Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Night Will Fall

(UK, 2014)

An extremely odd movie here. When the Russians and the Americans and the British began rolling over Germany and Poland and exposing the heretofore unimaginable horrors of the death camps, they were accompanied by combat photographers. Even the raw footage, which you have certainly seen, and which has been incorporated into any number of previous documentaries, is enough to make you puke. The men who actually witnessed it will never forget one second of it, though they all wish they could. We see several of these guys, old men now, who to this day tear up and simply can’t go on.

But the British wanted to put it all together in one film. They selected the non-scintillating title German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, and went to town. They selected Sidney Bernstein to produce it, and he brought in Alfred Hitchcock to direct.

Hitch’s participation was minimal. And when they were in the middle of it, the whole project was shut down just when it was about ready to be released. You won’t believe the reason for the shutdown. The politicians saw that Russia was about to become our enemy, and they figured Germany would be a good ally in what became known as the Cold War. So they didn’t want to offend “German sensibilities.” Was there ever a bigger hollow laugh? German sensibilities, in nineteen fucking forty-five? I would have liked to have marched every single fucking German through those camps and had them each pick up an emaciated corpse to carry to the pits, and had them stand there for a day or so, smelling it. As so many of them were able to do while the war was going on.

(The Russians had half of the right idea. When they liberated a camp, they shot and killed every SS trooper where he or she stood. We had the other part of the right idea. We forced those fucking Nazi SS pigs to carry the corpses. What we should have done next was dig another mass grave with a bulldozer, and execute every last SS soldier in Germany. A separate grave, so as not to defile the dead innocents—men, women, and children—with their pig blood. Every one, men and women, no exceptions. No one was drafted into the SS. You had to volunteer. An even better idea: Shove them into the pit, and cover them up. Don’t waste bullets. The SS didn’t; that’s what the ovens were all about.)

But the movie was all written and mostly edited when it was shut down. It all got filed away. And just recently that footage was dug out and reassembled. This movie is the story of how that movie almost got made. And the question I kept asking myself was, why not see the original movie? I’m not sure what the problem is, but as of this writing (10/25/15) you can’t see the reconstructed film. It is supposed to be shown, somewhere, this year, but the year is almost over and so far it’s still in the can, where it has sat for seventy years.

As I said, if you have seen any documentary about the death camps, you have seen some of this stuff. But I have never seen so much of it, nor so baldly presented. It pulls no punches. And as one critic said, “Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.” As those veteran cameramen could tell you. So proceed with caution, if you have a weak stomach.