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... he was utterly appalled by "the real thing."
January 8, 2014 7:21 AM   Subscribe

"In 1945, Hitchcock had been enlisted by his friend and patron Sidney Bernstein to help with a documentary on German wartime atrocities, based on the footage of the camps shot by British and Soviet film units. In the event, that documentary was never seen." A truncated version of Alfred Hitchcock's Holocaust documentary was aired on Frontline in 1985 under the name "Memory of the Camps" (YouTube mirror), but now the restoration work on the film is nearly complete and set to be released later this year. The film is "much more candid" than other documentaries, and Hitchcock himself was reported to have been so disturbed during production that he stayed away from his studio for a week. (Given the subject matter, disturbing content throughout.)

The editors Stewart McAllister (famous for his work with Humphrey Jennings) and Peter Tanner, working under advice from Hitchcock, fashioned an immensely powerful and moving film from the hours and hours of grim material at their disposal. The documentary isn't all about death. We also see imagery of reconstruction and reconciliation. There is footage of camp inmates having their first showers and cleaning their clothes. The film-makers show the painstaking way that typhus was eradicated from the camps.

Haggith speak of the "brilliance" of the original cameramen at the camps, who were working without direction but still had an uncanny knack for homing in on the most poignant and telling images.

"It's both an alienating film in terms of its subject matter but also one that has a deep humanity and empathy about it," Haggith suggests. "Rather than coming away feeling totally depressed and beaten, there are elements of hope."
posted by jbickers (39 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite

 
A few thoughts:

1) Man, "Favorite" seems like the wrong verb for how I feel about this.
2) Remember when The History Channel might have shown something like this?
3) In America, we're almost to the point where WW2 is as far from current day as the Civil War was from WW2.
posted by DigDoug at 7:31 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


2) Remember when The History Channel might have shown something like this?

Aliens: The Real Enemy isn't history enough for ya?

Also: this is awesome. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Mezentian at 7:33 AM on January 8


Small tangent, but according to the Independent: Adolf Hitler’s fascist manifesto Mein Kampf has shot to the top of ebook bestsellers charts – reportedly “following a similar trend” to that of 50 Shades of Grey and other romance novels.

I tried reading Mein Kampf in high school (I forget if school had it, a friend had it or I checked it out from the local library) and it was not good reading.
posted by Mezentian at 7:47 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


I suppose this is one film in which Hitchcock will not be making a cameo appearance.
posted by three blind mice at 7:52 AM on January 8


I made the FRONTLINE digital copy and put it up a few years ago. I hadn't seen the film prior to that, and I felt dead inside for a couple days after watching it. It's one of the most powerful things I've ever watched. Thanks for sharing it with a wider audience.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:07 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


I tried reading Mein Kampf in high school (I forget if school had it, a friend had it or I checked it out from the local library) and it was not good reading.

I read my grandfather's copy which had lots of underlining and annotations like 'good point!'. It still sends a chill up my spine to even think about that weird peek into my grandpapa's head.
posted by srboisvert at 8:09 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]


I read my grandfather's copy which had lots of underlining and annotations like 'good point!'. It still sends a chill up my spine to even think about that weird peek into my grandpapa's head.

That's something I try to remember when I sit and wonder how so many people can sit and swallow the latest nonsense the screaming heads on the 24-hour news networks are dispensing. Until we got dragged into the war kicking and screaming and saw it with our own eyes and had a stake in it, this was how many average Americans thought.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:20 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


It's why the higher-ups demanded so much photo documentation of the camps - most of us back home would have loved to believe that it hadn't really been so bad.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:21 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


It still sends a chill up my spine to even think about that weird peek into my grandpapa's head.

It was a different time. The world was smaller then.
Although, he wrote in a book. The fiend.
posted by Mezentian at 8:24 AM on January 8


I just visited the memorial at Dachau the other day, which was incredibly powerful. I don't think this is something I'm going to be able to watch for a while.
posted by zachlipton at 8:44 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I recall watching the Hitchcock doc on Frontline back when it originally aired and how much more harrowing it was than any of the Holocaust footage typically incorporated into WWII films like "The World At War". I thought I had an understanding of what had happened, but those scenes were incredibly intense and distressing. I'm not sure I would want to sit through it again, but it's good to know that it's still viewable. The world seems to have let the lessons of those years wash away in favor of remembering the more palatable and even "sexy" elements of fascism.
posted by briank at 8:44 AM on January 8


I visited the memorial at Dachau more than a decade ago, neither me nor my partner have any German or Jewish heritage (that we know of), so no direct connection, but it has never left either of us.

I know there are worse places in the world (or equally worse, YMMV), but that visit it will never leave me.
posted by Mezentian at 8:49 AM on January 8


The film-makers show the painstaking way that typhus was eradicated from the camps.

