The Making of the Genocidal Mind

The genocidal mind is not the preserve of cartoon monsters in history books. It is a collusion of psychological habits groomed and grown in people like us when we fixate on our private gardens.

Sophie Monks Kaufman is a writer, film-industry factotum and mixed bag of expressive impulses based in London.

Jonathan Glazer says that he did not want to make The Zone of Interest. The tone of the film is coloured by the revulsion of a filmmaker recoiling from his subject.

An overwhelming grief for the victims of the Holocaust comes through in the atmosphere. This mood is at odds with the behaviour of the family at the centre of the film who are preoccupied with building a dream life.

Commandant Rudolf Höss and wife Hedwig are pleased as punch. They have five cornfed children with lebensraum and a private garden overabundant with flowers and vegetables. They have a steady influx of new goods: dresses, a fur coat, gold teeth.

On the other side of their garden wall, beyond the barbed wire, is the death camp Auschwitz. Nearly one million Jews and more than 110,000 Roma, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war were murdered here between 1940 and 1945. The film never goes over to the other side of the wall. But the sound design expresses what is happening. There are overpowering moments where the screen fills with colour and Mica Levi’s composition cries out for a humanity that the protagonists have denied. Real screams were included in the film’s score.

Glazer is Jewish and had thought for years about making a Holocaust film. He did not know how until his producing partner, James Wilson, sent him a proof of Martin Amis’s book The Zone of Interest at the end of 2014. “The book was almost a cover for the subject that I was so frightened of,” said Glazer at a Mayfair Hotel Q&A in London on November 7, 2023. “I used the book to tiptoe into it.”

The book is a fictionalized depiction of the Hösses; however, once Glazer and his closest collaborators researched the real family, they found that “the real people who committed these atrocities were more extraordinary for their ordinariness.”

This chimes with the outlook of Ervin Staub, a professor of psychology, emeritus, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a Holocaust survivor. “The Holocaust has been described as an incomprehensible evil,” he writes in The Roots of Evil. “This view, it seemed to me, romanticized evil and gave it mythic proportions. It discouraged the realistic understanding that is necessary if we are to work effectively for a world without genocides and mass killings and torture.”

In other words: the genocidal mind is not the preserve of cartoon monsters safely tucked away in history books. It is a collusion of psychological habits groomed and grown in people like us when we fixate on our private gardens. It is my purpose to identify the core ones so that we may fight them in ourselves and others. This is only possible for me with help from psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, 80, who has been staring into the abyss for decades, humanity intact.


A darkness has surrounded The Zone of Interest’s release. On the same date as its Cannes world premiere, May 19, 2023, Martin Amis died  As the film relaunched to play New York Film Festival (September 29 – October 15, 2023) and London Film Festival (October 4-15, 2023) many of us began to fear we were watching a genocide unfold over our phones within a febrile atmosphere where speaking publicly on the material reality of Palestinian suffering was liable to have a backlash.

This was particularly eerie because The Zone of Interest has a scope that transcends its setting. It is a forensically researched Auschwitz film with the most grotesque lines of dialogue lifted directly from witness testimonies. Equally—by intent and design—it’s a film about today. The aesthetic is clean and modern; the emotional frequency is raw.

“This is not about the past, it’s about now,” Glazer told The Guardian.


The crime of genocide is not new and has never gone away, although it was not coined as a term until ​​Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin did so in 1944 combining the Greek prefix genos, meaning race or tribe, with the Latin suffix cide, meaning killing. After the Holocaust, the international community enshrined a legal framework intended to protect the most vulnerable people in the world. "Never again," said prisoners liberated from Buchenwald. The UN responded in 1948 with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, referred to in short as the Genocide Convention. This forms the basis of how Genocide Watch now issues its tripartite system of alarms: Watch, Warning, and Emergency. On October 15, 2023, a Genocide Emergency was called over Israel and Gaza. On February 4 it was called again. Still, the instruments of international justice have failed Gaza. The illusion that we have learned from the past has crumbled like so many bombed homes.

In 1948, there was also a strong European will to create a Jewish homeland, by using Britain’s interwar mandate of Palestine to found Israel. This built on the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, pledged someone else’s homeland, writing, "His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." The Zionist movement, arising as a response to centuries of persecution, had already seen Jewish émigrés trickling over. Amongst this acceleration, 750,000 Palestinians were violently expelled by British-trained forces in an event known to the victims as the Nakba (the catastrophe). Seventy-five years of escalations in Israeli aggression and failed peace processes later and we have a throbbing asymmetry. Palestine is colonized with no army, no navy and no air force; Israel is the occupier and a world leader in unconstrained, mechanized death and destruction.


