Alfred Hitchcock is one of many famous filmmakers to deal with the horrific images of the Holocaust. His documentary, created during the war, is set to be restored for contemporary audiences.
As the Allies were preparing their final thrust in the last years of the war, many prominent film directors were taken on board. Their assignment was not only to document the historical events, but also to make propaganda films, which could be shown in newsreels and cinemas back home. These short films were also shown to the soldiers on the front.
Big names like Billy Wilder, William Wyler and Frank Capra got in on the action. Several British directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, were also asked. He had already been working in Hollywood for a number of years after launching his career in Europe.
In 1944, he was commissioned by the Ministry of Information in London to make two 30-minute films targeted at a French audience. "Bon Voyage" and "Aventure Malgache" were intended to show how strong the French Résistance was against the Nazi troops.
After that, Hitchcock was approached by producer Sidney Bernstein, a friend of his, about another project. Under the working title "F3080," the film was meant to be the second half of a two-part documentary covering the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. The first part, about the liberation of the camp in Bergen-Belsen, had already been completed.
Film in fragments
Precisely how involved Hitchcock was in the documentary project is unclear. What we do know, though, is that the director viewed film material and gave instructions on assembling it. Referred to by experts as a "missing Hitchcock" film, the resulting product remained fragmented.
Now, the film known under the title "Memory of the Camps," is slated to be restored and made accessible to a broader audience than it was originally meant for.
In 1994 and 1945, the Americans and the British wanted to show the world the unfiltered truth about the atrocities committed by the Nazis. When troops went in to liberate the various concentration camps, they made sure a camera team was there to capture everything.
The Russians also sent film crews. In July 1944, a Soviet team filmed in the already partially destroyed Majdanek camp near Lublin in Poland. And the Red Army brought a film crew in to collect images from the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945.
Then in April, just before the end of the war, Bergen-Belsen was liberated. It was the first larger camp where the Nazis hadn't managed to destroy incriminating evidence before the liberation by the Allies.
Sidney Bernstein, who headed the film section of the joint British-American Psychological Warfare Division (PWD), coordinated the filming. "The cameramen were instructed to collect all kinds of material that illustrated the connection between the German industry and the concentration camps - like manufacturers' instructions for incinerators, gas chambers and other facilities, correspondence with suppliers, etc.," Bernstein summed up.
Emphasis on reality
For the second part of the project, Billy Wilder was asked, but he turned it down. Hitchcock was never officially hired, but a number of witnesses have confirmed that he was involved in the project.
Peter Tanner, a cutter for "Memory of the Camps," wrote in 1983 about Hitchcock's painstaking work. He put a lot of emphasis on the "authenticity" of the material and required that re-enacted scenes and documentary clips be strictly separated, Tanner wrote.
Film historian Christoph Terhechte, director of the Forum section of the annual Berlinale film festival, wrote in 1999, "Hitchcock was meticulous about using material that could in no case have been re-enacted."
Toby Haggith from the Imperial War Museum in London describes the film as "extremely powerful and moving." It presents not only horrific but also hopeful images, he said, including footage of a prisoner taking his first shower after being released. The film also portrays the efforts of the Allies to hinder the spread of diseases that had been rampant in the camp, like typhus.
Rebuilding a broken Germany
"Memory of the Camps" was not completed at the time, though footage taken by the Allied film crews was shown in newsreels and worked into propaganda films. After the war, the Americans backed out of project "F3080."
"There was a tough winter ahead, and instead of confronting the Germans with their guilt, chaos and demoralization were to be combated with confidence," said Christoph Terhechte.
Haggith pointed out that the Allies recognized that in rebuilding Germany it would not be productive to confront the Germans with the past.
Hitchcock himself was shocked by the footage, according to a 1945 report by The Independent, which said that he didn't come into his film studios for days after viewing it.
Then the film simply disappeared for many years and was rediscovered by an American researcher in the early 1980s. A fragmented version of it was shown at the 1984 Berlinale film festival in the German capital.
The upcoming restored version is expected to be released in early 2015, according to the Imperial War Museum in London.