German Concentration Camps Factual Survey: Special Archival Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (16th April 2017).
The Film

“German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” (1946/2014)

In the spring of 1945 with the end of World War II in Europe, the Nazi Regime came to an end. People that lived in terror were finally free. Concentration camps set up all around Europe were liberated, but what the Allied Forces found within the camps were beyond horrifying. Not only were there thousands upon thousands malnourished and near death, but there were thousands upon thousands more corpses lying out in the open, in mass graves, and in torture chambers all around the various camps. Starvation or disease killed off a large number but also many were killed through torturous methods such as gas chambers, guns, flame throwers, or by electrocution. Words could not express the horrific nature of what the Allied Forces encountered and one could not imagine what the people in the camps went through for the years and years as captives.

A documentary was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information to capture the liberation of the camps and to show the nature of the conditions the people had gone through. A collaborative effort by the UK, US, and Soviet military, a group of nearly 50 military cameramen captured footage of the camps, and for many of them it was looking at the images themselves for the first time. In addition to filming the atrocities, the freedom was also captured. Seeing the former captors rehabilitating, bathing for the first time in hot water in many years, and being treated for diseases are also captured, as well as sound bites of soldiers and doctors giving their comments to what they had witnessed. The film was to be edited into a feature length documentary that would be shown in German cinemas to show the surrendered German public the nature of the camps that were headed by the Nazis, which many were oblivious to and also to educate them to separate themselves from Nazism. Granada Theatres (and later Granada TV) founder Sidney Bernstein was the producer of the documentary, and culling through 14 hours of footage shot from April 1945 and the following few months together with his editorial team. Sergei Nolbandov was the production supervisor, Colin Frederick George Willis and Richard Howard Crossman outlined a narrative commentary, Stewart McAllister and Peter Tanner were in charge of editing, and even Alfred Hitchcock was an adviser to the film project.

There was pressure to get the film out as quickly as possible to show to the public. Bernstein wanted to compile the best possible film with factual accuracy. The US military chose to cut a film themselves which was the short film “Death Mills” and distanced themselves from the British project. Work on the film continued on and off through to 1946 but the purpose of the film had lost its original intention. The film was to educate and beat over the heads of Germans to shame them and lose possibly remaining Nazi sympathy. But instead reconstruction of Germany and Europe was fully underway and Germans were rather open to the occupation by the Allied Forces and liberation, with very little in terms of retaliation or protest. A rough cut was made with 5 of the 6 reels fully edited, but there were no titles, no narration, and no credits placed. The unfinished film was placed in the Imperial War Museum archives and stayed there for years untouched.

While the film was never completed or finished, the footage was partially featured in various films over the years - “Death Mills” as stated previously, a PBS TV documentary “Memory of the Camps” was broadcast in 1984, and 1985’s film “A Painful Reminder” all used footage from the unfinished and untitled film. The project to restore and complete the unfinished film took four years between 2010 and 2014 - done under instructions from original archival documents by the original filmmakers. The Imperial War Museum’s task was documented in the 2014 documentary “Night Will Fall”. The final reel was completed, a newly recorded narration accompanied the footage, along with a restoration of the image and the few moments of sound captured. One of the controversial decisions made to the completed 2014 version was with the factual errors. In the original narration script, there were a number of inconsistencies in numbers and with names due to better more accurate information coming to light in the later years. Rather than updating the information or incorporating new scenes, it was decided to keep within the time that it was originally intended for release with the inaccurate information, which was only for 3 or so segments.

The title “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” was on the call sheets and most likely a temporary name, but for the restored release it was chosen to be kept as that and not to rename it or go by “Memory of the Camps”. There have been countless documentaries, books, and films made about the concentration camps. “Night” written by Elie Wiesel, “Night and Fog” directed by Alain Resnais, “Schindler’s List” directed by Steven Spielberg, “Life Is Beautiful” directed by Roberto Benigni, etc. The horrors of the mistreatment have been well documented but even they cannot prepare for some of the disturbing images to be seen in “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey”. It’s a relentlessly powerful documentary that shows how evil people can become through the power of hatred and it’s disturbing to think that this all happened within recent history with a number of people still alive able to recall the past experience of the camps. If anything can be learned with the documented footage is that this would never happen again. But as history has shown, places such as Vietnam, North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria, Rwanda, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Iraq, and others have shown that ethnic cleansing and genocide have sadly happened post-WWII. While it’s recommended that the film should be watched by all, it is a difficult one to sit through. Hopefully future generations will not make the same mistakes as our ancestors had.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

The BFI presents the film in 1080p AVC-MPEG-4, in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio.

