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Category Archives: Documentary


A haunting film about Elie Wiesel’s hometown and roots, produced in 1964. I share this video just to promote awareness of the Holocaust and a deeper knowledge of one of its most important witnesses, recently disappeared. If I am infringing any copyright laws, I will remove it immediately.



Source: Sara Ivry, Tablet, January 6, 2016

There’s a sort of louche, menacing quality about Jerry Lewis—I’ve always thought so, anyway. Maybe it’s the tan or the bada-bing pinkie ring, or the warmth he seemed unwilling to summon even while hosting a telethon for muscular dystrophy. I found Lewis’ nasal parodic voice irksome and repellent. And his appeal—here in the U.S., or in France—has always perplexed me. I could never stand The Nutty Professor; the only film of his I’ve ever enjoyed is The King of Comedy and that’s partly because he plays a balls-out asshole, or perhaps he’s not “playing at all,” which is part of what makes that film so riveting.

Why speak of Jerry Lewis now, you ask? Because the BBC has just released a short documentary about Lewis’ never-seen 1970 Holocaust film The Day the Clown Cried. Lewis flew to Sweden to shoot the feature, and when he was finished he took the reels with him back to the United States but never released the film. When asked about it, Lewis has asserted he would never screen it because it’s “bad, bad, bad.”

The BBC mini-documentary, The Story of the Day the Clown Cried, features stills from the film and show Lewis with a red nose and painted clown make-up in front of would-be barracks where he is directing would-be Nazis played by Swedish actors. Various Swedes are interviewed about the shoot and production. We learn that Lewis worked on this project for a decade before filming commenced. We find out that some actors never got paid. We’re told that Lewis gave reels of all his films, includingThe Day the Clown Died, to the Library of Congress with the caveat the institution is forbidden to screen the film until 2025 at the earliest.

And we’re treated to a single tidbit of fascinating trivia: While in Sweden, Lewis never laundered his drawers or socks—he simply threw them away after a single wear. One—by which I mean, me—wonders if that is a lifelong habit and where that kind of behavior came from.

Against the improbable background music of Massive Attack, the documentary’s host, British comedian David Schneider (himself the son of a Holocaust survivor) ruminates on the question of whether one can make comedy out of such tragedy, and if that’s what Lewis was trying to do. There’s no way to know, really, if the film was supposed to be comedy, or have comedic elements, so it’s a bit of goose-chase speculation.

Nevertheless, the query reminded me of a gutting joke the British writer Howard Jacobson included in his fantastic novel Kalooki Nights, which I read years ago: What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A pizza doesn’t scream when you stick it in the oven. That’s the kind of joke (you) never forget. Which begs Schneider’s question: Is it appropriate to make entertainment out of this genocide? Beyond appropriate, is it possible? Fans of The Producers might say yes. That Lewis has refused to make the film public suggests a different answer.


Source: The Times of Israel, January 31, 2015

A documentary film featuring footage from the Auschwitz death camp has been broadcast to Iranian viewers, exposing many of them for the first time to the atrocities and mass-murder committed by the Nazis against the Jews.

The documentary, titled “Germany’s Führer,” was broadcast on Holocaust Memorial Day by Manoto1, a London-based satellite TV station, and was shot by an Iranian film crew which visited the site. The film details the Nazis rise to power in Europe and discusses the stages leading up to the execution of the Final Solution for the extermination of the Jews.

The showing of the film coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day and marked 70 years since the camp was finally liberated by the Soviet army.

Owning a satellite dish in the Islamic Republic is forbidden by the government, but nevertheless, the documentary was estimated to have been viewed by scores of Iranians.

It is unclear to what extent the film actually managed to change the deeply rooted opinions of many Iranians who maintain the Holocaust was fabricated or perpetrated by the Jewish people as a means to garner world sympathy.

“All these crimes were committed by the Jews themselves so they reach their real objectives,” one viewer wrote on Facebook, according to the Times of London.

Yet the screening of the film did succeed in sparking a lively online debate in Iran, leading some to draw parallels between the Nazis and their leader Adolf Hitler, and the heads of the Islamic Republic.

