“German Concentration Camps Factual Survey”
February 5, 2015 9:26 AM   Subscribe

In 1945, as Allied troops liberated concentration camps across what had been German-occupied Europe, the British Ministry of Information commissioned a documentary that would provide incontrovertible evidence of the Nazis’ crimes. Producer Sidney Bernstein's cameramen accompanied US, UK and Soviet troops into Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and other camps. Six reels of film, known as the German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, were assembled and edited in part by Alfred Hitchcock (supervising director) and Billy Wilder.

The final product "was meant to be a historical document and a teaching tool; among the stated goals of the filmmakers was that it be shown to Germans to prove to them that the horrors of the camps were real." But the project was deemed too politically sensitive and abandoned before it was completed. The finished reels, storyboards and scripts sat in British archives for years. In 1985, PBS Frontline took some of the footage and created a documentary special: "Memory of the Camps." On January 27, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, HBO aired "Night Will Fall,” (trailer) directed by André Singer, which tells the story of the making of Factual Survey "...through the eyes of people who either filmed it, or through the eyes of the soldiers who first went in, to see what happened in the camps - or through the eyes of surviving victims who were in the camps." Film footage at links is disturbing and possibly NSFW

During production, "Night Will Fall" was covered previously on MeFi: ... he was utterly appalled by "the real thing."

Alternate Links
* Memory of the Camps on Youtube.
* Night Will Fall on Youtube. (Earlier link is only available to HBO Go subscribers.) A German dub is also available.
* UK viewers can see the documentary for free for the next 18 days, on Channel 4's website.

Reviews of Night Will Fall
* The Hollywood Reporter
* Variety
* The Guardian
* New York Times
* Los Angeles Times

Also: Interview with Andre Singer in DW about the movie.

Background on Memory of the Camps
New Yorker: Hitchcock and the Holocaust
PBS FAQ
PBS on Night Will Fall

Related Links
* The short film Death Mills by Billy Wilder is available for free download at the Internet Archive
* Nazi Concentration Camps (1945), directed by George Stevens, is available for free download at the Internet Archive.
posted by zarq (28 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
 
I saw Night Will Fall last week. It was horrific--by far the worst Holocaust footage I'd seen. (And I'd seen the Frontline show before.)

NWF argued that the footage was buried, at least in part, because the UK didn't want its citizens to force it to take large numbers of Jewish refugees after WWII. Is this a claim generally accepted by historians?
posted by persona au gratin at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good post, zarq.
posted by persona au gratin at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I found this wonderful book of poems by Barbara Helfgott Hyatt in a secondhand bookstore a couple years ago - she read the testimonies of soldiers who liberated Nazi concentration camps and wrote poetry using their words.
posted by sallybrown at 9:49 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


NWF argued that the footage was buried, at least in part, because the UK didn't want its citizens to force it to take large numbers of Jewish refugees after WWII. Is this a claim generally accepted by historians?

From the Guardian review:
Singer points out that in 1945, the incoming Labour government’s foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, was anti-Zionist and unsympathetic to the foundation of a Jewish state. But he concedes there is no strong proof. “The only documentary evidence we have is a memo from the Foreign Office saying that screening such an ‘atrocity film’ would not be a good idea.”
posted by 99_ at 9:55 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. So we (British) were flat broke in 1945, and had just introduced bread rationing, because now we had to feed the Germans in the zone we occupied, and their men were all dead or in Russian camps or trekking home and their slave labourers had fled. We didn't want to pull out and leave the Germans to the Russians, because then Stalin would basically have the whole of Europe, and the point is always to stop any single power dominating the continent, and we especially didn't like the Communists, and the Americans are planning to whizz home. So we need to stay in Germany, and keep looking after the Germans until we work out what to do next. And we probably have to let them re-arm so they can be Western allies again.

Showing what they'd done might not encourage the weary British public to go along with this!

