Last night I watched the premiere of the new documentary film Night Will Fall.
This quote is from a description of the film:
The HBO documentary “Night Will Fall” is a movie about the Holocaust, a movie about remembering the Holocaust and primarily, at least in formal terms, a movie about a movie. It may not do full justice to all these subjects in its tight 78 minutes, but it’s not a film you’re likely to forget.
The most wrenching sequences in “Night Will Fall” are the scenes it incorporates from “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey,” a movie begun under the auspices of the British government in 1945. Using film shot by Allied cameramen at camps including Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau, and assembled by a team that included Alfred Hitchcock as a supervising director, “Factual Survey” was meant to be a historical document and a teaching tool; among the stated goals of the filmmakers was that it be shown to Germans to prove to them that the horrors of the camps were real.
Sorry to say, I did not like the film at all. It is obvious that an attempt was made to make an artistic film, but artwork is not appropriate in a DOCUMENTARY. One thing that irritated me to death was the frequent shots of the end of a film strip. Back in the old days, the end of a film reel used to show symbols. This technique was very much overdone in the film.
But there was one good thing about the film, which surprised me. The narrator does say that the Bergen-Belsen camp was voluntarily turned over to the British — it was not “liberated.” You can read about how the camp was taken over by the British on my website here.
Every story about Bergen-Belsen that you will ever read, and every story that you won’t read, will tell you that the British LIBERATED Bergen-Belsen, surprising the SS men who did not have a chance to escape. At least the film tells the truth about this important point.
Unfortunately, the documentary does not mention that Bergen-Belsen was an EXCHANGE camp, intended for Jews to be exchanged for Germans held by the Allies. It became a concentration camp only in the last six months that it was in existence.
The film starts off with scenes of northern Germany in the Spring of 1945. It is the 12th of April and two Germans are approaching the Allied lines. They are bringing a message to the British that there is a large concentration camp nearby where there is a typhus epidemic in progress; the Germans want a truce because they need help to stop the epidemic.
The narrator then says that he was “amazed that none of the British soldiers fired” on the Germans who had approached them, asking for a truce.
Then we learn that, when the British approached the camp, they saw “neat and tidy orchards and well stocked farms” according to the narrator of the film. There was a war going on, but the narrator of the film implies that the German people were not suffering at all.
As soon as the British soldiers entered the Belsen camp, they lined up the SS men and women who have stayed behind at the camp, taking their lives in their hands, to care for the sick prisoners. I previously blogged here about Herta Bothe, one of the SS women who stayed behind to help.
The SS men and women are immediately taken as Prisoners of War, including Josef Kramer, the Commandant of the camp who had met the British at the gate, offering his help.
The German SS men, who had stayed behind at the camp, to help with the typhus epidemic in the camp, were forced to handle the dead bodies without gloves, as shown in the photo above.
The next thing that we see is a photo, which shows healthy prisoners, including a number of smiling children and a woman who is overweight.
One of the prisoners who was at Bergen-Belsen, when the camp was turned over to the British, was Anita Lasker Walfish, who was 19 years old at that time. She speaks in the film, but it is not mentioned that she was previously a prisoner at Auschwitz, where she played in the women’s orchestra.
It is at this point in the film that it is mentioned that there are 30,000 dead prisoners in the Bergen-Belsen camp. It is not mentioned in the film that the British meticulously counted the dead bodes, so who came up with this number?
I previously blogged about the number of deaths at Bergen-Belsen at https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/50000-deaths-at-bergen-belsen-but-only-6851-death-certificates-issued/
Curiously, the film footage of a British soldier shoving dead prisoners with a bulldozer is not shown in the documentary.
What really happened at Bergen-Belsen?
The following information is from a previous blog post that I did about Bergen-Belsen:
Before surrendering Bergen-Belsen to the British on April 15, 1945, Heinrich Himmler had ordered about 7,000 people to be evacuated from the camp. The three train loads of prisoners, which left the camp between April 6 and April 11, were made up of prominent Dutch Jews, Hungarian Jews, Jewish prisoners from neutral countries and Jewish prisoners who held foreign passports. Himmler was hoping to use these prisoners to negotiate peace terms with the Allies.
In preparation for surrendering the camp, two German officers had been sent to a British outpost to explain that there were 9,000 sick prisoners at Bergen-Belsen and that there was no water after the electric pump had been hit in an Allied bombing attack. [There is no mention of the broken water pump in the Night Will Fall documentary.]
The Germans proposed that the British Army should occupy the camp immediately to keep the epidemics in the camp from spreading to the troops on both sides. In return, the Germans offered to surrender the bridges over the river Aller.
At first, the British rejected the German proposals, saying it was necessary that the British should occupy an area of ten kilometers around the camp in order to be sure of keeping their troops away from the epidemic, but eventually a compromise was reached and the British agreed.
On April 15, 1945, Bergen-Belsen was surrendered to British Officer Derrick Sington, who wrote about it in a small book called Belsen Uncovered which was published by Duckworth, London in 1946.
