Night Will Fall
Directed by Andre Singer
Cornerhouse, 21 September 2014
It is my duty to describe something beyond the imagination of mankind…
So began the report in the Times, describing what was found at Belsen when British troops entered it in April 1945. Disbelief and horror were the responses to what was found at Dachau, Buchenwald and Auschwitz too.
The disbelief presented the Allies with a problem: how to convince people that these camps actually existed? For there were doubters and deniers then, as now.
Night Will Fall is about the film which Sidney Bernstein planned to make following the discovery of the camps, a film which – despite a completed script by Richard Crossman and a commitment by Alfred Hitchcock to direct it – was never finished. Bernstein wanted to create a document of record out of the masses of footage taken by cameramen attached to British, American and Soviet forces; a film that would provide irrefutable proof that these atrocities – the word ‘holocaust’ came later – actually happened.
One of Hitchcock’s ideas was to use mainly panning shots, to give a sense of the scale of the horror. He also wanted to use simple maps, showing how close the camps were to German towns and cities and to mountain idylls like Ebensee in the Salzkammergut. Such maps would underline the unlikelihood that German civilians were unaware of what was going on in the camps.
In the end, as said, the film didn’t get made, and for the same kinds of reasons that many Nazis and collaborators were able to evade justice. Stalin was the new danger as far as the Americans and British were concerned, which meant that stability in Europe was a priority. Germany was defeated and destroyed and had to be speedily rebuilt. To harp on about Nazi atrocities was considered to be counter-productive.
The footage collected was put to good use, however, at the trials at Nuremberg. However, there wasn’t an unalloyed quest for justice even then. Recall that it was at Nuremberg where Stalin tried to place the blame for Katyn onto the Germans. They weren’t responsible for that one.
This is a powerful film. Disturbing, horrific images. Haunting, eye-witness testimony given by those who liberated the camps, evoking torrents of tears almost three quarters of a century later. And it tells us that Bernstein’s film, or something like it, may eventually see the light of day.