Newly completed Holocaust film premieres at Arc cinema

A documentary about the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, started in 1945 by a group of filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock but left unfinished for decades, has been digitally restored and completed by Imperial War Museums in the UK.

Titled German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, this powerful film will have its Canberra premiere at the NFSA’s Arc cinema on April 23, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Helen Lewis (Canberra), author and daughter of Allied armed forces cameraman Mike Lewis who filmed at the Belsen concentration camp.

Ordered in April 1945 by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, the film is an official documentary about German atrocities and the concentration camps compiled with footage shot by combat and newsreel cameramen accompanying troops as they liberated occupied Europe. It was to be the film screened in Germany after the fall of the Third Reich – shown to German prisoners of war wherever they were held.

Producer Sidney Bernstein assembled a team at the Ministry of Information that included editors Stewart McAllister and Peter Tanner; writers Colin Wills and Richard Crossman; and Alfred Hitchcock, who worked as treatment adviser.

Making a long film about such an important and complex subject was difficult. Progress was slow and the film missed its moment. By September 1945, British priorities for Germany had evolved from de-Nazification to reconstruction and so the film was shelved, unfinished.

IWM inherited the mute rough-cut of five reels of the planned six-reel film, along with 100 compilation reels of unedited footage of atrocities and scenes in the camps after they were liberated, shot by Allied cameramen. IWM also acquired a script for the voice-over commentary and a detailed shot list for the complete film.

In the early 1980s IWM used some of this footage to create a documentary titled Memory of the Camps. In 2008 IWM was in the process of restoring that title, when they realised they could fulfil the original 1945 vision, using the filmmakers’ directions and materials.

The film now has the title German Concentration Camps Factual Survey – as originally listed in the Ministry of Information Catalogue of Films for Liberated Territories. The original commentary was re-recorded with the voice of actor Jasper Britton and an effects track created, blending the existing synch sound recordings made at Belsen with authentic Army Film and Photographic Unit recordings made on the battlefields of NW Europe (1944-1945).

The film had its Australian premiere at last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. The Arc cinema screening in Canberra is the only one planned for Australia at the moment.