I am descended on my father’s side from Jewish socialists. My great-grandfather escaped the pogroms in Poland and settled in East London in 1910. There, in 1936, my teenage grandparents came out to oppose Oswald Mosley’s fascists in what became known as the Battle of Cable Street. Anti-fascism is in my family’s blood. In March 2019 my father spent eleven days in Israel and the West Bank for a trip organized by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). When he returned, he delivered an eyewitness account to the Anjou Lunch Club. Forty of us clustered around a long table at a brasserie in Charlotte Street as he described “the single most harrowing but informative trip of my life.”

“Imagine what it must be like to experience the daily miseries and humiliation of living in an occupied territory,” he said. “Every day you wake up to see growing settlements glowering down from the overlooking hills. The green grass and swimming pools of these areas contrast with the arid conditions of the Palestinian zones.” He recounted the daily life of Palestinians under Israel’s apartheid rules and settler colonialism. At the checkpoints, “Palestinian workers are herded like cattle into metal cages for up to two hours at 5:30 a.m. to have their permits checked as they go through turnstiles and security scanners to travel to work from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.” He described the road system with a “Jews-only road to Hebron which takes minutes to travel. The long round-about Palestinian road takes two hours.” There was the casual destructiveness of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tearing up astroturf on a pitch for villagers in Al-Sira, because they “didn’t have a permit,” and the discovery of a shopkeepers strike in Bethlehem, prompted by the lethal shooting of a Palestinian from an IDF watchtower. The crime? Getting out of his car (apparently in breach of a rule) to help the driver in front whose car had broken down.

My father was invited to lunch by farmers Atta and Rudina Jaber not far out of Hebron. Over the traditional Palestinian dish of maklouba, they told him how, first, 90 percent of their land was appropriated by the occupier. Over the years more land was confiscated as they attempted to scrape a living growing olives. Their home was demolished twice and irrigation pipes torn up. In attempting to defend their farm, Atta, a friendly weatherbeaten farmer, was attacked, badly injured, and arrested. “He looks a very old man,” my father reported, “in fact, he is in his fifties.”

“Once experienced, never forgotten,” he told the room and, as cutlery clanked, a discussion began. One reaction stood out from an elderly lady who introduced herself as a Holocaust survivor. She said, “I’m happy I have only a few more years left because I’m banging my head against a brick wall. Why won’t we learn?”


How to characterize the Hamas massacre in Southern Israel on October 7? How to pay our respects to the lives and hostages taken and the grief and trauma left behind?

Between 700 and 1,200 (press reports vary) were killed and roughly 240 hostages kidnapped on what has become known as Black Saturday.

“How can we publicly grieve the death and suffering of Israelis without these feelings being politically metabolized against Palestinians?” wrote Jewish Currents editor Arielle Angel on October 12, 2023, in a superb, agonized article titled, “We Cannot Cross Until We Carry Each Other.”

Yotam Kipnis, whose parents were both murdered on Black Saturday, disavowed the revving engines of the national war machine, saying, “Do not write my father’s name on a [military] shell.”

All principled humanity fell on deaf ears. At the time of writing, over 30,000 Palestinians have been massacred in Israel’s retaliation, of which so many are children that UNICEF’s James Elder called this “a war on children.” It has been five months of a genocidal bombardment that is unprecedented in the intensity and firepower used on a trapped population. During the supporting ground invasion, the IDF has been recording and broadcasting what look to be an awful lot like war crimes: videos of civilians stripped, blindfolded, and on their knees; videos of soldiers looting civilian homes, eating civilian food, and smoking civilian shisha while the civilians themselves are tied up. This is an army high on the impunity that comes with violating international law for decades without consequence, as detailed in Israel: 50 Years of Occupation Abuses published by Human Rights Watch in 2017.

A video of IDF soldiers singing, “There are no uninvolved civilians,” was included in South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice which accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention. After the case was brought on January 11 and 12, the court deemed plausible the accusation of genocide and ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocide in Gaza by following six provisional measures that—as of March 6—have been fully ignored.

