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Memory of the Camps

» Film Notes for "Memory of the Camps"

This hour-long documentary on the liberation of the German concentration camps was assembled in London in 1945, but it was never completed. It was constructed from footage shot by the service and newsreel cameramen accompanying the British, American, and Russian armies, but it wasn't shown until May 7, 1985 when FRONTLINE first presented it to mark the 40th anniversary of the liberation. FRONTLINE broadcast the film just as it was found in the archives of London's Imperial War Museum, unedited, with the missing sound tracks, and with the title given to it by the Museum -- "Memory of the Camps."

The project originated in February 1945 in the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). "Memory of the Camps" was intended to document unflinchingly the conditions of the camps in order to shake and humiliate the Germans and prove to them beyond any possible challenge that crimes against humanity were committed and that the German people -- and not just the Nazis and SS -- bore responsibility.

A variety of bureaucratic and technical glitches delayed completion of the film. In the end, it was unfinished, and the British military command felt the need for a more congenial approach to improving Anglo-German relations. They worried that the film might increase the chaos and demoralization.

Despite being shelved for decades, 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.) Missing was a sixth reel comprised of Russian footage of the liberation of Auschwitz and Maidanek, presumed to have been taken to Moscow

The editing of the footage was done by a team of accomplished filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock. One of Hitchcock's important contributions was the inclusion of wide establishing shots which support the documentary feel of the film and showed that the events in the film 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."

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