Reviewed by: David Stanners

There's no getting away from the obvious: Nazi concentration camps are a bleak and depressing subject. Yet they are a fundamental part of 20th century history and countless historical documentaries have paid tribute to their indelible imprint.

Director Rex Bloomstein is a veteran on the subject, and has a creditable CV in issues relating to the Nazi period.  For the purposes of his latest documentary KZ, his focus shifts away from highly documented concentration camps such Auschwitz, Dauchau or Birkenau, to Mauthausen, an Austrian camp populated less by Jews than by Poles and Russians. The black irony of this camp is brought to life by its current inhabitants, many of who live and socialise upon a "quarry of death". Starting with a group of school kids on a trip, we meet one of the tour guides at Mauthausen, a tall, morose, thin, shaven-headed twentysomething who delivers his introduction to the camp in clinical fashion.  We later learn his grandfather was in the SS, and that he is doing the job as a substitute for military service, and feels strongly about making the young aware of tragedies that should never be repeated.

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Holding no bars in his depiction of the treatment of prisoners, it proves too much for one girl, who faints on the premises. Another tour guide has been obsessed with the camp for years and concedes his slide towards alcoholism. Taking his work home with him, he often argues with his wife, unable to escape the all-pervading stench of the history of the town. His tours are delivered with incredible compassion, some dark humour and restrained emotion. Branching out into the local area, he is astounded by the boozing and the parties that go on at the local tavern, built virtually on the site of one of the camps. The black irony of the situation is laid bare for all to see. Bloomstein makes no moral judgement on this as such, viewing both sides of the coin. While for some it is reprehensible to be dancing and singing next to a site of mass murder; for others life goes on as normal. Various interviews are conducted with locals from Mauthausen. One young couple living in the area have virtually washed their hands of the Nazi era appearing nonchalant about the past while half-heartedly hoping "nothing bad happened" where they live.

One of the most revealing interviews comes from an elderly lady who married an SS officer in Mauthausen. Knowing nothing of the death surrounding her, and the crimes of which her husband was an integral part of, her elderly peers are shocked as they mull over the stench of the thousands of burning bodies and the "horrid acts of inhumanity" committed virtually on their doorsteps. There is some good camera work here, too. Lots of still shots, and panning over young children invokes a powerful feeling, particularly as there is talk of the death of hundreds of children as well as adults. Close ups of the ovens (for want of a better word) where people were burnt alive, are truly shocking, and regardless of how many times we see the effects of the Nazi blood bath, it is forever potent in the imagination. It is clear Bloomstein feels passionate about the future. In a world where genocide and torture still pervade, its easy to dismiss education, but clearly this is Bloomstein's key to a better future. While there is no obvious answers provided, Bloomstein offers a wide ranging perspective ranging from awkwardness and ignorance to disgust and obsession with what happened.  KZ is well balanced, and thought provoking, if at times a bit dry.

Reviewed on: 20 Oct 2006
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Exploration of the dark ironies surrounding Austria's Mauthausen concentration camp.
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Director: Rex Bloomstein

Year: 2006

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK

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