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Memory of the Camps
Frequently Asked Questions

+  What is the history of this film?

This documentary on the liberation of the German concentration camps in 1945 was assembled in London that year, but never shown until FRONTLINE first broadcast it -- 40 years later -- in May of 1985. Five of the film's six reels had survived in a 55-minute fine-cut print without titles or credits. (The quality of the print reflects the fact that the negative was lost and it was made from a nitrate positive cutting copy, the equivalent of a work-print today.)

In 1952 the five reels, together with an undated, unsigned typed narration which closely matched the edited film, were transferred from the British War Office film vaults to London's Imperial War Museum. The Museum gave the film the title "Memory of the Camps."

At the time the film was transferred to the Museum, a shot list, dated May 7, 1946, suggested that the missing sixth reel comprised Russian film of the liberation of Auschwitz and Maidanek. But this reel had been left in Moscow in the hands of the Russian cameramen who shot it.

"F3080" was the name given to a project to compile a documentary film on German atrocities. The project originated in February 1945 in the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). It was there that Sidney Bernstein, chief of PWD's Film Section, began preparations for producing a film using material shot by the service and newsreel cameramen accompanying the British, American, and Russian armies.

As the Allied forces advanced in the final weeks leading up to the German surrender, cameramen of the British Army Film Unit and of the American Army Pictorial Service began to make a systematic record of the newly liberated concentration camps. By early May 1945, the British Ministry of Information and the American Office of War Information began collaborating on the collation and rough-cutting of the film material.

+  Why was it made?

It was made to document unflinchingly the conditions of the death camps and show this to the German population. It was proposed that the filmmakers make three separate versions, one for showing to Germans in Germany, the second to German prisoners of war, and the third to "audiences, perhaps specialised, in neutral, liberated and allied territories."

As defined by Bernstein, the object was to shake and humiliate the Germans and prove to them beyond any possible challenge that these German crimes against humanity were committed and that the German people -- and not just the Nazis and SS -- bore responsibility.

+  Why was the film never released?

An incomplete file in the British Public Record Office chronicles delays and difficulties in the film project from February to July 1945. Progress was held up by the Army Pictorial Service's slowness in providing the British with duplicates of American material, by bottlenecks in the London film laboratories, and by the search for an editing machine.

By June 1945, impatience grew between the British and American partners. London still had not appointed a director, producer or writer and the Americans suggested that Billy Wilder complete the film in Munich. The project was also slowed down by the British determination to build a quasi-legal case proving German guilt and authenticating the evidence beyond any possibility of future denial.

Finally, on July 9, 1945, the Americans withdrew from the film. This came just a few days before the dissolution of the Psychological Warfare Division and SHAEF. The project now was the responsibility of the British Ministry of Information which quickly assembled a production team.

Although there was a flurry of activity in July, the film was still unfinished in September of 1945. By then, the new post-war climate interfered with the film's completion and release.

The British military command who screened the film-in-progress felt the need for a more congenial approach to improving Anglo-German relations. Their local military authorities in the liberated territories were arguing that the priority was to rally Germans out of their apathy. A film that would instill a collective guilt on the German population would only increase the chaos and demoralization.

Another factor should be noted regarding the shelving of the film: there already were Allied films on German atrocities. The Americans had Billy Wilder direct their concentration camp film "Die Todesmuhlen" which was released in the American zone in January 1946. And, a large amount of the material used in the Wilder two-reeler as well as in "Memory of the Camps" had already been exhibited to German audiences in the joint Anglo-American newsreel "Welt im Film" No. 5 released on June 15, 1945.

+  Why was there no mention of Germany's policy to eliminate Europe's Jewish population?

The film was assembled in London within a few months after the Allied liberation and thus reflects what the filmmakers knew at the time. They had not yet grasped the full scale of Hitler's Final Solution for Europe's Jews.

Another factor in this omission was the tactics of propaganda. A principle of war propaganda was to make its target identify with the victims. Thus, the film's aim was to universalize Hitler's victims; they would be defined by their humanity and innocence, and not by race or religion. The film's narration mentions men, women and children "from every European nationality."

A revealing 1941 British Ministry of Information guideline advised war propagandists that to make the Nazi evil credible, they must deal with "the treatment of indisputably innocent people, not with violent political opponents and not with Jews."

+  What was Alfred Hitchcock's role?

Sidney Bernstein, the film's director, persuaded his friend Alfred Hitchcock to leave Hollywood and come to England to collaborate for several weeks in the making of the film. Hitchcock arrived in late June, after the Belsen material (the first three reels of the film) had been assembled. He left in late July, two months before work on the film appears to have stopped. According to Bernstein, Hitchcock would not take a fee for his work.

Hitchcock is credited as "treatment advisor." He acted as a consultant in organizing the footage, along with writers Colin Wills and Richard Crossman (both of the London News Chronicle) and editors Peter Tanner and Stewart MacAllister.

In an interview before he died, Lord Sidney Bernstein explained that Hitchcock's contribution was to help shape the way the material was presented. "He took a circle round each concentration camp as it were on a map, different villages, different places and the numbers of people -- so they must have known about it...Otherwise you could show a concentration camp, as you see them now, and it could be anywhere, miles away from humanity. He brought that into the film."

Another known contribution was Hitchcock's including the wide establishing shots which support the documentary feel of the film and showed that the events seen could not have been staged. According to Peter Tanner, one of the film's editors, Hitchcock's concern was that "we should try to prevent people thinking that any of this was faked...so Hitch was very careful to try to get material which could not possibly be seen to be faked in any way."

+  What did FRONTLINE do with the film?

FRONTLINE acquired "F3080" in 1985 and commissioned the late actor Trevor Howard to record the original typed narration script.

FRONTLINE broadcast the film just as it was found in the Museum's archives, unedited, with the missing sound tracks, and with the title given to it by the Imperial War Museum: "Memory of the Camps."

The first broadcast was on May 7, 1985 to mark the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps.


Bibliography:

"The Fate of F3080" by Elizabeth Sussex, "Sight and Sound," British Film Institute, April 1984. (This is a well-researched article on the film's history and the contributions of all involved. The author drew on her access to Lord Sidney Bernstein's files. Quotes in this web site summary are from her article.)

"Films for liberated territories. Investigation of War Atrocities. Factual Film Report on German Concentration Camps." File INF 1/636 (F3080) in Public Record Office.

"Todesmuhlen" Brewster S. Chamberlin in Vierteljahrsheft fur Zeitgeschichte, pp 420-436, Heft 3, 1981.

"Portrait of an Invisible Man. The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor" Dai Vaughan, British Film Institute, 1983.

"Der Fruhling war es wert. Erinnerungen" Hanus Burger, C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1977.

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posted may 3, 2005

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