Dutch-Palestinian analyst Mouin Rabbani characterized the ruling like this:

“The late Edward W. Said often spoke of the Palestinian people as ‘the victims of the victims,’ and the difficulties many in the West had conceiving of Israel, which claims to exist as a response to the Holocaust, as a state capable of war crimes and crimes against humanity. No more. Israel is as of today associated with the crime of genocide primarily as perpetrator, not victim. Israel’s policies towards the Palestinian people will henceforth be judged on their own merits rather than against the long shadow of European history. The ICJ today redefined “Never Again.” It is no longer a slogan that can be used by Israel to commit and justify crimes against others, but is now one that applies equally to Israel’s actions, and Palestinian victims.”

Despite this historic moment, those with the power to halt the bloodshed do not believe that to be in their interests. So Israel continues to do what it does with no red lines. On February 10 this year, the decomposing remains of six-year-old Hind Rajab were found, the shattering end to a search that began after her SOS call was broadcast by the Palestine Red Crescent. Trapped in a car with the corpses of murdered relatives, she says, “I’m scared, please come get me”. The ambulance that went to her was targeted and two paramedics killed.

In late October, with carnage well underway, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu proudly described the IDF as “the most moral army in the world”.

How can anyone inflict such punishment and make a claim to morality?


With his soft SoCal accent, Christopher Bollas is a guide to areas of my mind that I do not want to enter. While it’s wrenching to empathize with Gazans, it’s also a humane act of solidarity and in my material reality I am safe to do so. It feels grubbier to grapple with what in our collective psyche has enabled this to happen to a group of people—to happen again. That place inside is very dark, yet, envisioning it is vital if we are to negotiate with the real proponents of genocide. By and large, they are not caricatures of evil, but those, like Rudolf and Hedwig Höss, extraordinary for their ordinariness.

I cite a speech I found particularly disturbing. On October 29, Netanyahu invoked the Amalek, a Biblical term that conjures an evil enemy that is to be destroyed down to the last ox and sheep. Razing any distinction between Hamas and Gaza’s trapped civilian population—half of whom are children, 70 percent of whom are refugees—he continued, “Our hero troops have one supreme main goal: to completely defeat the murderous enemy."

This is terrifying, I say to Bollas.

“Well, it is because it distorts reality,” he agrees, “There is a type of intellectual genocide in which the characteristics of the opponent are turned into monsters. They're turned into evil beings. This is a profound distortion of people. Intellectual genocide not only supports physical genocide, it's a precursive [sic] to it. It's an indication that it is happening.”

The Zone of Interest does not narrativize the political events that led to the Holocaust. It trusts us to bring that knowledge. We are not shown the precursive intellectual genocide. We do not see Joseph Goebbels's propaganda dehumanizing Jews as untermensch through films, newspapers, and speeches with caricatures of blood libel and world domination. We do not watch what Bollas calls their “distortion in the mental life of other people who are hearing you discuss them.” The helpless horror for those glued to images coming out of Gaza was that we were seeing intellectual genocide followed by physical genocide in real time. Israeli propaganda could not make us unsee what journalists in Gaza were publishing: bombed hospitals, dead babies, bodies upon bodies under the rubble. For those inclined to bear witness, it was a simple matter of following people on the ground, and an equally simple matter to trace the collective punishment they were showing to Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant’s October 9 statement: “We are fighting against human animals and will act accordingly.”

Social media photojournalism from Palestinians such as the now evacuated twenty-five-year-old Motaz Azaiza (who has 18.6 million Instagram followers), cut through all the noise with stark images of ordinary people with the world collapsing on top of them and everyone they love. But just because it is now harder for the oppressor’s propaganda to saturate news sources, it doesn’t mean they aren't still going for gold, with invaluable support from allies at the heart of Western democracy. Investigations are starting to come out about the extent of the pro-Israel bias in newsrooms. An exposé of CNN culture by Chris McGreal revealed that Palestinian perspectives were being silenced by policies such as running stories by the Jerusalem bureau, and directives on how the Israeli atrocities in Gaza must be framed. “Ultimately, CNN’s coverage of the Israel-Gaza war amounts to journalistic malpractice,” said one staffer.

Meanwhile, Pulitzer Prize-winning data journalist Mona Chalabi has been highlighting Western media double standards through her own Instagram account. Amongst many highly creative infographics, she represents how Israeli deaths have been disproportionately weighed over Palestinian deaths at The New York Times and the BBC.

“This idea that your work has no impact in the world is incorrect,” she said on the role of journalism on the Longform podcast.

“You can’t wash yourself of the consequences of the work. You have to be considering the consequences while you’re doing it.”

