Marek Haltof, Screening Auschwitz: Wanda Jakubowska’s The Last Stage and the Politics of Commemoration (Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press, 2018)
Screening Auschwitz examines the classic Polish Holocaust film The Last Stage (Ostatni etap), directed by the Auschwitz survivor Wanda Jakubowska (1907–1998). Released in 1948, The Last Stage was a pioneering work and the first narrative film to portray the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Marek Haltof’s fascinating book offers English-speaking readers a wealth of new materials, mostly from original Polish sources obtained through extensive archival research.
With its powerful dramatization of the camp experience, The Last Stage established several quasi-documentary themes easily discernible in later film narratives of the Shoah: dark, realistic images of the camp, a passionate moral appeal, and clear divisions between victims and perpetrators. Jakubowska’s film introduced images that are now archetypal—for example, morning and evening roll calls on the Appelplatz, the arrival of transport trains at Birkenau, the separation of families upon arrival, and tracking shots over the belongings left behind by those who were gassed. These and other images are taken up by a number of subsequent American films, including George Stevens’s The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), Alan Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice (1982), and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993).
Haltof discusses the unusual circumstances that surrounded the film’s production on location at Auschwitz-Birkenau and summarizes critical debates surrounding the film’s release. The book offers much of interest to film historians and readers interested in the Holocaust.
Marek Haltof is a professor at Northern Michigan University. He has published several books in English and Polish on the cultural histories of Central European and Australian film. His recent books include Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema (2015), Polish Film and the Holocaust: Politics and Memory (2012, The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski: Variations on Destiny and Chance (2004), and Polish National Cinema (2002).