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The Zone of Interest explained | Out of sight, out of mind

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Reader Interactions

Discussion

  1. We were curious about why you didn’t talk about the book that ass read to his daughters. The story of Hansel and Gretel and the witch being burden in the oven must have been significant. Please tell us about that

    • The short answer is that I got back from the theater and there’s only so much that stays in my head lol. Now that you mention it, I do remember telling myself to remember that. Specifically because of the oven. But then completely forgot.

      I think the answer here is the most obvious one. It’s ties to the obliviousness that the family has to have to live how they do. In the story, the villain is the one who puts people in the oven. Yet here they read this story without seemingly ever considering that they’re the “witch”. There’s that mental wall that’s as tall and effective as the real wall that divides the quaint home-life with the horrors on the concentration camp.

      • Sorry, but you’re just wrong. Inaccurate. The Hoss family adults aren’t playing ignorant to what’s happening next door, they’re active participants. They choose to benefit from it. Hoss works inside the camp every day. Hedwig makes flippant comments about “the Jews over the wall” and how clever they are for hiding diamonds in toothpaste. She loves t getting clothes, lipstick and fur coats taken from the inhabitants. She is very well aware and enthusiastic about the murder going on in the camp.

  2. You got two important historical points wrong in your commentary.
    1) Hitler did not “make up” racial classifications. He studied US laws regarding slavery. Nearly every society has some type of caste structure. The unique thing about the Nazis is that they took theirs to the extreme conclusion.
    2) Non-Jews didn’t suddenly hate Jews because their political party told them to. Antisemitism is the most ancient hatred in the world. The Nazis knew this and capitalized on it. Many of the countries they conquered welcomed them with open arms and helped get rid of Jews and other minorities deemed unfit to live.
    As a Holocaust educator and the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, I’m interested to see the film’s acknowledgment of these points.

    • It’s an important topic to educate people on, so thank you for the work you do.

      Regarding the first point: I never used the words “make up”. I said “came up” in regard to the fact there is no actual legitimacy to the idea of racial hierarchy. It’s why I included references to the objective science that we’re all the same on a genetic level. I didn’t mean that caste structures had never previously existed. But that this one, like every other one, was arbitrary.

      What you explained is interesting and good info but not a correction. Just an elaboration. I didn’t get anything wrong there.

      To your second point: I wasn’t implying that antisemitism hadn’t existed or didn’t play a part in events. I’m Jewish. I understand antisemitism’s longevity and ferocity. I said “most [Germans] probably didn’t feel strongly one way or another” about having a Jewish neighbor. Not that antisemitism hadn’t previously existed prior to Hitler or that no one in Germany had been hateful. Just that once Hitler made antisemitism an official government policy that it galvanized people, who had been more or less relatively neutral, into participating in something horrifying.

      The context of that was a discussion on the film’s statement about regular people having the capacity to do monstrous things. It’s a discussion that already accepts that hateful people will participate in hateful acts.

      I’m glad you’re educating people. But imagine the difference in impact if you had said “I’m a Holocaust educator. I wanted to provide some additional information” then made similar points. Versus coming in with “You’re wrong and I’m correcting you.” The first is participatory and additive. The second creates conflict.

      • “Before Hitler came to power, most people in Germany probably didn’t have strong feelings one way or another about their neighbor being Jewish or not. Then Hitler labeled Jewishness something to hate.”

        Your statement generally implies that antisemitism wasn’t popular in Germany before Hitler, whether you said it directly or not. Antisemitism was commonly accepted in many parts of Europe, like Germany and France, throughout the turn of the century. So in fact, there were probably many Germans who weren’t “neutral” and would have been bothered by having a Jewish neighbor before Hitler came to power.

        If you understand the longevity of antisemitism, it’s conflicting to say no one felt some type of way until “Hitler labeled Jewishness as something to hate.”

        • I’m Jewish. So I do understand the longevity of antisemitism.

          My statement implies that Jewish people could live relatively normal lives as part of the German population. Not that antisemitism didn’t exist or wasn’t popular. I used “strong feelings” because it allowed for the idea that someone might have been bothered by having a Jewish neighbor but not to the point of doing anything about it.