There are two different viewing methods offered:
- The Film with intro & outro (89:49)
- The Film without the intro & outro (71:26)


The intro segment is a mix of 1.33:1 and 1.78:1 ratios featuring archival footage and still photos
with narration about the film and its original purpose as well as its abandonment. The outro segment is in 1.78:1 and consists of newly created interviews by Peter Lantos - a former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp inmate, professors Rainer Shulze and David Cesarani, Imperial War Museum curators Roger Smither, David Walsh, Kay Gladstone, Dr. Toby Haggith, Anne Fleming, and Rachel Donnelly, and also the children of Sidney Bernstein - Jane Wells and David Bernstein . Each offer specific comments about the film, from reactionary words, the importance of the restoration, and how audiences should treat the film in context. When screened theatrically, There was an introduction plus a Q&A whenever possible and in some cases with the included filmed and edited outro segment.

For the film itself, noting that it is almost entirely from footage shot in 1945, it is bound not to be pristine. The different cameras used, the conditions they were shot in, and the nearly 50 different camera operators give the documentary an obvious inconsistent image through editing but as the original black and white film reels were well preserved, the quality is actually quite good. There are the usual scratches and damage to be found on the image, but on a positive side, most of the major damage has been removed, detail is very sharp in many scenes, with great greyscale for minor details. There are some blurry and extremely dark shots here and there due to the inadequate lighting conditions and some instability which was due to the shakiness of the handheld footage.

For the outro segment it is in color with each interviewee shot separately and edited together. Shot in HD, the interviews look very good with no problematic issues to speak of.

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 stereo (Restoration soundtrack)
English LPCM 2.0 stereo (Alternative Archival soundtrack)

There are two soundtracks available and both are in lossless 2.0 stereo. The restoration soundtrack has full narration, music, on-set synchronized sound, and additional foleyed sound effects such as the trucks and bulldozers in the background. The alternate archival soundtrack is identical with the only difference being the foleyed sound effects are removed. To say, the added foley is not distracting at all. They all sound vintage rather than “new” effects and do not distract from the image. While they are 2.0 stereo tracks there is very little in terms of stereo separation. Narration and on set synchronized sound is always center based and only minor instances are there stereo separation, most noticeably in the intro segment with the music. The vintage audio does have its issues as it was still a time when newsreel footage as silent for the most part, so the microphones did have difficulty in the field. The audio has been cleaned and restored so there are not hisses or pops but fidelity is lacking. As for the narration, actor Jasper Britton delivers his voice in a very emotionless yet affecting performance, and is very clear as it was a 2014 recording.

While most of the film is in English, there are moments of Polish and German spoken in the film. For this there are optional Czech, Dutch, English (for non-English portions), English HoH, French, German (for non-German portions), Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, and Russian subtitles for the main feature and the intro/outro. All the subtitles are in an easy-to-read white font.

Extras

“German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” is a 2 disc set with one Blu-ray with the film and extras, along with one DVD that has the identical contents to the Blu-ray but in the standard definition PAL format.