Chalabi understands that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander at times like this. Bystanders—whether individuals or nations—have a crucial role in whether intellectual genocide is enabled to become physical genocide. “Genocide does not result directly. There is usually a progression of actions. Earlier, less harmful acts cause changes in individual perpetrators, bystanders, and the whole group that make more harmful acts possible,” writes Staub in The Roots of Evil. “Active opposition by bystanders can reactivate the perpetrators' moral values and also cause them to be concerned about retaliation.

Using one’s platform to speak on the material reality of the hell that is Gaza today has the potential to yield external shifts and is an amulet against internalizing genocidal propaganda. We are all the heroes of our own lives, and if we do not exercise our humanity in support of a person in peril, we find psychological excuses that make us ideologically complicit in their destruction. As Staub writes, “Even bystanders who do not become perpetrators, if they passively observe as innocent people are victimized, will come to devalue the victims and justify their own passivity.”

How we use and don’t use speech is telling. We can use it meaningfully to advocate for humanity and we can use it tactically to wall off others.


The discord between sound and vision in The Zone of Interest is deeply unsettling. “Jon [Glazer] and I spoke about it being two different films, the one you see and the one you hear,” said sound designer Johnnie Burn at the Mayfair Hotel Q&A. His work is an aural document of the slaughterhouse on the other side of the wall (the gunfire, the shouts) while Mica Levi’s score is an abstracted primal scream.

Burn created a sound library informed by witness testimonies so that the gunshots are sourced from the exact guns the Nazis used. The team experimented with pitching the sound design at different levels, in the end turning it up so high that it feels inexplicable that the Höss family is able to block it out.

“Psychoanalysts would call that splitting, which means what it sounds like,” says Bollas. “You divide up your perception. So you take the unwanted object of perception, the concentration camp, you split it off and it's not there anymore. Now that's called negative hallucination. What you're looking at with that couple is negative hallucination operating in relation to the camp.” In his essay "The Fascist State of Mind,” Bollas also cites something called omittive genocide: “Absence of reference: This is an act of omission, when the life, work, or culture of an individual or group is intentionally not referred to.”

Omittive genocide is a common feature amongst seemingly ordinary people who are ideologically complicit in the destruction of Palestine. The fanatics and fundamentalists who tell us straight that all Palestinians deserve to die are chilling, but honest. We see them blocking aid trucks and encouraging the IDF. The 95-year-old reservist Ezra Yachin told troops in October: “Be triumphant and finish them off and don’t leave anyone behind. Erase the memory of them. Erase them, their families, mothers and children. These animals can no longer live.”

Individuals who present as rational liberals as they shrug off the Palestinian right to life are even more dangerous because they give a cover of respectability and a sense of inevitability to genocidal actions. Israel-based author and academic, Yossi Klein Halevi, was presented as the calm voice of the nation on Ezra Klein’s podcast episode, What Israelis Fear The World Does Not Understand. Halevi is historically knowledgeable, articulate, self-aware, and conscious of the different narratives in the ether. So when he expresses an attachment to Israel’s scorched-earth approach to Gaza, it has the ring of—not genocidal apologia but—a grim and intractable truth.

For his part, Klein does not take the opportunity to challenge this worldview. He nods along. He feels for his guest. In “The Fascist State of Mind,” Christopher Bollas cautions against placating the dangerous things people say. “When we excuse the destructive behaviour of anyone by citing their humanity, we commit a crime against the function of humanity.”

Halevi, by his own admission, has entered survival mode, which is not a mode in which any of us can access our conscience. Per Bollas, “‘When we are threatened, to refer back to Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape, we can become primates again. I call that acute phylogenetic regression. Acute phylogenetic regression means what it sounds like. It's a moment in which, all of a sudden, we abandon higher-level functioning, no conscience, no empathy. We're not reasoning. We're not engaging in differentiated listening to the other person. They are now our enemy and we're objectifying them as such. When we get rid of higher-level functioning, we're capable of killing. We train millions of people in all our societies to go into a kind of phylogenetic regression. It's very common. What's not common is our discussion of it.”

It is the task of humanity to bolster, develop, and encourage others to operate according to a different standard. “The single most important part of the mind that operates in higher functioning is the conscience,” says Bollas. “We have a conscience so we can stop ourselves. We don't even have to stop in the midst of action, we would simply preempt a possible action because it wouldn't occur to us to commit harm when we are operating according to higher-level functioning.”

The rights we grant each other to exist is a foundational human right and the premise of the case that South Africa brought to the ICJ. “Palestinians in Gaza … simply but profoundly are entitled to exist,” said barrister Max Du Plessis. But, as Halevi says, the Zionist battle with the world is existential. Even mentioning Palestine can be a provocation to those who cleave to the myth of Israel as the only possible Jewish sanctuary.

