“If we don’t learn the lessons these pictures teach, night will fall.” This is the opening line of “Night Will Fall” and it refers to a powerful line of narration from Sidney Bernstein’s 1945 documentary, “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.” Bernstein’s powerful British documentary, about Nazi atrocities and the liberation of their concentration camps, was shelved until recently because of the sensitive political climate immediately after the Second World War.
Bernstein wanted to provide incontrovertible evidence of the ugliest side of mankind. Fearing that people might deny the appalling atrocities, groups of Germans were asked to go inside concentration camps to witness the results of Nazi brutalities firsthand. Bernstein commissioned many famous British people, including Alfred Hitchcock, to help him with the project.
Seventy year later, Andre Singer has restored Bernstein’s film, revisiting the greatest inhumanities that the world has ever seen by using original archive footage and eyewitness testimonies from Bernstein’s previously hidden British masterpiece.
Trained as cameramen, Allied forces produced footage that revealed the full horror of what became known as the Holocaust. The forthright filming broke from the traditional use of combat cameras which would drift away from recording the horrific brutalization of people in close-up.
“In the spring of 1945, the allies advancing into the heart of Germany came to Bergen-Belsen,” says the narrator. “Neat and tidy orchards, well-stocked farms lined the wayside, and the British soldier did not fail to admire the place and its inhabitants. At least, until he began to feel a smell…”
The smell came from the burned bodies and disease-ridden prisoners in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, close to those well-stocked farms.
A Major in the British Royal Artillery who was a witness on the scene, said that Germans had approached the British frontline asking them not to go through the concentration camp because they feared that typhus fever would spread to the civilian population, and to the British and German armies. But the British soldiers continued, discovering appalling, indescribable scenes: death everywhere; bodies piled up; fields with burned babies, youth, women and men.
In Auschwitz they found precious, portable possessions that prisoners had brought with them on their final journeys; not knowing their tragic fates of the deadly gas chambers that awaited them as soon as they left the train outside the camp. In one piece of the film, Bernstein’s footage includes huge bags containing human hair. “Nothing was wasted,” says the narrator.
Night Will Fall includes many interviews with survivors who tearfully speak about the moments of liberation and how they had spent years expecting to die. One of the survivors, Branko Lustig, went on to produce the multi-Oscar winning epic, Schindler’s List.
Twins Vera and Ana are two of the survivors of the infamous doctor Joseph Mengele who became notorious for performing deadly human experiments on prisoners. Nazi soldiers took them to Mengele, boasting, “Hey, I found twins for you,” recalls Ana.
Despite the shocking and upsetting imagery, Singer felt that it was vital to reveal Bernstein’s forgotten masterpiece, because people can only begin to understand the horrors of war by witnessing such harrowing images.
“Night Will Fall” by Director Andre Singer will be screening as part of DokuFest’s ‘Spectrum: Films on Film’ program:
- Monday 10 (14:00) @ Shtepia e Kultures