‘Night will Fall’

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

Andre Singer’s ‘‘Night will Fall’’ (UK, 9144-45, and 2014, b/w and colour, 75 mins), collaborated by Alfred Hitchcock, Sydney Bernstein and Billy Wilder, is a horrific account of how Britain’s army unit commissioned producer Sidney Bernstein to make a documentary record of the Nazi death camps, using terrifying footage pouring in from the liberation of Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachan and elsewhere. Alfred Hitchcock was employed as a supervising director, the year he also directed ‘Spellbound’. The film is detailed and shocking footage of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, which was suppressed by the British government, and left languishing in the Imperial War Museum, for seventy years in the can. As the Allies marched into Germany, the British and US psychological warfare departments, used fresh soldiers as film makers in 1944 and 1945. These soldiers were despatched with movie cameras, as the Allies marched into Germany. Sunny orchards, cows and plump Saxon families were filmed in Bergen-Belsen, until an unbreakable smell began to saturate the air. The cameras shift to an ocean of bodies falling into mass graves, acres of emaciated rib cages, and mountains of glass and teeth. The allied armies and their cameramen discovered and liberated the German concentration camps. Long sections of original footage record the starvation corpses stacked in heaps, dying human creatures, and living eyes staring through barbed wires.

Each mass grave is the size of a tennis court. The local Germans are forced to witness the camps by Allied soldiers. Some women faint, and men stare at the ground in the deepest shame. Hitchcock is settled in a room at Claridge’s hotel in London, well stocked with drink, and concentrating on editing more than 100,000 ft of film. Credited as ‘‘treatment advisor’’, Hitchcock spent only a month on the project. His ideas included ending the film with the ‘‘memento mori’’ of possessions, and showing on maps just how close German civilians were to the camps, whose existence they denied. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, ‘‘Night will Fall’’ intersperses footage with present day and archive interviews with the cameramen and some of the surviving Jews in the photographs, including Eva Moses Kor and Vera Kriegel, twins experimented on by De Josef Mengela in Auschwitz. The film was never completed. Producer Bernstein was stonewalled by western authorities, who were nervous of the growing Zionist movement, and in need of Germany as a post-war anti-Soviet ally. The Americans used some footage for a punchy propaganda film, directed by Billy Wilder. Bernstein conceived his film as a grieving meditation on inhumanity. The original project of the unseen Holocaust film, ‘‘German Concentration Camps Factual Survey’’, has now been completed by scholars at the Imperial War Museum, London. The British footage of the camps was used at the Nuremberg trials. ‘‘Night will Fall’’ has been reconstructed using the original script by Richard Crossman, and British, American and earlier Soviet Camp footage.

Vol. 47, No. 33, Feb 22 - 28, 2015