Watching Zone of Interest as all around came desperate pleas — from Gaza

Rashmee Roshan Lall
2 min readFeb 14, 2024

I’ve just watched The Zone of Interest, Jonathan Glazer’s film about the humdrum and happy lives of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, his wife Hedwig, their five children, and the dog.

The family is secure within the bosom of a busy home, their blooming garden offering hours of repose, play and delight, the rural countryside all around providing much to occupy — there is the river, there is quiet, there is the chance to identify bird calls.

But the Höss family’s garden, of course, shares a wall with the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.

Every morning, the commandant kisses wife and children good bye and walks the short distance to his grisly task — executing Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ to the Jewish problem by gassing vast numbers of people who’re delivered to the concentration camp in order to exterminate a whole race. Some of the ashes are stirred into the earth, presumably to fertilise the Höss garden.

Every day, Hedwig, mistress of the house, orders around Auschwitz prisoners detailed to serve the commandant’s residence in various menial capacities. She bullies a local Polish housemaid, warning that should Hedwig wish it, Rudolf could ensure the maid’s ashes are scattered across the beach. Hedwig regularly receives packages, and they “ aren’t from Amazon “, in the words of perky US National Public Radio journalist Scott Simon as he interviewed Sandra Hüller who plays the commandant’s wife in the film. In fact, they are clothes and items that belonged to the people who were killed or are soon to be killed in Auschwitz, next door. These people’s things were taken away from them and distributed among the German elite that ensured their efficient destruction and Höss is generally regarded as among the most efficient of Hitler’s henchmen. He created an effective system that moved people through to their deaths without hold-ups and blockages. During his time in charge of Auschwitz, the camp accounted for the deaths of, by his own admission, 2.5 million people. After the war, he was confronted with the numbers and accused of murdering 3.5 million, but Höss was a stickler for accuracy. No, no, he said, a million of those died from disease and starvation.

But the main point, as film writer and director Jonathan Glazer has said, in an interview to The Telegraph, was to try and “humanise” the Hösses. By this, he hoped to make the viewer realise their similarity to the perpetrators, not to the victims.

This struck home very forcefully in the darkened, mostly full cinema hall in London, as we watched the film, while all around us on the news channels came the desperate pleas of people being killed, maimed, starved, dispossessed — in Gaza.

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Rashmee Roshan Lall

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Writer. My novel 'Pomegranate Peace' is about my year in Afghanistan. I teach journalism at university in London