Son of Saul: Wartime Propaganda with Few Takers

Published: 2016-01-26
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Scene from "Son of Saul"

The week before Christmas seems an odd time to release a Holocaust movie, particularly one as macabre as Son of Saul. As one review describes it, it is a tale from

“Inside the Gas Chamber of Auschwitz,” presumably Morgue 1 of Krema II and focuses on a Jewish Sonderkommando named, Saul Ausländer. One reviewer describes the movie thusly, “For most of the 107-minute fiction film, the camera remains fixed on the face of one inmate at Auschwitz-Birkenau as he races around the death camp trying to bury a boy he believes is his son.”

Other reviewers described the movie as

“A season in hell...devastating and terrifying...unimaginable and unthinkable horrors.”

Scene from 'Son of Saul'
Forced at gun-point to watch yet another Holocaust Drama? (Another scene from "Son of Saul")

Saul is played by Hungarian Geza Röhrig. Mr. Röhrig’s main talent is his amazing ability to have a fixed blank stare. Röhrig has utilized his talent to open a new dimension in Holocaust films, that of a “zombie robot.”

Mr. Röhrig described his role, “I had to be this zombie robotic living-dead person, and on the other hand, I couldn’t become boring, so I had to compensate with the persistence, the intensity.”

Unpleasant Miracles and Implausible Actions

Saul’s racing around Auschwitz was the result of a double miracle. Miracle One was the amazing survival in the gas chamber of a boy. Miracle Two is that Saul thinks it is his own son. The fact that Saul bandies the boy’s body around Auschwitz and finds a place to bury him without attracting notice of the Camp administration is on the level of moving a corpse through Grand Central Station without drawing attention, highly implausible but not quite a miracle.

Largely Blurred

As a Revisionist, I wondered if director Laszlo Nemes would show the “gas chambers.” We have heard of Steam Chambers, Diesel-Exhaust Chambers, and Electric Chambers: What was Nemes going to claim? Unfortunately, the film is

“Shot entirely in close-ups of Saul’s face or his immediate surroundings as he and his fellow Sonderkommandos go about their daily business of leading prisoners to their death.” (see here)

and

“The film is shot mostly in a tight close-up on Röhrig, and blurs out much of the chaos and carnage that surrounds him.”

and

“graphic content is largely kept blurred in the margins of the screen.” (see here)

Protected from Cyanide.

This obscurity is by design. Nemes and his co-writer, Clara Royer, drew inspiration from the early Soviet propaganda stories, but said they wanted to avoid “the stuff of books”. The result becomes odd when Nemes tries to address some obvious technical problems with the Gas Chamber Story. For example Nemes has his Sonderkommandos wearing scarves over their noses and mouths, presumably to protect themselves from the cyanide gas, a danger pointed out by Professor Faurisson and other Revisionists. Nemes also creates rooms many times the size of the actual rooms in the Krema II building wherein furtive Sonderkommandos can hold meetings to plan revolts.

A Flop

Released in Hungary on 11 June by Mozinet in 46 theatres (two on 35mm and 44 as DCP), Son of Saul had taken 19,913 admissions in seven days.

Despite massive ballyhoo on the part of the media, the movie was a flop. Its gross for the first 10 days of US showings was a mere $34,060 with a total gross of less than $100,000.

Son of Saul follows on an earlier movie about Sonderkommandos, The Grey Zone based on an “eye-witness account by Miklós Nyiszli. It also was a box-office flop. 

So Why Make Such a Film?

The role of Sonderkommandos has always been a problem for Holocaust Believers. The Sonderkommandos were vital helpers of the Germans. Allegedly, they tricked half a million people, including their own wives and children, into the underground undressing room at Krema II, convinced them to take off all their clothes, then led them along a narrow passage, past a small area next to the elevator and dissecting room and into a gas chamber, in groups of 2,000 people. After a gassing that lasted 10-30 minutes, they waded into the corpse-filled room, untangled the bodies, dragged them back to a small elevator, moved them up a floor, and cremated them. In most stories, they are well-fed, well-clothed, and warmly housed. The problem with this version of the Story is that it makes the Sonderkommandos into collaborators of the worst kind. As one journalist suggested, “the members of the Sonderkommando were ‘half-victim, half-hangman.’”

A Clarification

Géza Röhrig reacted with anger to this suggestion. “There has to be a clarification,” he said. “They are 100% victims. The Sonderkommandos had a terrible rap....it’s either ignorance or very insensitive to blame and point fingers in 2015”

Son of Saul simply changes the Story to explain the inexplicable behavior of the Sonderkommandos, behavior that did not and could not have happened.  It is also an attempt to remove any perception of wrongdoing from the Jewish Sonderkommandos. To do this, Nemes produces a film which is an essay on degradation and violence, all in an attempt to explain the creation of his 100% Victim Zombie Robots.

Additional information about this document

Author(s) David Merlin
Title Son of Saul: Wartime Propaganda with Few Takers
Sources Smith's Report, no. 219, February 2016, pp. 5f.
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Dates published: 2016-01-26, first posted on CODOH: Jan. 26, 2016, 10:26 a.m., last revision: n/a
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