The Zone of Interest, Auschwitz, and Ark Encounter (2024)

by William Trollinger

The Zone of Interest will be on my mind for a long, long time. This powerfully disturbing film about the Holocaust (perhaps the best I have seen) vividly evokes Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil” (which she coined in Eichmann in Jerusalem).

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, this 2023 film – which won an Oscar as Best International Feature Film – is a historical drama that is based on a true story, and that is a loose adaptation of Martin Amis’ 2014 novel of the same name. At the center of the film is the Höss family: Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss (played by Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (played by Sandra Hüller), and five children. Their residence? “The Zone of Interest,” right next door to the death camp.

Remarkably for a movie about the Holocaust, this film only takes viewers inside the camp once, and we do not see any of the atrocities committed therein. Instead, The Zone of Interest begins with the Höss family luxuriously picnicking by a lake in the summer sunshine. At dark they return to their lovely two-story villa. On the grounds of their estate is a beautiful greenhouse filled with plants, a huge garden, and an adorable little in-ground swimming pool (where we see the children happily splashing). Throughout the film we see various spreads of delicious-looking food, arranged on tables inside and outside the house. Add to all of this numerous shots of beautiful flowers and lots of bird songs in the background.

When Hedwig’s mom comes for a visit, she is blown away by the place: “It is a paradise garden. . . . you have really landed on your feet, my child.” But of course, this “paradise” is adjacent to Auschwitz. And along with the bird songs, we sometimes hear other sounds, including shouts and screams and gunshots (it’s for good reason that The Zone of Interest also received an Oscar for Best Sound). And in the visual background we see the walls around the camp, the security tower, the barbed wire at the top of the walls, and the cremation chimneys, sometimes with fiery smoke emanating forth; at one point the designers of the crematoria meet with Höss to explain how the chimneys successfully alternate burning and cooling (the commandant is duly and coolly impressed). A pile of clothes is brought to the house for the Höss family: Hedwig is particularly thrilled with a fur coat (that needs a little mending), and it takes a few seconds to realize that this coat and the other clothes were taken from Jewish prisoners as they were heading to the gas chambers.

The film’s dramatic “high point” comes when Rudolf informs his wife that he is being transferred from Auschwitz to a new position elsewhere. Hedwig is absolutely furious, and informs Rudolf that while he can go, she and the children are not leaving their house. Why? Because, as she puts it, “this is the life we have always dreamed of living.”

Banality of evil, indeed.

While I was watching this incredible film, I confess that I could not stop thinking about the striking similarities between the Höss family/house in the “Zone of Interest,” and Noah’s family/boat at Ark Encounter.

For those of you who don’t know, Answer in Genesis’ (AiG’s) Ark Encounter is located along I-75 near Williamstown, Kentucky. Featuring a giant replica of what is supposed to be Noah’s Ark, this fundamentalist tourist site commemorates/celebrates the biblical flood that – according to AiG – was an actual global flood that killed all but eight human beings on the planet: Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives.

Taking “artistic license” to a whole new level (as very, very little of this in the Bible), placards accompanying the dioramas of Noah family’s invent personalities and skills for the three sons, and names, personalities, and skills for the sons’ wives. Most striking is the plushness of the living quarters, which include a library, large kitchen, and lots and lots of delicious-looking food.

Life for these eight individuals is very good indeed – a paradise, as it were. And while the Noah family is blissfully reading, making music, creating artwork, eating, and so forth, what is going on outside the boat? Well, according to Ark Encounter, up to twenty billion (!) people were drowning. This includes folks with various disabilities as well as toddlers, infants, newborns, and the unborn. Regarding the latter, it is estimated that at any one time 2% of women are pregnant. So if there were 20 billion people who were drowned, 10 billion of whom were women, then — given that some of the women would be too young to be pregnant — let’s say that (according to Ark logic) 150 million unborn drowned in the Flood — just on the other side of the exterior walls of the Ark.

But like the Höss family, the Noah family is blissfully unconcerned with the horrors of this divine genocide. According to Ark Encounter, the only person on the boat who expresses the slightest concern about the divine slaughter is Japheth’s wife, Rayneh. But according to the placards, her concerns are placated by the fact that since God “gave life, He has the right to take life,” and that all human beings “deserve death and judgment.”

Questions answered! Twenty billion dead – so be it! Meanwhile, Noah cheerily asks his wife (Emzara), “Is dinner ready?”

In contrast with The Zone of Interest, Ark Encounter is quite blatant in encouraging visitors to identify with the comfortably content, albeit morally vacuous (to understate the case), Noah family. Inside the walls of the Ark, visitors can happily and smugly enjoy that they too are safe. To make this point unmistakably obvious, Ark Encounter has positioned a “keepsake photo” placard near the door that they assert God shut and locked before the waters rose, before – to say it again – up to twenty billion people were drowned.

Smile for the camera!

Note: See also The Commandant’s Shadow, a documentary about Höss’ son and grandson and an Auschwitz survivor.

Related

  1. Paul Bratermanon June 11, 2024 at 9:15 am

    No comment possible. Shared on Facebook, X

    Reply

  2. Sherry Konkuson June 11, 2024 at 7:53 pm

    The only difference between the film and the “park” is that the film is based on an actual event that took place 80 years ago during the days of the Third Reich. The “park” OTOH is pure 100% fantasy, entirely made up without any bases of biblical, scientific, and historical truth and facts found in any nook and cranny of this unrealistic dump.

    That is all.

    Reply

    • rightngamericaon June 12, 2024 at 9:28 am

      Thanks, Sherry. And there’s no question that many folks walk out of Ark Encounter thinking that what’s there is found in the Bible. Which I suspect is what Answers in Genesis wants.

      Reply

      • Sherry Konkuson June 12, 2024 at 12:29 pm

        And those who think that either only read just cherry-picked verses that suits them or never really read the Bible at all.

        Reply

  3. Matt Youngon June 12, 2024 at 5:21 pm

    Thank you very much for the splendid article, which I have linked to on The Panda’s Thumb. I think, though, that your calculation is in error. 2% of women are pregnant at any one time, not 2% of the entire population. Females are roughly half the population. Not all females are grown women, though I dare say that at the time of Noah there would have been relatively few post-menopausal women. Let us say then that half of all women are fertile, and 2% of them are pregnant. If I have been keeping track, that makes it 4 times less than your value, or 100 million unborn children. I am, of course, ignoring the fact that the earth could never have supported 20 billion people. The whole Ark Park thing is a fantasy.

    Reply

    • rightngamericaon June 12, 2024 at 8:58 pm

      Thanks Matt — you are absolutely correct that the math needs correcting. So as to not get lost in the weeds — especially given how absurd this is — I am just going to go with 150 million unborn dead. But thanks much for the heads up, and glad you like the piece.

      Reply

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The Zone of Interest, Auschwitz, and Ark Encounter (2024)

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