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The Man Who Saw Too Much, BBC One review – death camp in the clouds | reviews, news & interviews

The Man Who Saw Too Much, BBC One review – death camp in the clouds

The Man Who Saw Too Much, BBC One review – death camp in the clouds

Holocaust survivor documents his experiences as a prisoner and salvaged writer

Boris Pahor, young and old

Boris Pahor is the oldest known survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. In this program, the 106-year-old recounts his experiences as a political refugee and prisoner to the Nazis during their rule in his native Slovenia. As a study of one individual, The Man Who Saw Too Much is a graceful attempt to itemise the totality of the Holocaust by viewing it through an especially enlightening lens.

Pahor was captive at the Natzweiler camp, which was a comparatively small concentration camp located in the Vosges mountains in Alsace. Its site was chosen because of its proximity to a granite quarry which contained the kind of pink-coloured stone that Hitler preferred for his palatial interiors. The site was also converted from a luxury ski resort, emblematic of the cruel fate-twists the Nazis were capable of engineering. To Pahor it resembled “a doomed Mexican ruin”, referring to the tiered steps that ran up the steep hill of the camp. Pahor and other inmates were forced to trek up and down, often carrying heaving sacks of stone. When Pahor returns to the camp as part of this program, he shudders at the large tourist groups, shocked by their indifference as well as the image they resemble.

The Man Who Saw Too MuchThrough spoken readings from Pahor’s published writing, we are given an extremely close insight to his experiences. Natzweiler was a small camp in comparison with the mechanised extermination camps of Auschwitz and Sobibor. As a result, prisoners were involved much more directly in the killing machine. Pahor recounts the use of specially designed pliers, which clamped around the necks of bodies to allow their easy removal from gas chambers. The prisoners were forced to drag the emaciated bodies of their fellow inmates from chamber to burner. “It would be interesting to get to know the man who designed those pliers”, Pahor says, with the trademark understatement, or numbness, that flows through his style.

This program is as much the study of a writer as it is of a prisoner. In the autobiographical book Necropolis, published in 1967, Pahor documents his life during the war. His prose is unembellished and graceful, the soft record of an experience of memory and the warped aesthetic of horror. In his present home overlooking the Gulf of Trieste, Pahor sits next to his Remington typewriter beneath shelves of books. Writing, he suggests, affords no consolation but it does offer understanding. For us, his writing is both evidence and moving art.

The tapered and focused view taken in The Man Who Saw Too Much is a rewarding shift from the more bombastic, broad-view Holocaust documentaries that tend to dominate the TV market. It is about one man and the nuanced way that he turned a way of remembering into a way of seeing, and writing.

This program is as much the study of a writer as it is of a prisoner

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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