This horrifying indictment reveals the full hour of much-quoted footage shot and subsequently abandoned by SS cameramen in 1942 in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw – and encourages us to consider exactly why it was ever made.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2010
Footage shot by SS cameramen in 1942 in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw has often been quoted in documentary accounts of the Holocaust. Surely familiarity will never inure us to the horror of these images? Streets peopled by walking cadavers; lifeless faces lined up for the camera; the dead stripped naked and stacked into mass graves. Filmmaker Yael Hersonski has followed this footage back to its origins to show us the full hour of the unfinished ghetto film project the Nazis left behind. What was it for, she asks. Combing through the journals of a ghetto social leader and the testimony of a Nazi cameraman, she reveals, amongst other things, the extent to which scenes were fabricated, with residents forced to act out contrived displays of their own inhumanity towards each other. Her simple strategy of constantly interrogating the life behind the camera is powerfully upsetting: what is (or isn’t) happening inside the German heads is as unfathomable, appalling and necessary to witness as the utter despair in the faces they are filming. — BG