          From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website: “by 1900 the majority of—-though by no means all-—German Jews lived in big cities. In 1910, 60 percent of German Jews lived in urban areas with more than 100,000 inhabitants. In 1933 more than 70 percent of German Jews resided in cities.”

          From The Wiener Holocaust Library: “In Western Europe, there were also many sizeable Jewish communities, with 300,000 Jews living in Britain, and 565,000 living in Germany, for example. Here, most Jews were assimilated into the culture of the country in which they lived”

          One example they use was Gerty Simon, a photographer in Berlin. “In Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s, Simon had many prominent and notable subjects, such as Albert Einstein, Alfred Kerr and his daughter Judith Kerr, and Käthe Kollwitz. Simon was part of the thriving cultural scene in Berlin and photographed many of its leading lights such as actress Lotte Lenya and artist Renée Sintenis. When the Nazis rose to power in 1933, Simon found herself at particular risk of persecution, because of her religion (she was a Jew) and because many of the people that she photographed were socialists or anti-fascists who were opposed to the Nazis. Gerty Simon emigrated to Britain in 1933 with her son Bernard, whose school had also been relocated.”

          But, yes, you are the second person to take issue with the phrasing I used. So I should change it. Obviously it’s not ideal lol.

  3. Another recurring theme – the ignored dog. Throughout the film, there was an abundance of food, and eating. During war time, food was very scant. The dog chased Hedwig about the house seeking her attention, and she consistently ignored the dog. It was never petted, just “there. It also had freedom of the house and yard, unlike the people on the other side of the wall. In one scene, the dog jumps out of the kitchen window onto the deck – it’s quite a leap as if he can escape. I think the use of the Hoss dog was symbolic. Until Hoss was away from Auschwitz, he ignored his own dog – but stopped to pet the mini schnauzer being walked by a stranger on the street. He made more of a fuss over a stranger’s dog – showing it affection more than his own. The Hoss dog also stole food from the table repeatedly in scenes – showing that the dog had more access to food than the people starving on the other side of the wall. The scene where Rudolf rides his horse into the woods crushing apples and fruit also struck a chord. More people starving, but he can crush and waste fruit underfoot while out on a short afternoon stroll. Brilliant subtleties in the visual scenes – this movie is very compelling. Loved your summary as well.

    • The poor dog. That is a great point. There’s that famous “pet the cat” or “kick the dog” lesson in writing, about characterization. It’s a nice twist that the Hoss’s completely ignore their dog.

      Great thoughts about food as a motif!

  4. I’m looking for clarity on his coded phone conversation that he was dictating about the lilac bushes. Was lilac bushes code word for something else? Or was he really that worked up about the bushes?

    • I think it was just complete absurdity that with all of the chaos associated with the camp and what they were doing – he was fixated on making sure that the lilac bushes weren’t damaged. He and his peers are committing mass murder but want to make sure that the Lilac bushes bloom for everyone to enjoy. Completely out of touch sort of an order in a horrible place. If you’re not familiar with Lilac bushes, they flower in the spring and emit a very fragrant odor. It’s an overpowering floral scent. I think the mention was deliberate – the SS was obsessed with record keeping and, later in the war – built attractive gardens along the pathways to the crematoriums. Maybe to make incoming people feel at ease. Cruel and gross on every level.

    • I think it might possibly have been code for Jewish women, the camp prisoners that these commanders routinely sexually abused —he said “don’t bruise and trample on the bushes as other people need to be able to enjoy them, too”, something along those lines, as if to say don’t beat them, give them sexually transmitted diseases and abuse them to such an extent that they fall sick or die. The article also states he cheats on Hedwig with a local Polish girl, but to me as I was watching that scene it seemed obvious that this woman was a Jew who had been called to a commander’s office / private quarters so many times that she knows what will ensue and acts accordinly: she calmly takes a seat, immediately starts takes off her clothes in a routine, resigned manner, lets her hair down, going through the motions like someone who experiences sexual abuse on a daily basis. Like she could be one of those lilac bushes. He also washes his private parts immediately afterwards — it might imply he thinks she is dirty; he isn’t the only man doing that to her.

