Photographer

on August 01, 2008 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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   In 1987, 400 color slides taken by Walter Genewein, the Nazis' chief accountant for the Lodz Ghetto, were discovered in a second-hand bookstore in Vienna. The photos of the Ghetto inhabitants, among the earliest known color shots from that time, cast a benign, innocuous light on the place, but Polish director Dariusz Jablonski's film, which was six years in the making, paints a different picture.
   Heartbreaking eyewitness testimony from Ghetto doctor Arnold Mostowicz, interspersed with telling Nazi records and correspondence, add up to a devastating portrait of utter German indifference in the face of the Holocaust. What Jablonski has done is build on the undercurrents running through "Schindler's List," the way lists of the victims' names and the details of their possessions were all that finally remained of the Jews in their murderers' eyes. With constant reference to those lists, of precisely how many coats, shoes, and even teeth were collected from the Ghetto inhabitants, as well as the exact numbers of Jews being shipped to the concentration camps, "Photographer" paints a chilling portrait of genocide. But it doesn't neglect the human side of this horrific equation, painfully evident in Mostowicz's wrenching testimony of what he saw and experienced while in the Ghetto, but also through the tragic picture painted of the controversial Chaim Rumkowski. He was the leader of the Jewish council in the Ghetto who had to make horrific, unbearable decisions, such as sending Jewish children off to certain death, an action which he believed would stave off the liquidation of the rest of the Lodz Ghetto.
   Other "human" touches, such as Genewein's obsessive letters complaining about the quality of the film he's purchased, aptly personify what philosopher Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. Complex, disturbing and riveting, "Photographer" is unforgettable.    Directed and produced by Dariusz Jablonski. Written by Andrzej Bodek, Arnold Mostowicz and Dariusz Jablonski. A Seventh Art Release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 76 min.
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