Audio commentary with Dr. Toby Haggith and Patrick Russell
Restoration director Dr. Toby Haggith of the Imperial War Museum and BFI’s senior non-fiction curator Patrick Russell give a full commentary, with information on the background of the film, scene specific moments, their own reactions to the finished film, and also point out some of the inaccuracies that the narration had to face. It’s a very well spoken commentary but one thing that would have helped is if the two subjects introduced themselves. They both start into the commentary quickly without their intros, so it was a mystery for some time to figure out whose voice was who. Another helpful trick would have been if they had done some stereo separation to differentiate the speakers, such as placing one subject to the left and the other to the right. A minor quibble for an excellent commentary.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Panel Discussion at the BFI Southbank (41:25)
Filmed at the BFI Southbank on April 16th, 2015 which was the anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen camp that was heavily featured in the film, this on stage Q&A features Dr. Toby Haggith, George Smith, Rachel Donnelly of the IWM, professors Rainer Schulze and Dr. Jeremy Hicks, professor and former Bergen-Belsen inmate Peter Lantos, and Sidney Bernstein’s children Jill Wells and David Bernstein. Talked about are AlfredHitchcock’s involvement, about the reconstruction, some of the factual errors in the film, and the emotional and physical impact of the images to various audiences. Also talked about is the unusual decision to give the film a BBFC 18 certificate rating in the UK when documentaries are usually not rated.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Vox Pops Compilation" featurette (5:44)
This featurette shows reactions from theater patrons who watched the film in a series of edited interviews.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Archival Interviews (with Play All) (70:58)
- Introduction and Interview with Ludwig Weill at Fort Breendonk (3:09)
- Interviews at Bergen-Belsen (17:25)
- Interviews at Dachau (37:54)
- Interview with Dr. Pert Zenkil (12:29)

19 filmed interviews were done within days or weeks of the liberation of the camps, yet only a few were used in the final film. Some were inadequately filmed with bad sound quality. Some were just not fitting with a placement in the final film. Collected here are a series of the interviews done with the inmates of the camps, the SS officers who were at the camps, Allied Forced officers and more. It is noted that the Ludwig Weill interview was done in 1944 and not during the filming of the documentary in 1945. In addition these interviews are uncut so slates are visible, “Cut!” is overheard, and errors are kept in. A slate with notes on the interviewee is on screen and a slate with biographical information before and after liberation is mentioned on screen after each interview. There are rounded edges to the frame with damage not corrected, while the audio has some hisses and pops as it is also not restored.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English, German, Polish Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles for the non-English interviews

DISC TWO is a DVD copy of the Blu-ray containing the same above content in SD PAL.

78 Page Book
A very hefty and informative book is included with the set. The contents include:
- A foreward by James Taylor - assistant director for narrative content at the Imperial War Museum
- “We, The Screamers” essay by Nick Fraser - editor of BBC’s “Storyville” documentary series
- “The Making of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” written by Dr. Toby Haggith - senior curator at the Imperial War Museum
- “The post-1946 Llfe of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” written by Dr. Toby Harrith and David Walsh of the Imperial War Museum
- “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey and the victims of Nazi persecution” essay by professor Rainer Schulze of the University of Essex
- “Soviet footage of the camps: Cinema’s first representations of Nazi atrocities” essay by Dr. Jeremy Hicks - Queen Mary, University of London
- Responses to frequently asked questions
- A list of numbers who perished at the sites covered in the film
- Special features credits and information
- A list and biographies of principal members of the original 1945 production crew
- Full film credits from 1946 and 2014
- Biographies of contributors to the book
- A list of further reading
- Notes about the presentation
- Acknowledgements

The writing offered is extremely informative with additional details in both the context of the film, the making of the film, about the concentration camps, and much more. It’s hard to think of what else they could have packed in, as it also includes photographs within the book and note that none of the stills are of a graphic nature.

Overall

Being shelved for nearly 70 years incomplete, it was for a long time impossible to think that “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” would be viewable to the public. It is easily one of the most disturbing documentaries ever made and even after all these years of public knowledge of the Holocaust and the atrocities by the Nazis, one cannot really be prepared for the amount of death shown in the reconstructed film. Nevertheless, it is a powerful look at the evils of human nature and how easily people can be manipulated to do the most despicable acts of torture and neglect to his or her fellow man. It’ll make you angry, sick, depressed, and emotionally drained, but it does give hope for a future. The BFI’s presentation is excellent in video, audio, and with the extras departments making this one of the most essential packages of the year already. Absolutely recommended, though note about the extremely graphic images shown in the film is not for the faint of heart.

The Film: A+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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