Internal dissent is treated brutally. “I hope your daughter dies!” shouted a nationalist at the father of a Hamas hostage who, in November, had joined other families to protest the government’s failure to bring home their loved ones. Yuval Abraham, an Israeli journalist, won an award at Berlinale which he collected with one of his Palestinian co-directors, Basel Adra, for their documentary No Other Land. Yuval used his acceptance speech to call for “equality between Israelis and Palestinians, a ceasefire and an end to apartheid.” He has since had to deal with death threats and a right-wing mob coming to his family home after the festival absurdly called his speech “antisemitic.”

The truth that standing behind Israel’s war means standing on the broken bodies of Palestinians threatens a hugely emotive fantasy. Propaganda tries to convince us that this fantasy matters more than any number of real Palestinian deaths.


There is blood-soaked complicity from all the Western powers who have shielded Israel from accountability, avoided calling for a ceasefire, and cut aid funding at a time of dire need. Yet, there is a special place in hell for the US administration—the only power that could unilaterally halt the genocide—which has instead ramped up its decades-long policy of aiding and abetting. A non-exhaustive list of examples includes: passing a Congress resolution to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, vetoing three UN resolutions calling for a ceasefire, and bypassing the US Congress to rush $147.5 million of military aid to Israel.

The living conditions in Rafah where 1.4 million internal refugees are herded and trapped are unthinkable. The IDF and the Israeli citizens blocking aid are inducing famine, deadly diseases, and physical degradation, all while launching missiles from the air, sea, and land.

“Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” forms part of the definition of genocide under Article II of The Genocide Convention. Let us remember that many Jews perished not in the crematoria, but from the conditions of camps where starvation, disease, and dehumanization were standard. In Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes that he always knew when a camp member had given up because they began smoking the cigarettes they usually traded for food.


“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus—and you've got to make it stop!”

We have a new image for activist Mario Savio's description of giving your whole body.

On Sunday, February 25, Aaron Bushnell, a twenty-five-year-old active duty member of the US Air Force livestreamed himself walking up to the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. What he did next echoed what Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc did in 1963 to protest another US-backed atrocity, the Vietnam War.

Bushnell, in full US military fatigues, spoke in a calm and lucid voice as he approached the Israeli embassy. He said, “I can no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest—but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers it is not extreme at all. This is what our ruling classes have decided will be normal.”

When he reached the embassy, he set himself on fire and shouted, “Free Palestine!”

The screen turns red and Mica Levi’s shrieking score fills the senses. The horror cuts through so much numbing, routine splitting.


There is one scene in The Zone of Interest where the humanity of the victim is all-engulfing. To the sound of belches of fear, black-and-white footage shot on a thermal imaging camera shows a young Polish girl risking her life to cycle to the camp at night. She leaves apples for the prisoners to find behind their work spades. Behind one spade is a poem inside a tin. It is Sunbeams by a real Auschwitz survivor Joseph Wulf. The girl takes the tin and the poem’s lyrics are revealed later in subtitles over a simple, haunting piano tune. Souls afire / like the blazing sun / tearing, breaking / through their pain.

It is devastating and pure to receive a message directly from the victim and represents a rupture with the murderous protagonists with whom we are aligned. The basic feelings of love and goodness and solidarity are given oxygen. We receive Sunbeams from Gaza with every direct appeal, like when children gave a press conference outside Al Shifa hospital on November 8, calling on the world to save them: “We want to live as the other children live.”


The Zone of Interest has been released into cinemas, met with five-star reviews and five Oscar nominations, amongst them Best Picture and Best Director. Glazer is looking like the man of the moment. Awards have begun to roll in from the Critics Circle and BAFTA. Mica Levi has called for a ceasefire. Producer James Wilson has mentioned selective empathy. Glazer thanks his wife a lot.

"What’s the point of making The Zone of Interest if Jonathan Glazer won’t call for a ceasefire?" an Instagram friend wrote. I have gone backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards on whether I agree.


“The director is a genius. The film was flawless,” Christopher Bollas emails after he sees The Zone of Interest. When we speak again he says that it reminded him of the walled garden in the middle ages when the roads outside were so dangerous. “The garden, which is the visual exemplar of tranquillity and nurturance, of beneficence and provision, juxtaposed to death staring you in the face would be like being in a medieval walled garden. It felt to me like a struggle going on in all of us for centuries. How do we survive our criminality? How do we survive the butchery? How do we manage to walk on the road safely, without being murdered or turning into a killer? How do we negotiate the pathways of life?”