“We are being trampled under the boots of the likes of Hitler today. At least Hitler wanted to improve the lives of his own people but these people ruling Iran today want everything for themselves,” the Times reported one viewer as writing.

Holocaust denial is widespread in Iran and the position has often been reinforced by the country’s leaders, most notably former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who referred to the Holocaust as “pure fiction.”

However, Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, has publicly acknowledged the Holocaust.

“Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews, was reprehensible and to be condemned,” Rouhani told CNN in September 2013.

Henryk Schonker w Birkenau 03

Source: Annette Insdorf, New Documentaries Touch the Holocaust, Huffington Post, January 12, 2015

Seventy years after the end of World War II, the Holocaust remains a vital source of drama for motion pictures. Two very different documentaries opening at Manhattan’s Quad Cinema this month demonstrate how the act of filmmaking can be commemorative, investigative, and even revelatory.

Farewell Herr Schwarz (currently playing) represents the compelling personal quest of Yael Reuveny, an Israeli member of “the third generation” (grandchildren of Holocaust survivors). She explores family history in an accessible and illuminating way, tracing ancestral burdens from Israel to Germany, where she now lives.

The Touch of an Angel (opening January 16 at the Quad, as well as the Laemmle Town Center 5 in LA) is rooted in the testimony of “first generation” survivor Henryk Schönker, a Polish Jew from the town of Oświęcim (renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis). After the war, he moved back to Oświęcim, but was forced to leave in 1955 and emigrated to Israel.

Farewell Herr Schwarz , a co-production of Germany and Israel, traces Yael Reuveny’s fascination with her grandmother Michla’s tale of separation from her brother Feiv’ke: originally from Vilna, both survived the Holocaust, but never found each other in 1945 at the Lodz train station where they were supposed to meet. She traveled to Palestine, assuming he died.

But he was alive. He chose to stay in the very area of Schlieben where he had been a Buchenwald prisoner. Renamed Peter Schwartz, and married to a Gentile woman, he remained secretive about his past. His son Uwe learned only in 1995 that his father was Jewish–a heritage he embraces during the film’s second section. The third part focuses on Stephan—the grandson of Peter Schwartz–who studies Jewish history in Berlin and then moves to Jerusalem.

Photographs are suggestive in Farewell Herr Schwarz , which returns to a cracked pre-war photo in which the two siblings are beside each other–the crease representing all that ultimately separated them. Later, Stephan shows Yael a framed photo of her great-uncle Peter, taken three months after his Liberation from Buchenwald: while still wearing a concentration camp uniform, he is smiling–along with other inmates, now holding rifles.

Given the importance of photos in Farewell Herr Schwarz , the film’s inclusion of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel–with everyone frozen in place–suggests a static memorializing. This is a contrast to the very mobile act of commemoration practiced by Reuveny’s filmmaking.

Tel Aviv is also the current home of Henryk Schönker, but The Touch of an Angelbegins with him entering an abandoned, ruined space and painting a canvas there. What a surprise to learn that this was his family home in Oświęcim, which the Nazis turned into their headquarters. He is a riveting subject and–although deaf–speaks an elegant pre-war Polish.

In 1939, Schönker’s father was the chairman of the Jewish community, whose task–ordered by German military authorites–was to organize the Bureau of Emigration of Jews to Palestine. But The Touch of an Angel is less didactic or historical than poetic, including imaginary glimpses of the miracles Schönker recalls.

Director Marek Tomasz Pawlowski superimposes actors’ faces on old photos, an effect that prepares for the insertion of actors into archival footage. (The extras include Oświęcim’s own inhabitants.) While some critics bristle at reenactments in a documentary, art was so important to Henryk and his family (music as well as painting) that the aesthetic experimentation seems valid.

For example, he remembers hearing in Cracow a neighbor’s “violin weeping” and says, “I inhaled this music.” Like Dariusz Jablonski’s magnificent film Photographer, The Touch of an Angel interweaves the score of Michal Lorenc contrapuntally, as gentle music accompanies Schönker’s wrenching memories.

Pawlowski calls his technique “archicollage.” Interviewed via e-mail, he said it enabled a “journey into the past, creating short, silent impressions through the stylization of archival material.” He already used this type of experimentation in his documentary of 2007, The Runaway (winner of thirteen international awards).

