Hitchcock and the Holocaust

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s movies have been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades. Understandably, we who love Hitchcock, focus on his unique cinematic language, the almost shamanistic ability to move the audience into shifting and complex points of view, and his mastery of suspense.

Less known are the propaganda films he volunteered to work on during World War II.

And perhaps the least known but most important allied film on which Hitchcock labored was never finished, and unceremoniously filed into the Imperial War Museum under the archival title number: “F3080.”

In June 1945 Hitchcock sailed to England to join his close friend and future producing partner, Sidney Bernstein, to make a documentary about the Nazi concentration camps. Bernstein, a British film exhibitor and producer, who had a long and close relationship with Hitchcock, was stunned by the horrors of the newly liberated death camps. Bernstein, a tireless anti-fascist and crusader against anti-Semitism, served as an officer in the Ministry of Information. Eisenhower ordered a documentary produced. Other important directors were proposed—Carol Reed and Billy Wilder—but only Hitchcock was able to set aside time.

In Alfred Hitchcock: A Life and Darkness and Light, author Patrick McGilligan writes:

[Hitchcock met] with two writers who had witnessed the atrocities of Bergen-Belsen first-hand. Richard Crossman contributed a treatment, while Colin Wills, an Australian correspondent, wrote a script that relied heavily on narration.

The director had committed himself to the project early enough to give Hitchcockian instructions to some of the first cameramen entering the concentration camps. Hitchcock made a point of requesting “long tracking shots, which cannot be tampered with,” in the words of the film’s editor, Peter Tanner, so that nobody could claim the footage had been manipulated to falsify the reality. The footage was in a newsreel style, but generally of high quality, and some of it in color.

There are several long panning shots in the film, and lingering close-ups which are almost unbearably graphic.

“One of the big shots I recall,” said Tanner,” was when we had priests from various denominations who went to one of the camps. They had a Catholic priest. They had a Jewish rabbi. They had a German Lutheran and they had a Protestant clergyman from England. And it was all shot on one shot so that you saw them coming along, going through the camp, and you saw them from their point of view all that was going on. And it was never cut. It was all in one shot. And this I know was one of Hitchcock’s ideas.”

This shot is not in the film.

The footage spanned eleven concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ebensee, and Mathausen. The filmmakers ended up with eight thousand feet of film and newsreel, some of it shot by allied photographers, the rest of it impounded. It was to be cut and assembled into roughly seven reels.

One reel runs approximately 10 minutes.

Hitchcock watched “all the film as it came in,” recalled Tanner, although the director “didn’t like to look at it.” The footage depressed both of them: the piles of corpses, the staring faces of dead children, the walking skeletons. The days of looking at the footage were long and unrelievedly grim.

The film was supposed to “perform the miracle of excoriating Nazi brutality while holding up optimism for postwar Germany.” But funding for the film was suspended in early August.  Said Bernstein many years later: “The military command, our foreign office and the U.S. State Department, decided that the Germans were in a state of apathy and had to be stimulated to get the machine of Germany working again. They didn’t want to rub their noses in the atrocities.”

Despite Bernstein’s protests, the unfinished fifty-five minute film—without completed sound or narration—was dumped into the Imperial war Museum, under the title of its archival file number: “F3080”—or “Memory of the Camp,” as it has come to be known—was discovered to be no Hitchcock flight of fancy, but an extremely hard-nosed, politically farsighted, totally unflinching look at the nightmare truth—“truth,” as Norman Lebrecht wrote in the Sunday Times, “at its most naked.”

Here, then is the Hitchcock Holocaust movie. Warning: It is graphic and deeply disturbing. As was intended and as it should be. The voice-over narration is by Trevor Howard.

YouTube Preview Image

You might also want to read Deanna Durbin and the Holocaust.

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24 Comments

  1. gomm
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I have not viewed the film yet, but let me take this opportunity to recommend Alfred Hitchcock Presents to his admirers here.  The 260 half-hour episodes are available on Youtube. Hidden gems, they have but a few thousand views. They feature stars of stage and screen and many of your Stars of Tomorrow (eg Redford and Shatner),but the real stars are the writing and Hitchcock himself. He introduces and closes each segment and is simply brilliant.  Unlike the stiff and pretentious caricature these appearances engendered, he is engaging, droll and unmannered. He maintains an adult distance from pop fashions and mores that stands up exceedingly well. The stories range from suspense to thriller to sci-fi to comedy most with a twist at the end. Well worth a gander.                                                                                    

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Gomm:

