Friday, November 12, 2010

A Film Unfinished: New Meanings from a Nazi Propaganda Film

I don't know how I lost this because it's one of those stories I really love, not only because of the history, but because of my love of film and film-making. I will have to chalk it up to the hectic pace of my life during the summer season.  That's an explanation, not an excuse.  These stories have a life of their own and whenever they find an audience they continue to breathe.  A bit of history, painful yes, but we cannot forget. (Click to embiggen and notice the Nazi cameraman on the left. This image is haunting, even today.)
For almost half a century, an unfinished Nazi propaganda film of the Warsaw Ghetto, simply titled “Das Ghetto” and discovered by East German archivists after the war, was used by scholars and historians as a flawed but authentic record of ghetto life. Shot over 30 days in May 1942 — just two months before deportations to the Treblinka extermination camp would begin — this hourlong silent film juxtaposed random scenes of Jews enjoying various luxuries with images of profound suffering.
Like the flickering shadows in Plato’s Cave, these images were subjected to a radical rereading with the appearance of another reel in 1998: 30 minutes of outtakes showing the extent to which scenes had been deliberately staged. Over and over, in multiple takes, we see well-dressed Jews enter a butcher’s shop, ignoring the children begging outside. In a similar scenario, prosperous-looking passersby are directed to disregard the corpses abandoned on the sidewalk. The propagandists’ manipulation of their half-million prisoners was now clear, even as its eventual purpose — perhaps more than just to manufacture scenes showing callousness on the part of wealthy Jews toward their less fortunate brethren — remained as murky as ever.
In “A Film Unfinished,” the Israeli director Yael Hersonski embarks on a critical analysis of “Das Ghetto” that is remarkable as much for its speculative restraint as for its philosophical reach. Moving methodically reel by reel and acknowledging the “many layers of reality,” the director creates a palimpsest of impressions from multiple, meticulously researched sources representing both victims and oppressors.
Though excerpts from a taped interview with Willy Wist, one of the cameramen who worked on “Das Ghetto,” are as evasive as one might expect, other witnesses did not hold back. Readings from personal diaries, like those of Adam Cherniakov, the head of the Jewish Council (whose apartment was used by the Nazis to stage several scenes), and from the minutely detailed reports of the ghetto commissioner Heinz Auerswald, provide vivid insight into the restrictions of daily life and the methods of the Nazi filmmakers. 
 There's more HERE.

I am so grateful that I found this again and that it had not been mistakenly deleted.

And so it goes.


  1. Tuesday, Bob C. and I are visiting the Holocaust Museum in DC. First visit for both of us.

  2. My mind goes to what future generations may discover in "films" and other propaganda made today with similar intent.


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