I believe the camp inmates were forced to reside in the camps even after liberation because there was no place to put them.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:52 AM on January 8


Mezentian: I also found visiting Dachau quite an experience. I accidentally went through the musuem backwards, so I got it in reverse chronology - starting with the liberation and the war and the camps and then back through the earlier years with POW's and political dissidents and cold water medical experiments and such... but after all that, finishing up with years when the Nazis were first coming to power, and various early anti-semitic and pro-Nazi newspaper clippings. I think it made it more chilling to go in that direction and see what the very beginning looked like.

I've watched "Night and Fog", but I expect this to be far more shattering.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:59 AM on January 8


The Frontline film really is harrowing, and Trevor Howard must have been both honored and devastated to read the script in the voice-over for PBS.

"...truckloads of wretchedness had to be somehow dealt with in the already overflowing hospitals..." (from the Dachau segment).

Mercy.
posted by allthinky at 9:02 AM on January 8


even after liberation because there was no place to put them.

I imagine (recall?) in a bombed out city there were two choices: Train them out or keep them where they were (fumigate them?) and keep them fed.

Hogan's Heroes it was not.
posted by Mezentian at 9:09 AM on January 8


The "Frontline" website section "Join the Discussion" includes messages from people who were not only rescued from camps, but who were in the "Memory of the Camps" footage.

Wow.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:10 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


I believe the camp inmates were forced to reside in the camps even after liberation because there was no place to put them.

Most prisoners were too weak and ill to leave the camps immediately (many died shortly after liberation), and the Allies were also concerned about them spreading disease (specifically, typhus).
posted by ryanshepard at 9:12 AM on January 8


DigDoug: 3) In America, we're almost to the point where WW2 is as far from current day as the Civil War was from WW2.

This is why I'm glad that this documentary footage exists and groups like the Shoah Project are getting firsthand testimony from Holocaust survivors. In our lifetimes, the last living witnesses to these events will die. With a mountain of documentary evidence, these horrors won't be whitewashed by history.
posted by dr_dank at 9:15 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]


With a mountain of documentary evidence, these horrors won't be whitewashed by history.

As always, it depends on who's doing the writing; I hope you're right, though.
posted by Mooski at 9:22 AM on January 8


I just visited the memorial at Dachau the other day, which was incredibly powerful.

Hell, the Holocaust Museum in Washington was enough of a mindfuck for me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:23 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


When the first newsreels from the camps made it back to the UK, soldiers were posted at the exits of the cinemas to prevent anyone leaving. "You watch this," they said. "You sit back down and see what they did. "

Because no: it's barely believable even with the evidence, even if you want to believe it. Pre-war, Germany was by many measures the cultural and scientific heart of Europe, the world leader in advanced civilisation. The young Turing learned German because that's where the best mathematics was. That the entire society could be complicit in the most horrifying crimes - a medieval mindset married to modern methods - was then, and must be now, so close to inconceivable that it demands each of us ask ourselves: what am I, and what are the implications of what I believe?

Me, I'd put the guards back in the cinemas and stop every damn movie halfway through to run the footage again.
posted by Devonian at 9:38 AM on January 8 [8 favorites]


Hell, the Holocaust Museum in Washington was enough of a mindfuck for me.

I don't want to bring you down, but there is nothing like standing at "ground zero".

If I remember, there's a small alleyway in Berlin, and if you peek down it you see the Weeping Widow.

It is the worst.
posted by Mezentian at 9:45 AM on January 8


I also found visiting Dachau quite an experience. I accidentally went through the museum backwards,

See also "Time's Arrow" by Martin Amis.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:54 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


The US Army actually forced local farmers from the town of Dachau after liberation to witness the conditions, bodies, and the horror. They have pictures of these locals being paraded in and forced to look at what was happening under their noses. Not that they didn't know of course, but that many didn't appreciate the reality.

Of course, Dachau wasn't even the worst of it. Up until near the very end, the basic goal of the camp was to keep its inmates alive so they could work (as alive as people in overcrowded conditions eating 600 calories/day while performing hard labor can be). The elderly, sick, infirm, ... were shipped off for extermination instead. Initially, it housed many German political prisoners, who received lighter treatment, but then took in more Jews, Roma, homosexuals, etc...
posted by zachlipton at 9:59 AM on January 8


Of course, Dachau wasn't even the worst of it. Up until near the very end, the basic goal of the camp was to keep its inmates alive so they could work

Am I crazy, or wasn't Dachau the original proof of concept?
posted by Mezentian at 10:19 AM on January 8


I don't want to bring you down, but there is nothing like standing at "ground zero".

Oh, I believe you on that; the (apparently not clear enough) subtext to my comment was "if Washington's museum was bad enough for me then that's a good sign that I probably should avoid actually visiting the locations or else I'd end up having a full-on crying jag for the rest of my life."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


I know there are worse places in the world (or equally worse, YMMV), but that visit it will never leave me.

I've always thought that holocaust remembrance should devote a significant (>25%) fraction of the time/attention to the latest/more recent contemporary equivalents. Because even as horrific as visiting Dachau or watching this film may be, as time marches on, there is still a sense of it being history located in a particular place and time -- not as something that is still happening in large and small ways across the planet, right now.
posted by smidgen at 10:44 AM on January 8 [12 favorites]


Am I crazy, or wasn't Dachau the original proof of concept?