The film’s producer Małgorzata Walczak explained that it took many years of research by historians before their company Zoyda Art Production found evidence supporting Henryk’s recollections. “Leo Schönker, Henryk’s father, was the last chairman of the Jewish Community in Auschwitz,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“He established the Bureau of Emigration of Jews to Palestine. This chance for legal immigration is hardly known, and raises the question of how many Jewish refugees might have been saved if other countries had accepted them. Summoned by Eichmann to Berlin, he reported on his Bureau’s activities in the hope of saving thousands of Jews willing to emigrate.”

In Berlin, Leo Schönker also met with Professor Leo Baeck, “who said about the tragic situation of Europe’s Jews, “‘They are going to be squeezed like a lemon and the peel is going to be thrown into the furnace.'”

This fearful prediction was indeed realized, but a fraction of European Jewry managed to survive. Films like Farewell Herr Schwarz and The Touch of an Angelprovide a bridge from their experiences to our own time. As Yael Reuveny put it, “Farewell Herr Schwarz is not a film about the Holocaust – or about Peter or Feiv’ke or my grandmother – but about us, their children and grandchildren.” She called storytelling a “survival method … to put order into the catastrophe.”

Columbia University Film Professor Annette Insdorf is the author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust.


Source: Huffington Post, November 1, 2014

(RNS) As aging Holocaust survivors gathered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to celebrate its 20th anniversary last year, a question hung in the air:

How will the world remember the Holocaust — the Nazis’ systematic murder of 6 million Jews — when the last survivors are gone?

It’s a question Joshua M. Greene, the writer and producer of “Memory After Belsen,” grapples with in his new documentary that will premiere at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York on Nov. 20 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

“The further we get away from the actual events of history, the more difficult it will be to stimulate interest, the more difficult it will be to avoid the Holocaust fading into ancient lore,” said Greene.

That concern is echoed by Jews and Holocaust educators around the world.

“There is nothing that can truly replace the impact of meeting with someone who has gone through this experience,” said Elizabeth Gelman, executive director of the Florida Holocaust Museum. “We see that everyday here. Junior high school kids and high school kids come in, wiggling and poking each other. It’s just an excuse to get out of school. And then when they sit down, and a survivor starts talking, they are laser focused.”

At its New York premiere, the 76-minute film will be screened in its entirety. But Greene and director Shiva Kumar made “Memory After Belsen” so that it can also be watched in segments, to make it easier for high school and college teachers to show it in parts to classes on the Holocaust that may stretch over days or weeks.

Greene and Kumar make the point with Memory After Belsen, but also with footage taken by Allied troops who liberated the camps and clips from popular movies, that film can capture Holocaust memories.

They also shows how artists, writers, musicians and museum curators have documented and interpreted the Holocaust for future generations.

But Greene and Kumar seem most intrigued by one particular way to preserve memory — through the grandchildren of the survivors.

The film follows Robyn Thaler Hickey, whose grandmother was the lone member of her family to survive the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Hickey’s journey to the camp, now a memorial, begins with her plane ride to Germany. Wearing jeans, hipster glasses and a ponytail, she snaps pictures of the land below with her smartphone, wondering in a voiceover about the place where her grandmother’s family lies in mass graves.

And she wonders about her responsibility to get her personal history right.

“If I have kids one day, what story am I going to tell them?” she asks. “And what if I got it wrong. It would be really upsetting if I got it wrong.”

Holocaust educator Tracy Garrison-Feinberg explains, at the end of the film, why everyone — Jewish or not — should ask Hickey’s question.

“I’m an African-American Southerner. I’m a Catholic . . . this is not my history,” she said, putting those last words in quotes with her fingers. But “we are capable of great evil and we are capable of great goodness and grace,” she continued. “Ultimately it’s my history, because it’s human history.”

Her answer raises a further question tackled by the film: Should the Holocaust be taught as a unique or universal experience? Does it stand alone, or with other genocides?

Greene, whose own grandmother was one of two members of her family to survive the Holocaust — the others died at Auschwitz — said he believes the Holocaust teaches universal lessons.