    • In another review I read that it was a coded message about not putting remains in the river. River = lilacs, for everyone to enjoy.

  5. I’m glad someone mentioned the dog! I was obsessed with it the entire movie wondering what its significance was in so many scenes.

  6. I would like to know more about how the children were portrayed. The baby was CONSTANTLY fretting screaming and crying. It was like the baby felt the evil energy going on. Also: The older daughter sleepwalking around the house. Sometimes sleepwalking means there is something disturbing the person doing it…OR was she up because she was trying to see what was going on next door? I’d be interested in hearing what the Writer/Director of this truly important film had to say about the Hoss children and how they processed all of this.

    • It definitely seemed like he was trying to show that even if the family tried to shield the kids from what was going on that they still felt something and it was having an impact on them. That kid trying to play with toys when all those horrible sounds are happening…yeesh.

      I think it gets into the idea of asking what kind of impact such an environment has on someone. The one brother locking the other sibling in the green house is pretty typical child stuff. But given the environment, you have to wonder if it’s a learned cruelty? Maybe the kids would all grow up and be extremely progressive and open-minded people because they were around such awful stuff. Or maybe they all need therapy and struggle to make it through each day. Or maybe they’re callous and horrible.

      Given that Glazer seemed interested in making us aware of the things we ourselves look past in our own lives, I think there’s some kind of “What impact do you think this will have on your kids?” question going on.

  7. I wonder why the smells of death and burning were not conveyed to the Hoss family. How could they ignore them?

    • The mother was coughing all the time. I assume that was why.

  8. Sorry, but you’re just wrong. Inaccurate. The Hoss family adults aren’t playing ignorant to what’s happening next door, they’re active participants. They choose to benefit from it. Hoss works inside the camp every day. Hedwig makes flippant comments about “the Jews over the wall” and how clever they are for hiding diamonds in toothpaste. She loves t getting clothes, lipstick and fur coats taken from the inhabitants. She is very well aware and enthusiastic about the murder going on in the camp.

  9. I also noticed how the youngest boy overhears soldiers yelling about a prisoner “fighting over an apple” and orders him drowned in the river. As screams are heard over the wall, the little boy mutters that “you shouldn’t do that.” I wonder if he meant the prisoners shouldn’t fight, or the soldiers shouldn’t kill them.

    • I might be wrong about this, but I believe that it was the commandant who ordered him to be drowned. That moment has stayed with me because it would mean that the Hoss boys were hearing their father order the death of someone for something trivial.

  10. What was “the investigation” that Hedwig refers to when she and Hoss are on the dock discussing his new placement?

    Thank you. This is a life altering movie for me. Self awareness and policing to never, ever, allow ourselves to not consider our actions. These were normal people. Most of those involved were normal, every day people, so the warning shot has been sent and received. I thought about this the other day. What would I do if my choices were to do something abhorrent or have my children shot?

  11. That was a detailed and illuminating review. Thank you.

  12. Hi Chris. Thanks for your blog. While I browse your site, you might be interested in reading my review of The Zone of Interest. Well, perhaps more a reflection on it than a typical review. It’s a fascinating movie which I watched on Sunday night and can’t stop thinking and reading about it.

    Something that might help other readers is to realise that whilst we tend to think that the best directors have filmed something complete, like a finished jigsaw puzzle, the truth is that not everything that is in the movie is an explicable part of an integrated coherent whole. And whatever the director intends, the audience won’t necessarily see it, and will often bring things, or interpret things that the director didn’t intend. I’m sure Glazer realises this. It means that there are always loose ends or dead ends that can’t be readily explained, questions that will have more than one answer, departures from the historical fact and the fictional source. It’s also the case that if Glazer wanted to answer all the questions, he’d have made a different movie. Having said that, there’s always an itch that needs scratching!

    https://www.alexandersblog.net/2010-present/the-zone-of-interest-2023

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