“Soon the fire will die, the smoke and ashes will drift away, and grass will cover the place. Do not imagine this was the only black spot that was uncovered in Germany. There were over 300 others.”
Ordered in April 1945 by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, the film is an official documentary about German atrocities and the concentration camps compiled with footage shot by combat and newsreel cameramen accompanying troops as they liberated occupied Europe. It 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.
Producer Sidney Bernstein assembled a team at the Ministry of Information that included Editors Stewart McAllister and Peter Tanner; Writers Colin Wills and Richard Crossman; and Alfred Hitchcock, who worked as Treatment Adviser.
Making a long film about such an important and complex subject was difficult. Progress was slow and the film missed its moment. By September 1945, British priorities for Germany had evolved from de-Nazification to reconstruction and so the film was shelved, unfinished.
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.
Restoration of the Film
A need for restoration of the copies of Memory of the Camps had become apparent after the film had been shown widely as a popular loan item. IWM believed that the project to restore the film could also encompass work to complete it, using the filmmakers' original directions (the rough cut, shot list and script for the commentary) and all reels of source material that had been assembled back in 1945 to make the film.
The work to restore and complete the film began in December 2008, when the IWM team - including Dr Toby Haggith, George Smith, Andrew Bullas and David Walsh - investigated whether the sequences for reel six, as described in the original shot list, could be found among the 100 component reels of unedited footage, deposited with the rough-cut in 1952.
IWM discovered all the scenes listed for the sixth reel, except for two maps, one of which has now been especially created. As well as completing the film, IWM revisited the original masters and component reels, digitally scanning these and assembling the whole film from scratch. The work was carried out in collaboration with Dragon DI - a digital post-production company in Wales, UK.
The film now has the title German Concentration Camps Factual Survey - as originally listed in the Ministry of Information Catalogue of Films for Liberated Territories, published in September 1945. The original commentary has been re-recorded with the voice of actor Jasper Britton and an effects track created, blending the existing synch sound recordings made at Belsen with authentic Army Film and Photographic Unit recordings made on the battlefields of NW Europe (1944-1945), which are held in IWM's collection.
- David Walsh - Restoration Producer
- Dr Toby Haggith - Restoration Director
- George Smith - Restoration Editor
- Andrew Bullas - Off-line Editor
- Damon Cleary - Graphics
- Jane Fish - Commercial Liaison
- Corinna Reicher - Translator
- Suzanne Bardgett - Historical Adviser
- Roger Smith - Historical Adviser
- Jasper Britton - Narrator
- Vincenzo Cannatella - Dubbing Mixer
The picture was scanned, restored and digitally assembled at Dragon DI.
The soundtrack was mixed and recorded at Prime Focus.
Toby Haggith, 'Restoring and Completing German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (1945/2014), Formerly Known as Memory of the Camps', in the Journal of Film Preservation, 04.2015, pp. 95-101
Toby Haggith, 'The 1945 Documentary German Concentration Camps Factual Survey and the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Camps'. The Holocaust in History and Memory, vol. 7 (2014), pp. 181-97.
Kay Gladstone, 'Separate Intentions: The Allied Screening of Concentration Camp Documentaries in Defeated Germany in 1945-46: Death Mills and Memory of the Camps' in Toby Haggith and Joanna Newman (eds.) Holocaust and the Moving Image: Representations in Film and Television Since 1933 (Wallflower Press: 2005), pp. 50-64
Blu Ray and DVD Release
On 17 April 2017 the BFI released German Concentration Camps Factual Survey in a Dual Format Edition to coincide with the liberation of Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945.
This lost masterpiece of British documentary filmmaking recorded the horrors that were discovered in the German concentration camps upon liberation and has never been released on Blu-ray or DVD before. Restored and completed by IWM, it is presented in a Special Archival Edition with newly-created contextualising special features and archival interviews with liberated prisoners, SS guards and British soldiers.
This is now available to buy in IWM's shop.
- New restoration by IWM (Imperial War Museums) which was recognised with a Special Award at the FOCAL International Awards 2015.
- Presented with both an optional contextualising Intro and Outro
- Panel Discussion at the BFI Southbank (2015, 42 mins): restoration director Dr Toby Haggith (IWM) is joined on-stage by a panel of experts to discuss the film
- Audio commentary with Dr Toby Haggith and BFI senior curator Patrick Russell
- Vox Pops Compilation (2015, 6 mins): cinema-goers reflect after a screening at BFI Southbank
- Statement from Ludwig Weill at Fort Breendonk (1944, 3 mins): archival statement with a liberated prisoner
- Statements at Bergen-Belsen (1945, 18 mins): statements from SS guards, freed prisoners and members of the British Army
- Interviews at Dachau (1945, 38 mins): archival interviews with recently liberated prisoners
- Testimony from Dr Petr Zenkl (1945, 13 mins): archival testimony from the Czech politician who was imprisoned at Dachau and Buchenwald
- Archival soundtrack – alternative soundtrack which features only the narration and the original synch-sound
- 80-page perfect-bound book with comprehensive essays on the making of the film and its restoration, and full film credits
- The New York Times - Revisiting Concentration Camp Atrocities in Shattering Clarity
- Cineaste - German Concentration Camps Factual Survey: An Interview with Toby Haggith of Imperial War Museums
- The Sydney Morning Herald - Horror of the Holocaust comes vividly to life in the forgotten film from the camps
- J-Wire - Interview with Dr Toby Haggith about the film's restoration
- DVD Beaver - German Concentration Camps Factual Survey [Blu-ray] review
- The Arts Desk - German Concentration Camps Factual Survey: DVD/Blu-ray
- The Digital Fix - German Concentration Camps Factual Survey
- Front Row Reviews - German Concentration Camps Factual Survey DVD Review