But the risk of universalizing the Holocaust “is to strip it from its particular horror” and perhaps fail to understand its breadth and scope, said Greene who teaches religion at Hofstra University on Long Island.

Let’s not broaden it too much, he warned, “in the name of some abstract concept such as ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’”


Source: The New York Times, September 30, 2014

A chilling disconnect runs through “The Decent One,” Vanessa Lapa’s relentless, numbing presentation of letters, diary entries and high-quality period footage that illustrates Heinrich Himmler’s rise from patriotic child to position of horrible power in the Third Reich.

The film’s juxtaposition of Himmler’s correspondence and German history is complex and fluid. His fussy reports about work and his love letters (signed “Heini”) rattle and offend with their untroubled banality. Read aloud in sometimes spirited voice-over by actors, they can instill a feeling of powerlessness before the deadly march of events. As Himmler’s life and an entire nation’s course are charted, the telling details that arise — routine bigotry, the fierce urge to serve, righteous family bonds — have a way of explaining everything and nothing.

Yet this steady stream becomes rough going. Ms. Lapa’s sources, acquired for the making of this documentary, are unusually rich (and their very quantity helps to dramatize the bureaucratic side of Nazi atrocity). But the voice-over-driven readings and the illustrative footage — unwisely augmented with new sound effects — lack a fundamental filmic momentum.

Many freshly haunting and illuminating undercurrents are brought forth all the same — for example, the Himmlers’ consideration of how to treat a child they have adopted. A possibly reassuring note is struck in the credits, which reflect the efforts not only of Ms. Lapa, granddaughter of survivors, but also of Himmler’s own great-niece. —Nicolas Rapold

Further reviews on Salon and Variety


Source: Howard Cohen, Miami filmmaker finds ‘Treblinka’s Last Witness’ for powerful Holocaust filmMiami Herald, October 17, 2014

Documentary filmmaker Alan Tomlinson’s first reaction to WLRN general manager John LaBonia’s pitch for a film about the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland was muted.

“Another film about the Holocaust? It’s kind of been done,” the Miami TV producer/director behind documentary features Nixon’s the One: The ’68 Election (2010), Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami (2008) and Plagues: The Ebola Riddle (2001), said of his initial feeling.

“As a filmmaker, what can I add to this? I’m not even Jewish. You’re kind of in tricky territory and it’s a delicate subject.”

But LaBonia, eager to continue WLRN’s mission as a storytelling channel rather than one completely reliant on public broadcasting’s national feed, felt he was on to something. Tomlinson’s resulting feature-length movie,Treblinka’s Last Witness, which offers a first-hand account by the last-known living survivor, premieres on WLRN-17 at 8 p.m. Oct. 28. The film will be previewed with a free public screening and discussion at 6 p.m. Tuesday at downtown Miami’s Olympia Theater at Gusman Center.

The journey from idea to opening began for the WLRN team in 2010, when LaBonia visited the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. There, he spotted an exhibit that displayed a boxcar from the Treblinka camp, where an estimated 900,000 Jews were slaughtered over a period of 13 months at the height of World War II.

Wedged into the floorboards sat a little girl’s gold ring. Did it slip off or was it purposely wedged there for safekeeping by an innocent youngster who figured she’d return to claim the jewelry at a later date?

Who knows? But LaBonia was struck by the image and compelled to conduct research.

The story of Treblinka, he felt, would resonate with South Florida viewers, since many Holocaust survivors and their descendants have called the region home.

But finding a survivor to recount the horrors would be difficult. The Nazis went to great lengths to cover up their crimes at Treblinka. Bodies were exhumed and burned on pyres of railroad logs, and trees were planted on the grounds. Unlike work camps like Aushwitz and Dachau, where remnants of gas chambers revealed their ghosts, Treblinka hid hers for more than half a century.

“A lot of people, myself included, were not aware that the Nazis also constructed a bunch of death camps where there was no warehousing of Jews. No working Jews. No work plan. No factories. Just gas chambers. Just industrial killing machines to kill large numbers of Jews,” Tomlinson said.

That was Treblinka. Jews, by the thousands, were packed onto trains and deposited at Trelbinka in the morning. The people thought they were simply there to be recolonized. By lunchtime, they would be dead. Men first. Women and children next. Cold and efficient.

