» Discussion Prompts
This is the kind of film that demands time for reflection. You may want to consider using the following as writing prompts rather than discussion prompts. The questions are designed for a variety of purposes and levels of inquiry. Rather than try to work through them all, find one or two that best suit your needs.
- What did you know about the concentration camps prior to viewing the film? Which of your ideas were confirmed by the film? Which were contradicted? Which things in the film filled in gaps in your knowledge?
- The film's narration ends with "Unless the world learns the lessons these pictures teach, night will fall. But, by God's grace, we who live will learn." In your view, what are the lessons of these pictures?
- Which images or moments from the film were most powerful to you? Why do you think you found these particular images or moments so compelling?
- Given what you have seen in the film, consider the lasting impact of these events on:
- U.S. military policy
- U.S. foreign policy
- The current conflict between the State of Israel and Arab powers in the region, including the Palestinians
- Theology and the belief in a protective divine power
- Definitions of humanity
- Definitions of evil
- Jewish culture
- Jewish self-reliance/willingness (or unwillingness) to trust non-Jews
» Media Studies
- Identify the target audience of this film when it was made. On what evidence do you base your conclusion? How does that target audience differ from audiences for the film today?
- Compare the graphic nature of the footage in "Memory of the Camps" with footage labeled as "graphic" today. What are the differences?
- Consider how audiences immediately following the war might have interpreted this footage, made before the abilities existed for digital technologies to create realistic-looking footage. Compare that reaction to the potential reaction of audiences now. If you were a World Court judge, would you accept this footage as evidence? Why or why not?
- Look at current references to "Nazis," "fascists," "Hitler," and "evil" in popular culture, media, and politics. In your view, where are the terms being used appropriately? If you were responsible for crafting a policy for journalists, what guidelines would you provide to reporters for usage of these references?
- How would you describe the delivery style of the narrator? What messages do you think the style conveys?
» Philosophy / Religion
- Use Hannah Arendt's concept of the 'banality of evil' to assess and analyze the images of guards and bystanders depicted in the film.
- List the adjectives that best describe your culture's approach to burial (e.g., solemn, sacred, respectful, etc.). Compare the burial practices from your own heritage with what you see in the film. How does what you see in the film compare with what would have been the normal burial customs of Jews, Gypsies, Christians, and other victims? Why are burial rituals an important part of cultural expression and preservation?
- Aside from the formal post-war trials of Nazi and SS leaders, what kinds of punishments did the camp liberators mete out? What is the difference between punishment and justice? What might constitute justice for the perpetrators of the things you see in "Memory of the Camps?" Are there things we can do today to help achieve justice?
- The Allied military authorities who governed the camps immediately following liberation made a point of showing the conditions of the camps to German civilians. In your view, was it important for the Allies to lay responsibility at the feet of all Germans and not just hold SS leaders and camp guards accountable? What was the effect of that approach to responsibility?
- The opening narration describes Hitler coming to power: "It had seemed a good sort of bargain...especially if it meant a vista bright with the promise of grandeur and conquest." Consider how voters today make "bargains." Would you vote for a candidate whose economic policies you liked, but whose social vision you rejected? Would you vote for a candidate that made you feel proud to be an American but who favored discrimination against particular groups? Justify your position.
- The narrator says, "The dead have been buried. It remains for us to care for these, the living." Specifically, what "care" are the liberators obligated to provide and why? Do people today still bear this responsibility? Do you?
- The narrator says that the purpose of the film is to "serve our collective memory." What is "collective memory" and why might it be important? How long should something like this Holocaust be kept as part of the "collective memory?"
» Human Rights
- What specific camp structures and policies contributed to the ability of one group of people to de-humanize another?
- How do you restore humanity to people who have been de-humanized? What kinds of things did the soldiers who liberated the camps do?
- Research the safeguards put into place after World War II to prevent future humanitarian atrocities. How effective have they been? What are today's obstacles to the prevention of genocide?
- The film barely mentions the Nazis' particular targeting of Jews. How might this omission have served the filmmakers' interests at the time? How might it have served to reinforce the very anti-Semitism that infused the extermination camps?
» Selected Quotes
These can be used as discussion or writing prompts, or they might be read aloud by students as a transition between viewing and discussion or as part of a ritual to honor the victims.
- "Most of the people seemed listless beyond hope and astonishment."
- "The faces of the bystanders showed just a little of the hate that Germany had inspired — and some of the anguish, too."
- "There were children, too, in Belsen camp, though what crime they had committed was difficult to imagine."
- "The things in this camp are beyond describing. When you actually see them for yourself, you know what you're fighting for here."
- "Corruption was fostered for it gave another excuse for killing."
- "All this seemed so remote from humanity, so far beyond the behavior of man."
- "It had to be seen to be believed."
- "They were able to see the mountains, but what use are mountains without food?"
- "These were the rest — hurriedly murdered lest they be set free to live a normal life."
- "In terms of barbarity and brutality they had traveled backwards for 12,000 years."
Memory of the Camps
This FRONTLINE Web site for the film includes a full transcript of the film as well as links to organizations providing additional information on the Nazi genocide of Jews during World War II and on strategies for teaching about the Holocaust.