In London, the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force realised that this footage provided the most powerful record yet of Nazi war crimes. Sidney Bernstein, a film consultant at the Ministry of Information (who later founded Granada Television), along with future Labour minister Richard Crossman, produced a project that would feature the footage from Belsen as well as other camps across Germany.
Bernstein invited Alfred Hitchcock to supervise the edit, though it is now clear that Hitchcock played little role in its production. In any case, the film was never completed. The Americans pulled out of the collaboration and Billy Wilder produced their own short film about the camps, Death Mills (1945); the Americans believed the Soviets would become more dangerous than the Nazis had been, and that it was therefore time to rebuild Germany’s image.
And the British were little better. Bernstein was stonewalled by political authorities, nervous of the growing Zionist movement and the desire by Europe's Jewish survivors to get to Israel.
The British soldiers liberated Bergen Belsen in April 1945
and filmed what they found
After 70 years, a visual record of the liberation of Belsen has been restored - a new documentary called Night Will Fall was directed by André Singer in 2014. It includes interviews with soldiers who liberated Bergen-Belsen and with the cameramen who shot the footage. David Dimbleby describes the initial BBC disbelief at his father’s radio broadcast from the liberated camp. Bernstein features in a 1984 interview and Hitchcock appears in a 1962 interview. Several survivors were interviewed.
I agree with the conclusion that it is still vital to look at these film-records of crimes committed just two generations ago. The original footage from the 1945 documentary German Concentration Camps Factual Survey has not been altered, but recent interviews with survivors and with the British soldiers who liberated Bergen-Belsen camp have been added. As were interviews with the editors and cameramen who produced the original 1945 footage, and those who filmed in Auschwitz and Majdanek camps in Poland.
What struck me as particularly nasty and hypocritical was that, back in 1945, footage from Soviet cameramen had been dismissed as “atrocity propaganda” by right wing Americans film companies. Russia lost 20,000,000 civilians and soldiers fighting the Nazis while the Americans remained neutral till January 1942!! Fortunately Night Will Fall has included the precious footage filmed by the Russian soldier-liberators.
Night Will Fall aired on major networks around the world during Holocaust Remembrance Day 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. Now I would like the film to be shown at British and German film festivals, history departments in universities, the History Channel on television and anywhere the Holocaust deniers might have influence.
In one sense it is easy to see why the Americans would want to block Sydney Bernstein's British film or Billy Wilder's American film of the extermination camps. The Motion Picture Production Code, under the control of Will Hays, was the set of industry moral guidelines that was applied to American films released by major studios from as early as 1930!! The Hays Code also controlled political censorship. When Warner Bros wanted to make a film about genocide of the Jews and socialists in Nazi Germany, the Production Office forbade it. In fact in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Code prevented any anti-Nazi films being produced at all. Had anything much changed by late 1945?
And while it is more difficult to see why the British would want to block any footage of the concentration camps from reaching the public, it is easy to see why the Germans would not want to acknowledge their responsibility for genocide. Labyrinth of Lies, directed by directed by Giulio Ricciarelli, is a film that exposed the conspiracy of silence amongst prominent German institutions and government branches.
public prosecutor Johann Radmann in the archives
in the film Labyrinth of Lies
A young prosecutor in post-war West Germany investigated a massive conspiracy to cover up the Nazi pasts of prominent public figures. The Frankfurt public prosecutors, led in real life by Fritz Bauer (1903–1968), Joachim Kügler (1926-2012) and Georg Friedrich Vogel (1926-2007), brought Auschwitz's atrocities to trial. The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials ran from Dec 1963 to August 1965, charging 22 defendants under German criminal law for their roles in the concentration camp complex. The rest of the 8,000 surviving Auschwitz staff presumably lived out the rest of their lives in peace, working in successful careers in the German public service.
In the film, the main hero was Johann Radmann, a fictitious public prosecutor. In Frankfurt in 1958 Radmann discovered that important institutions and branches of government were deeply embedded in a conspiracy to cover up Nazi crimes during WW2. Johann worked with a journalist and Jewish concentration camp survivors to uncover the evidence linking thousands of SS soldiers to mass murder of civilians only 13-16 years earlier.
Dispute Resolution in Germany blog shows that Labyrinth of Lies captured a major historical period in which Germany resisted any attempt to discuss Nazism and denied the nation’s war crimes. This was despite the sincere intentions of the Nuremberg trials to expose those very war crimes. If only the film used Fritz Bauer’s real biography and his written records.
This film opened in German cinemas in November 2014 and will open in Israeli cinemas in May 2015.