“The largest attempted cover-up of a mass murder in the history of mankind,” said Andrew Hall, 70, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and, as an infant born in war-torn Warsaw, a Holocaust survivor.

Tomlinson, who earlier served as a correspondent for the BBC in his native England, became excited when he heard of the existence of Samuel Willenberg, now 92 and the last known living survivor of the Treblinka death camp.

Thanks to the Internet, Tomlinson tracked Willenberg to the home he shares in Tel Aviv with his wife Ada. Two days after Ada answered his phone call, he was on a plane to meet Willenberg.

“During the Nazi occupation I met lots of people and I have learned to read people. Tomlinson is a person I could trust, and I had a good feeling toward him,” Willenberg said in a telephone interview through an interpreter.

Willenberg, who grew up the son of an eminent Jewish painter, helped ensure that Treblinka’s Last Witness would resonate.

“You see, in Holocaust films you have people sitting in round chairs, with a lamp in the back, telling this story with a huge emotional remove because it’s too painful to go there. For very good reason, interviewers treat these people with kids’ gloves because you are taking them back to a place where no one wants to be,” Tomlinson said.

“Samuel wasn’t like that. He’s a born survivor and a storyteller. I’ve been a journalist since I was 16 and I’m in my 60s now, so I’ve heard a lot of stories. My jaw fell open,” Tomlinson said. “It was such a staggering story. And not only was he able to illustrate his story verbally, but he told it with such a cocktail of emotions flowing through his body. One minute he was angry. One minute in tears. One minute laughing, telling some cynical joke about life in Treblinka. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him as he was telling his story.”

Willenberg and his family had lived in Czestochowa, Poland, when the Germans marched into their country in 1939. The family went into hiding, but his two sisters were captured in 1942. Willenberg fled to nearby Opatow but was herded, along with the town’s entire Jewish population of 6,000, aboard a cattle train bound for Treblinka. Within hours, all would be dead. Except Willenberg. A member of a nearby Jewish work camp recognized him and pulled him aside to join a labor force.

There, while sorting through clothes that once belonged to Jews and were to be sent back to Germany for the war effort, he recognized a pair of green velvet sleeves on a coat. He could never tell his parents, who survived the war, that he knew his sisters had been murdered.

Willenberg escaped and managed to make his way to Warsaw, where he took part in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. About 16,000 fellow members of the Polish resistance were killed, and the city was mostly destroyed.

Willenberg’s voice on the phone line tumbles out vibrantly in his native Polish. He attributes his survival skills to his plucky youth in pre-war Europe.

“This actually derived from my wild childhood. When I was a young boy I was a naughty boy. I’d sometimes run away and play hooky from school and take trains and even hid between two wagons and would travel through Poland.”

After the war, he fashioned a series of 15 bronze sculptures ranging in size from 18 inches to 3 feet that depict fellow Treblinka Jews. For years, the sculptures huddled in a basement in the couple’s Tel Aviv home. Daughter Orit, an architect who designed the Israeli Embassy on land once occupied by Hitler’s Third Reich in Berlin, has also designed a museum for a memorial on the Treblinka site. One of Willenberg’s goals is to raise enough funds so that the museum can be built and he can see his sculptures integrated into the site.

“It is an amazingly compelling story about personal courage and heroism,” Hall said. “The film will play an important role because it prevents us from forgetting and therefore from repeating. It’s an important message — the ‘bearing witness’ concept that is so important to Jewish people.”

Willenberg takes on the role of pleased film critic.

“They have made eight movies about me so far. I believe this movie is the best of them all,” he said. “This movie has reflected the true tragedy and what the world will gain is that people will learn the truth of this tragedy.” —Howard Cohen

Holocaust Tourist

Glasgow filmmaker Jes Benstock brings a wry, quizzical voice and a surprising mix of animation and live action to consider the contemporary legacy of the Holocaust in Poland.

A whistle-stop tour from Auschwitz hot-dogs to Krakow’s kitsch Judaica that asks: how is dark tourism changing history?


