Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: Memory of the Camps

Friday, May 06, 2005

Memory of the Camps

Tonight I watched possibly the most powerful film I've ever laid eyes on. It was a rebroadcast of an incomplete film produced by British and American filmmakers – including Alfred Hitchcock – about the atrocities that took place in Nazi concentration camps.

Sixty years ago, in the spring of 1945, Allied forces liberating Europe found evidence of atrocities which have tortured the world's conscience ever since. As the troops entered the German concentration camps, they made a systematic film record of what they saw. Work began in the summer of 1945 on the documentary, but the film was left unfinished. FRONTLINE found it stored in a vault of London's Imperial War Museum and, in 1985, broadcast it for the first time using the title the Imperial War Museum gave it, "Memory of the Camps."
Many people my age have studied this subject. We've watched films on it, read books, and even heard survivors speak to us in person. Still, nothing that I've ever seen or heard prepared me for the impact Memory of the Camps had on me.

In its incomplete state, missing part of the sound track and several pieces of the film, it is a raw documentation of the horrors committed during the second world war. There is nothing slick, and nothing new about it. It is simply biting footage of the dead, the dying, and the living – all taken within hours and days of the liberation of the camps.

Tonight was one of the last broadcasts of the film on PBS' Frontline, but they have it up in its entirety on their website: No matter how difficult it is to watch (and I had to look away more than once) it is worth watching. No story, no picture, no music or film has ever left the impression upon me that this program did.

Few people seek out this kind of experience, and even fewer desire it. I simply happened upon the film as it was being broadcast, and could not make myself turn it off. The images haunt me as I try to go about my evening. I can only imagine how they will do so as I sleep.

Watch this film.