“In 1945, Hitchcock had been enlisted by his friend and patron Sidney Bernstein to help with a documentary on German wartime atrocities, based on the footage of the camps shot by British and Soviet film units. In the event, that documentary was never seen.”
A truncated version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Holocaust documentary was aired on Frontline in 1985 under the name “Memory of the Camps”, but now the restoration work on the film is nearly complete and set to be released later this year.
The film is “much more candid” than other documentaries, and Hitchcock himself was reported to have been so disturbed during production that he stayed away from his studio for a week. (Full video of “Memory of the Camps” is inside. Given the subject matter, disturbing content throughout.)
The editors Stewart McAllister (famous for his work with Humphrey Jennings) and Peter Tanner, working under advice from Hitchcock, fashioned an immensely powerful and moving film from the hours and hours of grim material at their disposal. The documentary isn’t all about death. We also see imagery of reconstruction and reconciliation. There is footage of camp inmates having their first showers and cleaning their clothes. The film-makers show the painstaking way that typhus was eradicated from the camps.
Haggith speak of the “brilliance” of the original cameramen at the camps, who were working without direction but still had an uncanny knack for homing in on the most poignant and telling images.
“It’s both an alienating film in terms of its subject matter but also one that has a deep humanity and empathy about it,” Haggith suggests. “Rather than coming away feeling totally depressed and beaten, there are elements of hope.”