.

24 May 2013

Khmer Rouges

the "big brothers" of genocide in Cambodia

The genocide took place between 1975 and 1978.
Cambodia is a South-Eastern Asian country neighbouring with Vietnam. Colonized by the French, in 1953 it became an independent country led by prince Norodom Sihanouk. He was overthrown in 1970 by a coup of general Lol Non, supported by the United States. After a fierce campaign against the communists and vietnamese who were there in the country, in 1975 the power was seized by the Khmer rouges, a tiny group of Leninist background which had become popular especially in the rural areas of the North. They proclaimed the Republic of Democratic Kampuchea.

The Khmer Rouge was a group driven by the need to find new “objective enemies” and it exterminated a big part of the population according to their religion, race and political views. Accountability and implementation of the genocide by Khmer Rouge movement must be identified among the “big brother”, a group of 20-25 people united under similar educational experiences and views. This group was influenced by Stalinistic ideals; the “Big Brother” developed an orthodox version of communism based on an exaggerated vision and used the concept of race as a pretext propaganda to justify the persecutions of the “objective enenmies”. In Cambodia, there was an “archipelago of concentration camps” to re-educate people, which was called S-21; Duch, one of the members of the “Big Brother” even confessed that the prisoners were being tortured and excruciated before killing them.

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Dith Pran

reporter, photographer and human rights activist