German Concentration Camps Factual Survey is the official British documentary of the German concentration camps and atrocities discovered when the Allies liberated occupied Europe.
The film is compiled from footage shot by combat and newsreel cameramen and covers the scenes at fourteen locations (ten camps and four sites of atrocity) discovered in Austria, Germany and Poland. It begins with a prologue compilation of Nazi propaganda film and then deals with each camp or site of atrocity in turn, from Belsen, through Dachau, Buchenwald and other camps and sites of atrocity, concluding with coverage of Auschwitz and Majdanek in Poland.
History of the Film
The documentary was ordered in April 1945 by SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) and was to be the film screened in Germany after the fall of the Third Reich - shown to German prisoners of war wherever they were held.
Sidney Bernstein (founder of Granada Television) was the Producer of the film at Britain’s Ministry of Information. Bernstein assembled a small but distinguished and expert team in 1945 to work on the project and this included the editors Stewart McAllister (acclaimed for his work with Humphrey Jennings) and Peter Tanner and the writers Colin Wills and Richard Crossman (writer, German expert and future cabinet minister). Bernstein sought the help of Alfred Hitchcock, who is known to have given important advice on how the film should be put together. Bernstein described Hitchcock as the film’s 'Director', but given that all the footage had been shot prior to Hitchcock’s month-long involvement on the project and that he was not in England to oversee the editing of the rough-cut, it is more accurate to retrospectively describe him as the treatment adviser.
The film was not completed in 1945. From the start of the project, there were a number of problems including the practical difficulties of international co-operation and the realities of post-war shortages. These issues delayed the film long enough to be overtaken by other events including the completion of two other presentations of concentration camp footage to the German people and the evolution of occupation policy, where the authorities no longer considered a one-hour compilation of atrocity material appropriate. The last official action on the film was a screening of an incomplete rough-cut on 29 September 1945, after which the film was shelved, unfinished.
Although there was an intention to return to the film in the spring of 1946, this never happened, and in 1952, IWM inherited the mute rough-cut of five reels of the planned six-reel film, along with 100 compilation reels of unedited footage of atrocities and scenes in the camps after they were liberated, shot by Allied cameramen. IWM also acquired a script for the voice-over commentary and a detailed shot list for the complete film.
In the early 1980s curators at the Imperial War Museum and a researcher working on a biography of Sidney Bernstein became aware of the importance of the material (at this stage accessioned and preserved but untitled) and the five reel rough cut was screened at the Berlin Film Festival in February 1984, with the allocated title Memory of the Camps (pre-digitisation and without the sixth reel). This version was also screened in 1985; the five reels were broadcast on Frontline, part of the WGBH Boston PBS network. The commentary was read by Trevor Howard; Frontline concluding the film by directing Howard to read the last 14 lines of the commentary accompanied by scenes shot after the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.