The Act Of Bearing Witness

by Zoë Pollock

Roger Ebert watched the 1985 Holocaust film "Shoah," which runs over nine hours:

What is so important about "Shoah" is that the voices are heard of people who did see, who did understand, who did comprehend, who were there, who know that the Holocaust happened, who tell us with their voices and with their eyes that genocide occurred in our time, in our civilization.

There is a tendency while watching "Shoah" to try to put a distance between yourself and the events on the screen. These things happened, after all, 40 or 45 years ago. Most of those now alive have been born since they happened. Then, while I was watching the film, came a chilling moment. A name flashed on the screen in the subtitles, the name of one of the commandants at Treblinka death camp. At first I thought the name was "Ebert" -- my name. Then I realized it was "Eberl." I felt a moment of relief, and then a moment of intense introspection as I realized that it made no difference what the subtitle said. The message of this film (if we believe in the brotherhood of man) is that these crimes were committed by people like us, against people like us.

While at Yad Vashem, we met with a survivor who told his story and answered our questions. It's a scary thought that future generations won't have that opportunity.