He was struck by how, for the majority of the film, the Hösses’ maintain a detachment from what is happening on the other side of the wall and move around free from anxiety or guilt. However, when Rudolf takes his children out of the garden and down to the river, the bucolic scene is interrupted when he puts his arm into the water and pulls out a bone. “The illusion is broken,” says Bollas, “This is not Arcadia. This is a zone of interest. This zone where they're killing people. It's a death camp. He sees it at that moment. You go outside of your artificially constructed garden into the world where you can't control everything and you find a bone because you've killed a million and a half people in one year. The inmates can't really escape, but their bones will arrive.”

Their bones will arrive.


I go home to my father and he shows me a manuscript by Feygl Infeld Glaser, my grandfather’s cousin who died a few years ago. Feygl was born in Lodz in 1929: “Where my cradle stood, I spent my pleasant early childhood”. After the Nazi occupation turned Lodz into a ghetto, her mum, dad, and two elder brothers perished. She went on to survive deportation to Auschwitz, then Stutthof, and, finally, a cattle boat voyage on which live humans were thrown into the sea. She writes about being greeted at Stutthof by skeletal humans referred to as “klepsidres—'Death Announcements,’ a camp expression to describe a person with one foot in the grave (Yiddish).”

Klepsidres comes to mind when I see Anhar Saqr Al-Shanbari, the toddler who starved to death in Northern Gaza on February 27. If only the appropriate alarm had followed this statement of intent on October 9 by defence minister Gallant. He told us: “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel.”  On February 26, MAP’s Melanie Ward told ITV News that “Children are starving at the fastest rate the world has ever known,” in a report titled, "'I wish death for the children': Father's emotional plea as starvation fears grow in Gaza."

This does not move elected officials in the UK, US, and Germany to call for a ceasefire or to insist on a deluge of humanitarian aid. A certain amount of splitting is normal and essential for us to function, says Bollas, “but if it's used to licence and to promote and to develop genocide, then we are using something we're perfectly capable of to nefarious effect and with nefarious intent.”

Staub writes in The Roots of Evil about how courage is contagious, citing the case of Pastor Andre Trocme in Vichy France who saved the lives of several thousand Jews. His efforts moved the local police and military to send anonymous tips of planned raids, enabling refugees to escape. Staub urges us to act in service of the living of our times, saying, “Historical hindsight about steps along the continuum of destruction is not enough… We must not allow small evil to pass until great evil triumphs.”

Holocaust survivors did not set down their ordeals for us to keep our heads down now. Indeed we have been guilty of not listening to them. The author of Sunbeams, Joseph Wulf, jumped out of a window to his death in 1974, despairing over the lack of interest in his life’s work of bringing Nazi war crimes to light. We cannot be nihilistic. We must cherish the chance to live up to our responsibilities to each other, which are rooted in love and dignity and hope. There are people full of life in Gaza who will be wiped out if the bombardment and siege are enabled to continue. The difference between Gaza and every past atrocity is this is happening now…  now… and now. It is a betrayal of humanity to assume a death before its fact. Millions of fates are not yet sealed.


The Zone of Interest ends with a flash-forward to the present-day Auschwitz museum, bookended by a scene of Rudolf Höss, footsteps echoing down an empty stairwell, and suddenly jackknifing forwards to retch up nothing but soul sickness. When the rubble has been cleared from Gaza, when all the bodies are buried and their memorials raised in grief-filled buildings, which character will the unforgiving light of history reveal you to be?



On Sunday 10 March at 5.24pm PST, Jonathan Glazer stood on stage at Hollywood Boulevard’s Dolby Theatre with producer James Wilson and financial backer Leonard Blavatnik. The Zone of Interest had just made history as the first British film to win the Best International Feature Oscar. Glazer, shaking a little, produced a sheet of paper – “Thank you so much, I’m gonna read I’m afraid,” he said. After he made his way through the thanks yous, he reached the meat of what he had steeled himself to say:

"All our choices were made to reflect and confront our present. Not to say: Look what they did then. Rather: Look what we do now. Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst. It’s shaped all of our past and present. Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza – all of the victims of dehumanization. How do we resist? Aleksandra Bystroń-Kołodziejczy, the girl who glows in the film as she did in life, chose to. I dedicate this to her memory and her resistance."

Sophie Monks Kaufman is a writer, film-industry factotum and mixed bag of expressive impulses based in London.