Hitchcock on Holocaust
Author's Note: General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to General Marshall: “ ... In one room where there were stacked up twenty to thirty naked men, killed by starvation, not even George Patton would enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first hand evidence of these things if ever in the future there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to 'propaganda.'"
There must never be a statute of limitations placed upon what reasonable people regard as the truth nor can we be persuaded to discontinue to teach this and all succeeding generations that such things, as you will see in this film, eventually and invariably result from the sowing of hatred.
British Army photographers filmed the footage from which Alfred Hitchcock later produced his film "In Memory of the Camps".
Appearing smartly attired, a British infantryman, attached to the first British troops to enter Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945 stands before the camera in stark contrast to the unspeakable carnage one sees in the immediate background.
His uniform is well-pressed and "tidy"-as the English are want to say. His beret is rakishly placed more aside than atop his head. A Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk 1 Rifle, strapped diagonally across his chest, dashingly adorns his uniform and with words that bespeak a deeply-held moral conviction, he testifies that at last he understands what he has been "fighting for".
As heartfelt as his words were, he could not have known that the liberation of the "camps"*-marking an end to the war against the Jews and other ethnic non-combatants deemed unfit to live in the post-war era of the one thousand year Third Reich-was not the reason for which the Allies: Britain, the Soviet Union and The United States had gone to war against Hitlerism.
Imagine President Roosevelt, as skilled an orator as he was, trying to justify what surely would have been an impossible "sell" to the American public that the war effort, supposedly against anti-democratic fascism, was really only a subterfuge for the "real" agenda-to save European Jewry from utter annihilation.
Readers may recall that American public sentiment and a Congressional majority were decidedly isolationist for the twenty-six months between the notorious German “blitzkreig” invasion of Poland, begun September 1, 1939 and the "date which will live in infamy", December 7, 1941.
The following day, December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt called the nation to war before a joint session of the Congress of the United States, announcing that "naval and air forces of the empire of Japan" had attacked American ground, air and naval forces stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Well, so much for isolationism. Rendered moot by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. War with Japan meant war with Germany, Japan's ally.
But when British, Russian and American forces happened upon places like Bergen-Belsen as they advanced towards Berlin, what awaited them far exceeded anyone's wildest nightmares.
The routine zeal with which the SS pursued their passion, to kill as many prisoners as possible exceeded the capacity of their increasingly futile effort to incinerate the thousands of corpses ghastily piled up in heaps or found fallen wherever the "walking dead"-victims of deliberate starvation, thirst, Typhus and unabashed sadism-crumbled to the ground and died.
So much of the documentary footage that many, if not most of us, have seen lacks a photographic element that, I believe, sets this film apart. The emotive power of the photographic close up, such that it can and often does incite attraction and revulsion simultaneously.
Distance, as everyone knows, serves as a cushion. Distance protects us, comforts us and grants us the easy way out. Not so much the case with close ups.
Here you see the finer details of somebody's face or what remains of it. Closeness changes his status from object to a human victim who once had a name and smiled easily and often.
Even under conditions of humiliating defeat, the SS woman and men carry out British orders to remove the remains of thousands of unburied dead-many in an advanced state of putrefaction, flinging them into mass graves without showing the slightest signs of emotional distress. They slung them over their shoulders, around the neck or dragged them along as if an exceedingly heavy bag of refuse. Yes, the torturers and tormentors too were photographed "close up".
Neither kindness nor life did the prisoners receive.
*The author does not differentiate, as do some, between so-called concentration camps, work camps, transit camps. Whatever differences may have existed were irrelevant by the end of the day. They were all death camps.