Present, past and future merge in the wagons of a train that crosses Eastern Europe in the XXI century: Poland, Russia, Ukraine. The slogan of the postwar «Never Again» sounds now like a fairy tale. Everything is happening now. Everywhere.
TREBLINKA is a film essay based on the memoirs by Chil Rajchman, «Treblinka: a survivor’s memory», (© «Je suis le dernier juif», Editions des Arènes)
Chil Rajchman, a Polish Jew, was arrested with his younger sister in 1942 and sent to Treblinka, a death camp where more than 750,000 were murdered before it was abandoned by German soldiers. His sister was sent to the gas chambers, but Rajchman escaped execution, working for ten months under incessant threats and beatings as a barber, a clothes-sorter, a corpse-carrier, a puller of teeth from those same bodies. In August 1943, there was an uprising at the camp, and Rajchman was among the handful of men who managed to escape. In 1945, he set down this unique testimony, which has remained in the sole possession of his family ever since.
Treblinka is a film that came to me slowly, in a process that had no regular plan.
Five years ago, I wrote a project about a Holocaust survivor, Marceline Loridan-Ivens – Joris Ivens’ widow – who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau when she was 13. She lost her father in Auschwitz and worked as a prisoner in Birkenau. The experience marked her for the rest of her life.
When I first met Marceline, I recognized and greatly admired the survivor in her. Many of the witnesses of the horror took their lives while they were in the camps, many others committed suicide after returning to normal life.
At the beginning, my intention was to build a documentary based on conversations, but mainly focusing on the memories of dead people who still live with the survivors throughout their life.
Marceline used to say «I hate trains, no matter where they are going». She felt, somehow, that all trains were always leaving to Auschwitz. In an attempt to evoke this impossible place between life and death, I decided to shoot the entire film aboard long distance trains in Eastern Europe. The whole shooting took place in three countries: Russia, Poland, and Ukraine.
Focusing on the Holocaust, I could do all the shooting in Polish trains, or in the different camps I visited during my research - Treblinka, Auschwitz, Birkenau, among others. But the mass tourism that has taken over some Holocaust venues shocked me and made me think about the banalization of horror, which could be a perverse counterpart to the banality of evil, studied by Hanna Arendt.
Standing in complete contrast to the organised tourism of the Holocaust, are two experiences I had while reading books about the death camps: Treblinka : a survivor’s memory by Chil Rajchman (I could barely draw breath as I read it), and Gitte Sereny’s research Into That Darkness, with hundreds of hours of crossed interviews centred on Frank Stangl, the Chief commander of Treblinka. I felt as though I was watching the most brilliantly written documentary I could ever imagine.
Reading these books, confirmed (for me, at least) that words could be stronger than images. Especially nowadays, when images of horror have become so normal and banal.
At the same time, with everything we have witnessed over the last two years, the darkest side of humanity - in all its horror and indifference - was present to me while making this film. The ghost universe is a common experience shared by men and women who have survived mass murder: the victims of Nazi camps, but also the survivors of massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, or, more recently, in Syria and Iraq.
Treblinka is a film of voices and naked bodies, mostly reflected on the train windows. The audience may feel uncomfortable with the beauty of the rough images. But I believe beauty has always been used by painters to portray the most horrific situations.
Almost all the texts are Russian translations from Chil Rajchman’s memories, a few others are conversations I remember having had with different survivors.
«Who am I?» and «Why should I keep living?» are questions endless repeated by the survivors.
- Sérgio Tréfaut
TREBLINKA is a film essay based on the book by Chil Rajchman, “Treblinka: a survivor’s memory” (© “Je suis le dernier juif”, Editions des Arènes)
Miguel Moraes Cabral
Ukraine Toy Pictures
sound editing and mix
El Malei Rachamim Prayer
by Chief Cantor Shai Abramson
Prelude in E-Minor
Vitaly Koindratenko original
Alfredo Costa Monteiro
SÉRGIO TRÉFAUT Born in Brazil in 1965. After a Master in Philosophy at the Sorbonne University (Paris), he started to work in Lisbon. Eventually he became a producer and a film director. His documentaries were internationally awarded and screened in more than 40 countries. Most of them such as Outro País (1999), Fleurette (2002), Lisboetas (2005), The City of the Dead (2009), Alentejo, Alentejo (2014) had a theatrical release. His first fiction Journey to Portugal (2011) with Maria de Medeiros and Isabel Ruth also received several awards.
More info and filmography: faux.pt