From Amber Wilkinson’s review on Eye for Film, November 23, 2006:

“I didn’t want to make a film about the holocaust,” says Benstock at the outset, “but if you’re a film-maker and Jewish it comes with the job description.”

It is the nature of ‘holocaust tourism’ that interests – or perhaps that should be ‘unsettles’ – Benstock. Is it right that tourist shops have sprung up to cash in on visitors to Auschwitz? The town of Krakow is a bustling hub of tourism. Holidaymakers eat in Jewish-themed bars and restaurants before making a ‘pilgrimage’ to the death camp. But is pilgrimage the right word, or is this just another stop off on the tourist trail “blazed by Hollywood”?

Benstock has assembled an impressive set of interviewees, from a sculptor who laments the commercialisation of his craft, to professor of the faith and member of the Auschwitz committee Jonathan Webber and several people who work and maintain Auschwitz. Each paints a bleak picture of a tragedy, if not forgotten, then diminished somehow.

Benstock cleverly mixes animation and live footage to hold the attention and the use of quick cuts between kitsch ornaments, people smiling for the camera under the infamous Arbeit Machs Frei sign and letting children run about without a thought for those on a true pilgrimage of remembrance shine a startling light on our ignorance.


The Holocaust Visual Archive is proud to present a short clip from the film, published with permission of the author Jes Benstock and of The National Center for Jewish Film – Brandeis University, that we warmly thank.

To buy the DVD or arrange a screening, visit this page.


Source: Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent, January 8, 2014

The British Army Film Unit cameramen who shot the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 used to joke about the reaction of Alfred Hitchcock to the horrific footage they filmed. When Hitchcock first saw the footage, the legendary British director was reportedly so traumatised that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios for a week. Hitchcock may have been the king of horror movies but he was utterly appalled by “the real thing”.

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.

“It was suppressed because of the changing political situation, particularly for the British,” suggests Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator at the Department of Research, Imperial War Museum. “Once they discovered the camps, the Americans and British were keen to release a film very quickly that would show the camps and get the German people to accept their responsibility for the atrocities that were there.”

The film took far longer to make than had originally been envisaged. By late 1945, the need for it began to wane. The Allied military government decided that rubbing the Germans’ noses in their own guilt wouldn’t help with postwar reconstruction.

Five of the film’s six reels were eventually deposited in the Imperial War Museum and the project was quietly forgotten.

In the 1980s, the footage was discovered in a rusty can in the museum by an American researcher. It was eventually shown in an incomplete version at the Berlin Film Festival in 1984 and then broadcast on American PBS in 1985 under the title Memory of the Camps but in poor quality and without the missing sixth reel. The original narration, thought to have been written by future Labour Cabinet Minister Richard Crossman in collaboration with Australian journalist Colin Wills, was read by actor Trevor Howard.

Now, finally, the film is set to be seen in a version that Hitchcock, Bernstein and the other collaborators intended. The Imperial War Museum has painstakingly restored it using digital technology and has pieced together the extra material from the missing sixth reel. 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. Both the original film about the camps and the new documentary will be shown on British TV in early 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the “liberation” of Europe. Before that, next year, they are due to be shown together at festivals and in cinemas.

The decision to revive the film is bound to provoke anguished debate. It includes truly shocking footage of the camps (Belsen-Bergen in particular.) The film’s own commentary, which has been re-recorded with a new actor, has a phrase about “sightseers” at a “chamber of horrors”.

Billy Wilder, who directed Death Mills (1945), an American film about the German atrocities, was forthright about why he did not want atrocity footage to be seen in later years. Wilder questioned whether it had worked in “re-educating” the German civilian population about what their leaders had been doing in their name.

“They [the Germans] couldn’t cope with it. He [Wilder] told me people just left the screening or closed their eyes. They didn’t want to see,” Wilder’s friend Volker Schlöndorff recalled in a 2011 interview. “They found out it was almost unbearable to see these documents and almost indecent for the victims or the people related to the victims.”

In Memory of the Camps, there is imagery of heaps of naked bodies being piled up in mass graves. The footage seems as surreal as anything you might see in a Hieronymus Bosch painting but then you remember that these corpses haven’t been conjured up by some artist’s twisted imagination. These are real victims whose relatives are alive today.

