Shelved film's debut about 60 years late

The film is called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. Its images were shot at the end of World War II by liberators of the American, English, and Russian armies.
But it was never shown…
Factual Survey debuted in Dallas in a large Cinemark 17 auditorium. Spearheading this showing was the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance. Because of the film’s intensity, no one under age 18 was admitted.
Our area’s Jewish film organization, 3 Stars Cinema, cooperated in publicizing the event. So did UTD’s Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies and the Video Association of Dallas. Bart Weiss, artistic director of the latter, wrote about Factual Survey in a recent post:
“The film is mostly the Allied Army cameramen’s footage of what they saw as they liberated the camps,” he said. “The film was supposed to be shown to Germans to prove what had occurred…”
But that never happened. Instead, it sat on a shelf in England for all this time. Filming had begun in July 1944, when the Soviets reached the Majdanek camp in Poland. We saw Factual Survey here Aug. 3 — more than 71 years later, fully restored. Legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock is listed as a “treatment adviser” on the film, although he played only a limited role in the preparation of footage that had been gathered.
He never before or after had a hand in anything as fearful as this, but there’s no mystery in it: This is the reality of Hitler’s demented dreams and the Nazis who bought into them, carrying out dehumanization of a type, and on a scale, unimaginable before or since.
Read your Bible — the part about Ezekiel’s “valley of the dry bones.”
Those bones are all here on film, except that many of them are not yet dry. Not quite. Not like the bones retrieved from the ovens, to be ground up for fertilizer. Some of these others still have a minimum of flesh left on them, despite starvation.
And they have faces. We see them in heaps, great piles of skeletons thrown every which-way into deep pits. We see the residents of nearby towns, brought in by the liberators to gather up the many skeletons still just lying about, deserted when the Nazis deserted the camps themselves.
They dragged them to those pits, adding them to their fellows already “resting” there.
The film begins in Belsen, then moves in stark procession to a series of other camps. A map preceding each “scene” shows the camp’s location. There are some variations, where “life” is pictured along with death: Men still moving about on stick legs, but too weak to eat. Women used — and used up — as the Nazis’ prostitutes; when they died, other prisoners would replace them. Gaunt, sunken-eyed, rag-clad children.
You think you’ve seen it all, until you see the next chunk of the film. And the next. And the next…
At the end, a few of those English men and women who worked on the restoration told about it. They said that by the time all this footage had been collected, their country was already working with the Germans on postwar repairs, and didn’t want to beat the population over the head with what by then they already knew.
And in giving facts and figures, they decided to present victims in numbers by nationalities; they wanted to protect our people from being victimized once again, in a backhanded way, as a group: Let everyone know that these bones, these living skeletons, were once citizens of Poland, Hungary, Latvia, virtually every country in Europe, they said.
They feared that religious specification would fuel that old Nazi sentiment and intent: Oh yes, Jews…who cares about them?
There was a panel afterward to answer questions and lead discussion, but I didn’t stay.
I didn’t want to hear so soon what anyone else’s reactions to 90 minutes of pure horror were. I just slunk out and went home.
I’m still trying to deal with my own.

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