The German word “zeitgeist” denotes the spirit of an era and could easily apply to Nazi Germany’s genocidal project to exterminate European Jews during the Holocaust. In just six short years, from 1939 to 1945, the deranged leaders of what had been a cultured and civilized country embarked on an unprecedented campaign of ethnic cleansing and mass murder.
The effects of the Holocaust have yet to wear off, though neo-Nazis and their fellow travellers strive mightily to minimize it or deny that it ever even happened. For better or worse, the Holocaust impinges on survivors and their children, summoning up images of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and death marches
Judging by their 25-minute black-and-white short, Zeitgeist, which is now being presented online by the Toronto Jewish Film Foundation, the Israeli filmmakers Navot Papushado and Guy Raz have been profoundly affected by the Holocaust.
Shot while they were students at the Tel Aviv University Film School, Zeitgeist unfolds starkly over the course of a day as a nameless young couple empty an abandoned house of its possessions and load them into a car.
Having found spools of film in small bottles, a man stumbles upon a camera embossed with a swastika. The woman finds an old photograph of herself and an elderly man, her late grandfather.
They drive to a railway platform bereft of travellers or trains. To his surprise, the camera is still in good working condition as he snaps photographs of her. She fiddles with the camera, too. Much to her astonishment, a strange and hazy image appears in the viewfinder.
The atmosphere conveyed by these scenes is bleak, eerie and spooky. Is she imagining things? What exactly is going on here? Whatever it is, a viewer’s interest is whetted.
Consumed by curiosity, he takes the camera. What he sees is nothing short of amazing.
She also looks into the viewfinder. Bewilderingly enough, identical images appear, prompting her to throw the camera out of the car window in disgust as they drive away.
Their descent into the dark and horrific past has just begun.
Driving on, they’re exposed to a succession of related but sharper images redolent of the Holocaust.
Are they both freaking out? Are they obsessive?
Papushado and Raz leave these questions unanswered, but what remains clear, as far as they’re concerned, is that the memory of the Holocaust still burns brightly after all these decades. The Holocaust, far from being a forgettable atrocity in the annals of cruelty, is a shattering event that traumatized a people and defined a nation and an epoch.