In the documentary, we see the Germans themselves confronted with the enormity of the crimes committed in their name and forced to help bury the dead themselves.

As Toby Haggith acknowledges, the film is “much more candid” than any of the other documentaries about the camps. Haggith also describes it as “brilliant” and “sophisticated”. 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.”

The Trevor Howard voiceover narration in Memory of the Camps is strangely reminiscent of the one that director Carol Reed himself read over the opening of The Third Man (in which Howard co-starred.) It has the same sardonic understatement as it describes the devastation wreaked by the war. In the new version, the words will remain (but have now been recorded by a contemporary actor.)

Memory of the Camps was a title given to the documentary years after it was made. It will now be renamed. Haggith won’t reveal the new title.

For Hitchcock fans, the Holocaust film is a cause for both excitement and wariness. On the one hand, it seems obvious that his work on the documentary must have had a profound influence on him. He may have been a “treatment advisor” on the project rather than its actual director but his exposure to imagery as extreme as this must have coloured his approach to depicting horror and violence on screen.

The wariness comes from the sense that it is both distasteful and absurdly reductive to see a Nazi atrocity documentary as a ” Hitchcock movie”. We will never know exactly how much he contributed to the film, even if it seems certain that his ideas about how it should be structured were taken on board.

“Our experience with it has been similar to the experience of the cameramen really, in that the technical work has to some degree protected us from the meaning of the film,” Haggith suggests of the experience of spending many months poring over such gruesome and disturbing imagery. He adds that “the fact that we have been habituated to these images over the last 70 years” has meant that the restorers have been able to treat the film as “historical source material”.

The restoration is now almost complete. How will contemporary audiences react to a film which, when it was first being put together, traumatised Hitchcock himself and so deeply upset its original editors, who weren’t aware of what had actually gone on in the camps?

“Judging by the two test screenings we have had for colleagues, experts and film historians, what struck me was that they found it extremely disturbing,” Haggith says. “When you’re sitting in a darkened cinema and you’re focusing on a screen, your attention is very focused, unlike watching it on television… the digital restoration has made this material seem very fresh. One of the common remarks was that it [the film] was both terrible and brilliant at the same time.”

That, Haggith, believes is testament to the craftsmanship of the film-makers, who took some of “the most atrocious and disturbing footage that had yet been recorded in cinema at that stage” and turned into a film that was lucid, moving and instructive as well as appalling. The job now for those showing the film is to provide context and explanation. As Haggith puts it: “We can’t stop the film being incredibly upsetting and disturbing but we can help people understand why it is being presented in that way.”


Source: Matt Patches, Watch Lou Reed’s Directorial Debut, the Holocaust Documentary ‘Red Shirley’, The Hollywood Reporter, October 28, 2013.

The death of music icon Lou Reed this past Sunday had pop-culturalists of every breed sifting through the musician’s vast body of work. For good reason: His time with Velvet Underground and his later work as a solo performer is an essential slice of rock ‘n’ roll history. But Reed’s creativity extended beyond music. Before his death, Reed made appearances in a number of films and directed one of his own, Red Shirley, a documentary portrait of his cousin, Shirley Novick.

In the film, available to view through up-and-coming streaming service SnagFilms, Reed interviews the 99-year-old Novick about living through WWI, fleeing Poland during WWII, settling down as a seamstress and eventually marching in Washington in support of the civil rights movement.

Reed co-directed Red Shirley with art photographer Ralph Gibson. The film debuted at the 2010 Vienna International Film Festival before appearing stateside at the 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival.

Along with his foray into documentary directing, Reed also appeared in a number of films, including Wim Wenders’ Faraway, So Close! and Wayne Wang’s Blue in the Face. His songs were used in The Royal Tenenbaums, Trainspotting and Velvet Goldmine among other films.

In 2011, Reed told The Wall Street Journal that Red Shirley was a labor of love and that he only intended to make films on subjects he felt demanded his attention. “I realized if I didn’t do this, a connection to a lot of things would be lost forever. So there was great impetus to do this. The only other thing I would like to do is make a movie about martial arts. Like, travel around to different teachers and tournaments, compare techniques and training.”