My understanding is that it was very much a model to be replicated, but that it was, at least in design, to be operated a work camp where a lot of people happened to die of malnourishment, exhaustion, abuse, and disease. Toward the end, more outright mass murders took place. In contrast, some of the other camps were primarily intended as death camps, while keeping a contingent of prisoners around to maintain the camp.
posted by zachlipton at 12:15 PM on January 8


In high school (eighth grade or thereabouts), my History teacher made us watch an old black and white Holocaust documentary which showed mass graves and Nazis being forced to drag bodies into said mass graves. I have always wondered a) where the hell he got that video and b) why no one ever stopped him from showing it. Deeply disturbing, and I do not recall ever having to get a permission slip signed. (This was the early 90s, so that might have had something to do with it.)

Now I wonder if this was that video. Which still makes me wonder how the hell he got a copy.

Anyway, thanks. I'm a little afraid to watch it, but thanks.
posted by offalark at 12:26 PM on January 8


I've always thought that holocaust remembrance should devote a significant (>25%) fraction of the time/attention to the latest/more recent contemporary equivalents. Because even as horrific as visiting Dachau or watching this film may be, as time marches on, there is still a sense of it being history located in a particular place and time -- not as something that is still happening in large and small ways across the planet, right now.

And liable to happen in the future, because whatever else changes, human beings remain human beings, ready to follow demagogues and blame their problems on the nefarious "other."
posted by kgasmart at 12:34 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


A truncated version of Alfred Hitchcock's Holocaust documentary was aired on Frontline in 1985 under the name "Memory of the Camps"
The IWM catalogue entry for A70 515 MEMORY OF THE CAMPS [Allocated Title] has a text summary of the footage, and a slightly different explanation of what happened with the production.
Fine-cut mute version of a documentary based on archive film of the concentration camps liberated by British and American forces in Western Europe, and the extermination camps freed by the Red Army in Eastern Europe, intended for screening to German audiences in Occupied Germany, but left incomplete when the Americans withdrew from this initially joint British-US production to compile their own shorter indictment of Nazi atrocities, DIE TODESMÜHLEN [DEATH MILLS].
Death Mills was directed by Billy Wilder (The Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment).
A new documentary, Night Will Fall, is also being made with André Singer, executive producer of The Act of Killing, as director and Stephen Frears as directorial advisor.
The Act of Killing (previously):
"The Act of Killing is about killers who have won, and the sort of society they have built. Unlike ageing Nazis or Rwandan génocidaires, Anwar Congo and his friends have not been forced by history to admit they participated in crimes against humanity. Instead, they have written their own triumphant history, becoming role models for millions of young paramilitaries."
posted by zamboni at 12:43 PM on January 8


In high school (eighth grade or thereabouts), my History teacher made us watch an old black and white Holocaust documentary which showed mass graves and Nazis being forced to drag bodies into said mass graves. I have always wondered a) where the hell he got that video and b) why no one ever stopped him from showing it.

Might you have seen the great Alain Resnais film Night and Fog (previously)? It's hard to watch, but it's pretty much a staple of film history courses and I can totally imagine it being shown in high schools.
posted by Mothlight at 1:43 PM on January 8




I just wrote several paragraphs about how this affected me. I deleted it. Some of you know what I mean.
posted by shockingbluamp at 4:20 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Here's another (color, 44m) doc: Nazi secret weapons.

I've never seen one focussed on the slave labor employed at Nazi weapons facilities. Reckon that might have been embarassing for the Nazi 'scientists' brought to the US by Paperclip. And their handlers.
posted by Twang at 4:31 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I saw something like this on a little black and white TV in the early 1950s, when I was very young. My dad was in Belgium and France in the Army in that war.

I have never forgotten what I saw and I still feel what I felt as a little kid when I remember that. I doubt I want to watch more. I wonder who will and how they will feel.

A decade later, I read "I Remember Babylon" -- a science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clarke, if anyone doesn't know it.

So it's come to this.
posted by hank at 6:42 PM on January 8


In high school (1970s-80s), one of my teachers always showed a double feature to each of his sophomore history classes: Triumph of the Will, followed by Night and Fog. His points were to show how Riefenstahl & Goebbels had artfully created such effective propaganda (and an attempted first draft of history) in TotW that put an attractive & compelling face on the Nazis for viewers of the 1930s. Then, the much more artless and mostly silent N&F came on and blew that all away. I'm steeling myself for watching this film.

In the 90s, I had a free day when traveling through Munich and I toured Dachau. I don't think there's any good way to visit a concentration camp, but I can certainly recommend against going alone. Being silent while I was there seemed appropriately respectful. Afterwards, I had an awful compulsion to talk to someone about it, and I couldn't.
posted by NumberSix at 10:30 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


1) Man, "Favorite" seems like the wrong verb for how I feel about this.

"Respected and remembered, not forgotten."
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:21 AM on January 9


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