Director: Andre Singer
There are many theories as to why the forthrightly-titled documentary German Concentration Camps Factual Survey never made it to cinema. Or, indeed, why it never made it to the cutting room.
Some argue that rebuilding Germany and its morale after 1945 might’ve been squandered by such a brutally confronting film. Others insist Zionism, at the time troubling the territory of British Mandate Palestine, had a role to play. Shut down the troublemakers at home lest we encourage our new troublemakers overseas.
Resigned to attract dust in an archive, the picture produced by Sidney Bernstein and bearing the great name of Hitchcock himself never found the audience that would have been so immediately moved by its central message, and not by any political consequence.
That message is succinctly put in the film’s original script: “Unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall.”
Night Will Fall, however, is not the completed documentary eventually pulled together by the Imperial War Museum, but a contemporary explainer to chart how it was made, and give voice to those involved.
The film explores how, with some footage from the original reels, cameramen of the Allied forces were thrown suddenly from the quotidian nature of their role into something far more necessary: documenting the liberation of the death camps where Hitler had tried his best to dispose of the Fatherland’s human detritus.
Here are the bulldozers first staffed by British soldiers and then captured German officers piling victims into nameless graves. Here are the gaunt and starved survivors too weak to comprehend their liberation. Here are the citizens of nearby towns paraded between the gates to rightly expose their ignorance and compliance.
Some survivors are interviewed, including Branko Lustig who produced Schindler’s List. So too is an editor tasked with processing film sent back form Dachau. “It was like looking into the most appalling hell,” he says as the images roll through in negative – a more horrible reimaging, if it were possible.
Perhaps most moving of all is footage which shows “the healing process”. A young boy smiling as he turns up the collar of a new shirt. The women, arm-in-arm, out for a walk in a nearby forest. The slim pyjama-clad inmates being unloaded into a warehouse bearing the name ‘Harrods’ before emerging on the side as something resembling a human being again.
Because German Concentration Camps Factual Survey itself is unlikely to receive a wide release, Night Will Fall is the closest many will come to seeing it. For this, and for exploring a forgotten history, it is a necessary and worthy addition to the canon of Holocaust films.
Night Will Fall is showing at the Documentary Edge Festival.