(Complete guesswork: I'm not a historian. I suspect my chronology doesn't fit.)
posted by alasdair at 11:30 AM on February 5, 2015


Thank you for posting this. This footage should be required viewing for every human being.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:43 AM on February 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. Also, I'm really, really glad you're back... Really.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:15 PM on February 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, amazing post. I watched the youtube link "Memory of the Camps." No words can sum it up. Everyone should see it.
posted by feste at 12:57 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great post (and I too am really, really glad you're back). I want to remind people (because I just got through reading about it) that over a million Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Soviet Union, and they were not taken off to camps but murdered (mostly shot) right on the spot; later, when they Germans realized they were losing the war, they tried to destroy the evidence. It's natural that when we think of the Holocaust we think of Auschwitz, but the more you dig into it the more you realize how horribly multifarious it was.
posted by languagehat at 1:01 PM on February 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


So, so terrible. Thank you for this post.

As an aside, in watching this horrific footage, I keep remembering that Anne Frank was among the bodies in those pits at Bergen-Belsen.
posted by mynameisluka at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Great post, thank you.
posted by orrnyereg at 1:38 PM on February 5, 2015


It's natural that when we think of the Holocaust we think of Auschwitz, but the more you dig into it the more you realize how horribly

Auschwitz has come to symbolize the Holocaust to the degree that I have seen deniers arguing that it's impossible that 6 million people were killed there - totally ignorant of the Einsatzgruppen shootings that languagehat mentions, or of Treblinka, Sobibor, or Belzac (among others). Or Americans saying that their grandfather liberated it, when they were in the U.S. Army, not the Red Army.
posted by thelonius at 2:33 PM on February 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nice collection of links. Thanks for posting this.
posted by clavdivs at 2:46 PM on February 5, 2015


My Catholic grade school showed some of the concentration camp footage in 8th grade, also films of the Hiroshima aftermath. My gym coach was an ass most times, but he did at least want us to realize war is atrocity. Thanks for posting.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:56 PM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had not realized that the Germans allowed the British Army to move into Belsen in the manner described in Night Will Fall. The reason offered, so that they would not "fight through" the camp and allow prisoners with typhus to run loose infecting everyone, seems a bit specious. Does anyone know more about the German officers' decision to invite the British in?
posted by CCBC at 5:14 PM on February 5, 2015


Auschwitz has come to symbolize the Holocaust to the degree that I have seen deniers arguing that it's impossible that 6 million people were killed there.

This is such an important point. One of the many factual examples that's useful in combating this perception is that of Babi Yar.

And there's so much more. Thanks to clavdivs link in this thread, I grabbed an interview, and sat down and listened to Marton Adler talk about his experience for two hours. There are many more stories there that I will explore, because I think they are deeply important to know as someone who isn't a Jew.

As a retort to the deniers, its very important to say that gas chambers weren't the only thing. They are the most industrial expression of the genocide, yes. But on top of the executions carried out at places like Babi Yar, working and starving people to death, as Mr. Adler says, added to this horrible toll in ways that are less dramatic, and therefore harder to grasp in hindsight (I think) in their horror.

In that same thread, Joe in Australia linked to a piece by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, where he offers this:

Had the Nazis never created gassing installations at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor and elsewhere, they would still have killed around the same number of Jews and non-Jews. About half of the roughly six million Jews whom the Germans and their European collaborators slaughtered, and virtually all the millions of non-Jews the Germans murdered, they killed by nonindustrial means, mainly by shooting or starving them to death.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:17 PM on February 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


The most important point from Night Will Fall:

"I guessed rightly that most people would deny that this had happened."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:44 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know more about the German officers' decision to invite the British in?

They just wanted to throw up some kind of denial at the last minute. The Brits were going to move through eventually - it was the difference between a few more days of fighting and the same outcome, but with more casualties on their side or saving their own asses and offering some kind of "oh, yeah, don't go over there, because typhus" excuse.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:12 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


NWF argued that the footage was buried, at least in part, because the UK didn't want its citizens to force it to take large numbers of Jewish refugees after WWII. Is this a claim generally accepted by historians?

