top of page
  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

The Zone of Interest:”Evil lives here”


a Nazi officer in a uniform with medals and an iron cross with a head shaved on the side sitting in a chair with his hand on his chin and mouthwash eyes looking down in contemplation

A picture of an idyllic life might involve children laughing as they swim in a river that flows through a woodland glade, a woman cultivating her backyard garden and a man going to his everyday place of work. Those are the images of an idyllic family life in the world of Auschwitz, Poland, circa 1943. It’s everything a family—in particular, the family of a Nazi concentration camp commandant—could want: a steady job for the father, picnics with the children, a swimming pool in the backyard and a gas-fired chamber next door to exterminate millions of Jews.


That is not a glib, uncaring remark.  It is a point blank observation of director Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest (German, Polish & Yiddish languages with subtitles), a movie that directs its aim at the disturbing world depicted in Auschwitz of a family’s life built on a foundation of human bones and ash and the inconvenience of listening to the death screams of human lives.


An idyllic family life


Welcome to the home life of Auschwitz death camp Commandant Höss, his wife Hedwig and their children. The idyllic setting of their family life is adjacent to the Auschwitz mass extermination camps.  Auschwitz was a complex of three camps, including extermination camps.


The area separating these camps from the rest of the world was referred to as the zone of interest, which is where the movie gets its title. It is also a symbolic buffer zone between the absolute monstrosity of the human psyche's capability to enact barbaric cruelty and the realm of what we broadly refer to as the civilised world.


A zone of interest sounds benign. The children swim and cavort during the day while at night, in their beds, they study their collection of human teeth. Hedwig, the children's mother and the wife of the SS commandant of Auschwitz Rudolph Höss, tends her garden across a wall that secludes them from the fading screams of the dying and the towering smokestacks in the distance that spew smoke from the remnants of human lives.

The Höss family are like any other family, only more implicated and complicit in genocide.
a man in a suit without a jacket standing behind an iron garden gate in front of a house in the background and smoking a cigar

Auschwitz Commandant Rudolph Höss: Death's architect


This is the workplace that Commandant Rudolph Höss overseas as he rides on his beloved horse, that he cares more about than the humans in the concentration camp, into the terror that exists beyond the walls of his family home. For Höss, mass extermination of human lives—Jewish lives—is a logistical exercise in the manner of orchestrating the elimination of weeds in a paddock.  He has no emotional attachment or moral misgivings about what he is doing. It’s something he does without any remorse or consideration apart from achieving his goals effectively as part of a day’s work according to his unwavering ideological beliefs.


The functional approach of his goals and his sociopathic vision is demonstrated in the coldest manner possible when he considers how he would “gas” a group of people—fellow Nazis—at a formal event in a grand mansion because of the difficulty of the high ceilings in the building.  It’s just another problem to be solved.


“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

The Zone of Interest will make your skin crawl because of the feeling that genocide based on ideological hatred is handled and treated as if it’s an article in Good Housekeeping magazine with a sealed section on human extermination. The depiction of events, the mass extermination of Jews and the heartless characters at the centre of the mass murders are treated as cold, brutal, lacking in emotion, inhuman and utterly ordinary. The commandant’s family’s behaviours appear all the more horrific and immoral because they are innocuous. It is the horror of what is heard but unseen. It is all the more sinister because it is mundane. The sound design underscores the horror of it all. The movie grinds away at your eyes.


Note: The screen for the first minutes of the film is black with only the sounds of the death camps heard on the soundtrack. Do not think the film is broken. The director is emphasising the horrific nature of the sounds that accompany death.


A day in the life and death of a concentration camp


The family life depicted is hideous and unforgiving yet the entire movie never shows the horror of the human extermination.  It is represented by smoke from furnaces, and the possessions acquired by Hedwig, such as a fur coat and jewellery, from the dead of Auschwitz; the children’s collection of teeth; and the constant imagery of cleansing, from shining the commandant’s boots to scrubbing the children’s skin when covered in ash from the smokestacks and the immaculate house. 


Planning the inconceivable and unimaginable genocide


They hide behind the symbols, such as the Nazi swastika, the SS skull and crossbones emblem on uniforms and Höss’s severe haircut, that are abundant but unspoken throughout the movie. They shield themselves from the horrors of Auschwitz behind the wall that separates them from the barracks and death chambers next to their domestic dwellings.


The only glimmer of humanity left in the family is when Hedwig’s mother leaves the family home because she cannot unhear the constant screams of the dying and the churning sound of the furnaces.


Höss, Hedwig and their children live their lives like gentry of the land without consequences of what occurs a few meters beyond their dwellings.  Hedwig at one stage refers to the life they have forged at Auschwitz and their positions there as “settler farmers”. Except that Höss has forged the furnaces of Hell at Auschwitz. They become immune to the inconvenient screams of terror and the unrelenting sound of the furnaces of Hades that predicate their lives on a foundation of human bones and ash.


Official Trailer The Zone of Interest

All Photos and Trailer © 2024 A24 Films


 

Irish statesman Edmund Burke is often misquoted as having said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” while British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”


 

movie poster for zone of interest with a blurred photo in the centre, the director's name under the photo and  the title of the film in the bottom third


Although it’s based on historical events, The Zone of Interest is an echo from the past that forebodes the present and the future. The deplorable cruelty of Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Stalin from earlier historical eras to the current wars and human carnage in Ukraine and Gaza have been and still are enacted in the savagery of the shadow of the events depicted in The Zone of Interest. For that reason, it is essential, yet harrowing, viewing.


Academy Awards (Oscars) 2024

Winner: Best International Feature Film

Winner: Best Sound






FILM EXTRAS: Evil lives here

A Reminder and Gentle Advice

The films in the LINK below from the Holocaust Museum Houston are directly about matters related to the Holocaust.  They vary from classics such as Louis Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) and Agnieszka Holland’s Europa, Europa (1990) to productions such as Life Is Beautiful (1997), Schindler’s List (1993) and The Pianist (2003).


Please be aware that these films may cause you distress.

They are intended, as it is stated in the vision and mission statements of the Holocaust Museum Houston, “to transform ignorance into respect for human life” and “ teach the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy”. You may wish to read only a summary of the movies to inform yourself about how filmmakers approach the Holocaust.  Their approaches vary from an examination of the planners and perpetrators to the victims of the genocide.  Each film listing also is accompanied by a video trailer.



LINKS









Commentaires


bottom of page