      The brilliant intros were written by James Allardice, a former newspaperman who, drawing form his war time experiences, wrote a Broadway play that he later adapted into the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy At War With the Army. He wrote a Francis the Talking Mule film as well as other Martin-Lewis comedies. Allardice drifted into radio and won an Emmy as part of the team who wrote monologues for popular George Gobbel Show. Allardice and Hitchcock were a perfect match. When they first met Allardice told Hitch that in high school he wrote a play in which he displayed an electric chair over which hung the sign: “You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse.” Hitch loved this and he put Allardice under exclusive contract. James Allardice is one of those geniuses film history sadly neglects.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      • Barry
        Posted January 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        Can’t stop laughing at the Westinghouse line.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • Robert J. Avrech
          Posted January 24, 2013 at 5:07 am | Permalink

          Barry:

          Tragically, James Allardice died at the young age of 47. Hitch was devastated and never quite recovered from the loss. Allardice was one of the few people Hitch just adored and respected.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Siddley
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    My late father was a British soldier and his unit moved past a concentration camp in Germany sometime in 1945 on their way to the front lines.
    The camp had already been liberated, but only a matter of days before. Some medical help had arrived for the survivors but it wasn’t yet organised properly. What he saw there haunted him for the rest of his life.
    I don’t know the details, I don’t even know which camp it was, Dad didn’t talk much about his war and I didn’t ask because it was painful for him.
    I do know that when the great UK documentary series ‘The World At War’ was screened in the early 70’s he requested me to sit down and watch the episode that dealt with the holocaust.
    He didn’t TELL me I had to watch it, he just asked….now I know why

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      Siddley:

      Thank so much for your valuable comment. No doubt, your father was a good man.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. pdwalker
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    I’d seen some pictures and some movies of the camps before, but never this much, and in this much detail.  
    By the end of the first camp, I felt that I would have buried every one of the prison guards in with the dead, alive.  How the Allies managed to retain their humanity, I’ll never know.  Then it gets worse with the description of all the last minute attempts to keep killing prisoners in advance of the Allies advance.  At that point, I think I’d have easily succumb to becoming an inhuman beast dispensing justice to those monsters. 
    Never give up your guns, ever again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. David Foster
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Robert…”People are, usually decent. Mankind is frequently evil.”
    Man loves, men hate. While individual men and women can sustain feelings of love over a lifetime toward a parent or through decades toward a spouse, no significant group in human history has sustained an emotion that could honestly be characerized as love. Groups hate. And they hate well…Love is an introspective emotion, while hate is easily extroverted…We refuse to believe that the “civilized peoples of the Balkans could slaughter each other over an event that occurred over six hundred years ago. But they do. Hatred does not need a reason, only an excuse.

    –Ralph Peters

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      David:

      Great quote from a great American. Thanks so much.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Bill Brandt
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    One has to wonder if this influenced his later work. I did learn that George Steven’s, who traveled with 3 other famous Hollywood directors/writers, was influenced by his experience when making Shane. Shane was, I believe, the first western that showed the damaged firearms really do

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Bill:

      Steven never made another comedy after seeing the concentration camps. 

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. Larry
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Found this reference, which has some more history through its links: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/camp/view/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      Larry:

      Thanks so much for the link.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. sennacherib
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I have not seen much of his work and certainly not this, I would like address this issue but I have to think some on it. When I was younger I remember his TV show, not many of the show themselves but the intro, the music, the outline and the shadow filling it, unforgettable.
    ” The days of looking at the footage were long and unrelievedly grim.” Not to mention living through it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      Sennacherib:

      Hitchcock was one of the finest directors ever. Strongly recommend: The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, Lifeboat, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Noth By Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, and Frenzy.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Barry
        Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

        Or, anything with Cary Grant. Too bad he didn’t do The Lady Vanishes. Obviously, not a Redgrave admirer, me.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • Robert J. Avrech
          Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

          Barry:

          Hitch had not yet made the move to America in 1937-38 so getting Grant was never even in the cards. I agree, Redgrave is boring.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Posted January 17, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I never cease to be amazed and repulsed by mankind’s capacity for cruelty toward its fellow man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Prophet Joe:
      People are, usually decent. Mankind is requently evil.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Barry
        Posted January 18, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        Exactlty Right, Robert.
         
        This helps to understand and prepare for hostile and negative changes in society and government. Anywhere.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Posted January 17, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Wow. Words fail me. Thank you so much for introducing me to this movie Robert. As disturbing as it may have been it’s something everyone should see. I have written a short post and linked back to yours in the hope that someone else might find it who otherwise wouldn’t. I hope you approve.
     
    http://thewarriorclass.blogspot.com/2013/01/hitchcocks-holocaust-movie.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Six:

      You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for the kind link and your generous words about me in your blog. I work hard at being, in your words, “a good man.”

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. exdemexlib
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I really liked his TV series.
    Here’s a link with some great b&w shots of him:
     
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047708/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      exdem:

      Many of the episodes are classic. And many, many fine actors got their start in the series. Thanks for the link.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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