Of course, Himmler had not anticipated that the British would film the dead bodies in the camp and then show the film in movie theaters around the world without explaining that the prisoners had died of typhus. And he certainly didn’t expect that the staff members, who had voluntarily stayed behind in the camp, would be arrested, or that some of the Hungarian soldiers, who were assigned to help with the surrender of the camp, would be shot by the British.
When the film of Bergen-Belsen was shown in American theaters, it was naturally assumed that the prisoners had been deliberately starved to death or killed in a gas chamber, since the film made no mention of the typhus epidemic in the camp. Nor was it mentioned that the water pump at Bergen-Belsen had been hit by Allied bombs and fresh water had to be brought in by trucks.
When British soldiers were finally allowed, as agreed upon in the negotiations, to enter Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, they at first saw nothing amiss, according to some of the liberators. Smiling, healthy prisoners came out to greet them and some of the 500 children in the camp cheered and waved to them. But as they advanced further into the camp, they were stunned by the sight of thousands of unburied naked bodies.
The horror was beyond human imagination. The sickening stench of the rotting corpses was so great that British soldiers later claimed that they could smell the camp from a distance of 10 miles, although they had not smelled the bodies when they first entered, according to eye-witness reports.
In the last months of the war, as the Russian army advanced westward, prisoners in the camps in Poland had been evacuated and ultimately 60,000 prisoners had been crowded into the Bergen-Belsen camp which did not have enough space for them. Some of those who were still alive at Bergen-Belsen were walking skeletons. There were a variety of diseases that were rampant in the camp.
The Germans claimed that they had been unable to fix the broken water pump which had been destroyed by Allied bombs, and many inmates were dying of thirst, even though the camp was near a creek which the camp Commandant claimed was not fit for drinking. The camp used cisterns for its water supply, but the water could not be accessed without the electric pump that had been hit in a bombing raid. The nearby Army garrison had arranged for drinking water to be brought to the camp by truck, but it had not been nearly enough.
The British promptly fixed the broken pump and provided water from the creek for the camp which had been without water for six days. Creek water? Is this why 13,000 prisoners allegedly died after the British took over?
After the Belsen camp was turned over to the British, German civilians from the nearby towns were forced to remove the bodies of the 13,000 prisoners who died afterwards, while the survivors stood by and jeered at them. The photograph above shows a group of survivors in the background on the left, watching as German citizens were forced to handle the diseased bodies with their bare hands at gunpoint.
German homes in the nearby towns were taken by the British military and assigned to the surviving prisoners after the barracks in the camp were burned down. The German people in the area were on their own, trying to find some place to live after they were thrown out of their homes.
The documentary is not entirely about Bergen-Belsen. About mid way into the documentary, the story wanders off with a new topic — the Maidenek camp in Poland. Maidenek was the German name for Majdanek, a concentration camp in Poland, which had absolutely nothing to do with Bergen-Belsen.
The documentary Night Will Fall does not mention gas chambers, but gas chambers had to be included, so Maidenek was brought in instead.
We see photos of a warehouse full of hair, including a photo of braided hair which might have been taken at Auschwitz, not Majdanek. Then we see empty cans of Zyklon-B, the gas that was used to kill lice — and Jews.
Then we see photos of toys at Majdanek, followed by photos of sacks of human hair, along with photos of brushes and glasses. There are photos of suitcases and false teeth. What are we supposed to take from this: Was it wrong for the Germans to save everything that was brought to the camps by the prisoners?
Finally, we get to Auschwitz and we see Eva Moses Kor, who says that she got hot chocolate and cookies from the nice Russian soldiers who liberated Auschwitz.
Then it is on to Dachau. The word Dachau is spelled out, not spoken. That’s O.K. — I can’t say the word Dachau either. I thought that this was a nice touch — spelling the word instead of saying it.
At this point, we learn that 10,615 prisoners were DISPOSED OF at Dachau. I don’t know what that means.
The worst part of the documentary Night Will Fall was the section about Dachau: Negatives of the film were shown. This was a way to disguise the fact that the scenes at Dachau were not nearly as bad as the scenes at Bergen-Belsen.
We hear Dr. Isaac Levy speak in the film, as he says that there were 40,000 prisoners still alive at Bergen-Belsen — and 35,000 corpses. Who counted the corpses?
Then the documentary shows a few photos of Dachau, including the clothes that were hung up outside the disinfection chambers. We see the death train, as we are told that the prisoners “were left to die.” We are told that there were 17 prisoners who were still alive on the train, along with 3,000 dead prisoners. We are told that “the Germans knew about Dachau, but they did not care.”
We are told that Hitchcock wanted to show the world how close the Germans lived to the camps. At this point, we are told that German civilians lived very near the Ebensee camp, which was in a resort area. The implication is that the German people were enjoying themselves at a resort in Austria while the people were suffering in the concentration camps. Ebensee was an “end destination” for the prisoners who were marched out of the Mauthausen camp for their own safety, as the war was going on around them..
At the end of the film, we learn that “thousands were murdered just before the liberation of the camps”. We see the German people, who were marched for 5 miles at gun point, up a hill, to see the dead bodies at the Buchenwald camp. We see a close-up of the dead bodies, but there is no mention of typhus in the camp.
Throughout the film, there is no hint that the Allies committed any war crimes during World War II.