Did it argue that the UK didn't want to take refugees into the UK, or that it didn't want them to enter then-Palestine, which it governed? Because that was the UK's policy during and after the Holocaust: it famously, and notoriously, turned back a ship bringing 4,500 refugees to then-Palestine. In a grimly ironic coda, the British army then interned the refugees in a displaced persons camp in Germany. This was only one of many refugee-laden vessels to be turned back by the British; you can find something of a list here.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:56 PM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: I thought it was UK proper. But I may be wrong. I was reeling from the horror of it all and might have that detail wrong.

For those who saw Memory of the Camps--this is worse.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:29 AM on February 6, 2015


mandolin: That doesn't explain it. If the Germans wanted a cover-up, then why not allow the Brits to fight through the camp? Then they could blame the deaths on the military action. The attempted cover-up was in moving all those people to Belsen in the first place from camps like Auschwitz. Allowing the Brits to just walk in and see them was the opposite of cover-up. I've been doing some reading on this after watching the film and Himmler named all the area around Belsen a cease-fire zone and invited the Allies in. This followed secret negotiations that he had with the Swiss and, later, the Allies. There was discussion of what to do about the people in the camps and maybe 20000 or so were bussed to Switzerland. Himmler told the Swiss that typhus was rampant in the camps and that's why they had to have crematoria. In other words, Himmler was trying to use the camp inmates as hostages in a bid to save his own neck. Opening up Belsen was meant as a sign of good faith.
posted by CCBC at 3:23 AM on February 6, 2015


Sorry, my bad. That's what I was getting at, but doing so poorly - rather than making a last stand, using the camp as a bargaining chip. You put it much more clearly:

Himmler told the Swiss that typhus was rampant in the camps and that's why they had to have crematoria. In other words, Himmler was trying to use the camp inmates as hostages in a bid to save his own neck.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:27 AM on February 6, 2015


For those who saw Memory of the Camps--this is worse.

And more horrifying than Night and Fog, which I would not have thought possible.* Yeah, while everyone, literally every last person who was not a direct witness, should see this, people should be sure to be...very well prepared.

PLEASE in particular know that when they mention "seeing the film in negative," you are about to see something ...I don't know, I don't have words for what you see. Hell, really.

I tried not to look away at all, but I failed, man.

*bless that 10th grade history teacher, though, who responded to some little arrogant shit's "just asking questions" about the holocaust by immediately, like the next day, screening Night and Fog for the class. I don't even think she bothered with permission slips.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:23 AM on February 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I usually watch most of the videos I post to MeFi. Watched Memory of the Camps years ago and had difficulty getting through it. Couldn't watch Night Will Fall. I don't think I made it past 10 minutes.

I know I put a disclaimer in the post, but I do apologize if anyone had difficulty sitting through the footage or was profoundly disturbed by it. I realize that's the point of the film, but still....

Many thanks, sophie1 and languagehat.
posted by zarq at 1:11 PM on February 6, 2015


I know I put a disclaimer in the post, but I do apologize if anyone had difficulty sitting through the footage or was profoundly disturbed by it. I realize that's the point of the film, but still....

No apologies necessary from my view. I actually made my comment because I had a basic idea of what the "NSFW, Holocaust imagery" disclaimer usually means--I have done research into the camps looking for evidence of various relatives and their fates, I've been to the national Holocaust museum in DC, watched the aforementioned Night and Fog...there are things I am prepared, though obviously still upset, to see if I watch a documentary like this.

And I think many people might have a similar general awareness, but this is so, so much more intimate, graphic, and horrific than what people are, for lack of a better word, "accustomed" to seeing.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:29 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


(For all that it is truly devastating, though, it's incredibly important, and the links are really thorough, and I am glad it is posted even though I will probably not sleep well tonight.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:30 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, I'm not even trying to watch it. I don't deal with this sort of thing at all well. I'm very happy that someone else was able to make an FPP on it, though. Zarq, respect.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:10 AM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks.
posted by zarq at 1:00 PM on February 9, 2015


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