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January 28, 2015 6:58 pm

‘Night Will Fall’ Holocaust Documentary Omits the Word ‘Jewish’

avatar by Alina Dain Sharon / JNS.org

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Image from the footage taken by British and Soviet forces liberating concentration camps after the Holocaust. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

JNS.org – Last night, I prepped myself mentally for the difficult visual experience ahead and sat down to watch the much-anticipated Night Will Fall documentary, which premiered Monday on the HBO network just before International Holocaust Memorial Day.

The film tells the story of another documentary made in 1945 with the involvement of famous director Alfred Hitchock, using real footage taken by Soviet and British soldiers while liberating concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen.

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This original documentary, titled “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey,” was meant to be shown to the German people in the aftermath of the Holocaust in order for them to see the horrors committed by the Nazis, but it was never completed or released. Seventy years later, the original film has been restored and completed by the British Imperial War Museum. Night Will Fall tells the story of that film’s original production and incorporates some of the original footage shot by Allied troops.

The monstrosity of the Holocaust is well-documented. Even so, the images of skeletal bodies with sunken eyes, contorted or even missing parts of their faces, other gruesome injuries, and evidence of the infamous crematoriums are difficult to bear—even for the toughest of spirits.

Another kind of powerful footage shows the detained concentration camp SS guards and commanders, as well as regular German citizens who had lived near the camps, being paraded around and shown what they had done—and what they had silently allowed to be done. Their faces remain cold at the site.

I believe this documentary—perhaps more so the original 1945 production, if and when it is publicly released—should be viewed by all around the world as a reminder of what happened during the Holocaust and what could happen again. But I was troubled by one seemingly small, but in my view major, faux pas.

In addition to Jews, the Nazis persecuted a variety of groups such as the Roma (or Gypsy) people, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and dissidents. While these victims of the Holocaust are notable, no one can deny that the Nazi system, from the Nuremberg Laws to the Final Solution, primarily targeted the Jewish people. Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

As such, it surprised me greatly that the narration of “Night Will Fall” never once mentioned the word “Jewish” when describing the victims seen in the footage. This word is uttered only once, well into the film, by a Jewish survivor.

I would have been less surprised to see the word “Jewish” excluded from the original 1945 film, given that governments after the war tended to ignore the issue of antisemitism. After months in production, the film was buried without ever being released because the British began to care more about helping the German people to “pick up the pieces and help energize the destroyed Germany economy,” said Night Will Fall director André Singer.

“They didn’t want to demoralize the people further by rubbing in their guilt, and the ‘German Concentration Camps Factual Survey’ would not have helped restore confidence,” Singer said. Thus, the Holocaust persecution of Jews was swept under the rug.

It is also well known that in some Communist bloc countries after the war, Holocaust memorials tended to describe the victims as general civilians rather than specifically Jews. But how could a 2015 film that is supposedly intended to remind the world about the Holocaust and its lessons do the same?

My reaction is not unique. Jeffrey Salkin expressed anger over this issue in a recent piece for the Religion News Service. Given the climate of anti-Semitism in Europe today, recently manifested by the terror attacks in Paris, we are reminded that hatred for Jews is unfortunately alive and well today, and yet again being swept under the rug. To top if off, this whitewashing of the persecution of Jews comes in a film about the Holocaust, of all topics.

While this omission may have been more misguided than intentional—and I am willing to give the filmmakers some leeway in that regard, given their otherwise good work with the film—the mistake needs to be called out for what it is.

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  • Michael Thomas

    The reason that the words Jew or Jewish did not feature heavily in the program was because it was about a film that was made in 1945 about the concentration and labour camps in the west liberated by the British and American troops where the majority of prisoners were not Jewish, they were slave labourers made up of Soviet POWs and other non-Jewish prisoners.
    The millions of Jews murdered were killed in the death camps in Eastern Europe which were liberated by the Soviets, and at the time the film was made the filmmakers didn’t have access to film of these camps, though the modern documentary did add some Soviet shot film of these camps not in the original film for balance.

  • Bernhard Rosenberg One day soon, after the holocaust survivors will have perished and most of us 2g’s may not be here, the holocaust will be forgotten because teaching will include all genocides. This is already occuring in the holocaust museums. It is a disgrace that the word Jew was not mentioned, but I am not surprised. Heed my words. I keep fighting and screaming this will occur. The holocaust has become a money making business. In order for government funds to be used genocide and holocaust will become only genocide. Millions of dollars are be poured in to preserve holocaust memory, but if continues to be combined with genocide all these donations have been waisted. There is no business like shoah business.

  • Cora B. Hermann

    In the German transcription they mentioned “Jews” as well as “Gypsies”, “Homosexuals” etc. I saw it on Arte, a French-German TV network on Wednesday night.

  • The omission of the word “Jew” should not surprise anyone. This is indicative of the general tendency to collapse anti-Semitism into the persecution of other groups. Similarly, Freud’s Jewishness and passion for social justice (on bourgeois terms) makes him anathema to academics writing cultural history. See http://clarespark.com/2013/03/10/what-remains-useful-about-freud/.

  • Barbara Caccavella

    I just saw this documentary, i have seen so many documentaries through out the years I didn’t notice Jewish was not mentioned. Maybe because I was aware that 99 percent were Jews. But I thought it was really good. Hard to watch, but good. Still can’t wrap my head around it!

  • Jim Przedzienkowski

    The term ‘Nazis persecuted a variety of groups such as the Roma (or Gypsy) people, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and dissidents.’ needs additional information to be accurate. They were many Poles, Slavs as well. Please clarify the information.

  • Casey

    I will watch the film, but tell me, is there any filing of the “Pits of Fire” which Elie Wiesel saw, as stated in his book “Night”. He stated that he saw trucks tipping their loads of Jewish babies into the “Pit of fire for babies”?
    I believe Wiesel’s description was the origin of the term “Holocaust”.
    Wiesel was the only person to see these “Pits of Fire”, by the way, which says what?!!!!

  • Margaret boehning

    Isn’t it obvious? The whole movie was about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust!

  • victoria brandeis

    NO MENTION, NO WORD, NO MERIT.

    WHAT ELSE IS NEW.

    DO ALL THE THINGS YOU NEED TO DO TO BE RIGHT BUT PLEASE DON’T CRAP ON MY FACE WITH FORM OF NEWS WHICH IS BLIGHTED PROGRAMED AND DELIVERED BY PERHAPS A GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE WALKING INTO TWO WORLDS

    STUPID BEGETS STUPID…..AND , THE GERMANS DIDN’T LEAVE NOR DID THE OTHERS AND NOW I SEE THAT AMERICANS AS WELL WILL REMAIN WITH THE SAME WORDS EMBEDDED IN THEIR HEARTS AS ABOVE…

    SAME OLD SAME OLD…..STAY OUT OF MY WORLD……

  • Historian

    Many Arabs want to rewrite history..
    I can not call it misguided,
    rather it is more in the realm of stupidity and wanting to rewrite history.. Would not be surprised if Islamists or Muslims were involved.. Most likely!!

    • It is not true that the word Jewish is deleted. As the article indicated, one survivor did identify the victims as Jewish. An earlier one (not mentioned), referred to “Europeans of a different faith.”

      Moreover, the documentary alluded to the fact that many survivors wanted to go to Palestine. Since several hundred thousand survivors were herded together in survivor camps, their numbers increased by Jews running away from Eastern Europe, most wanting to go to Palestine, that omission is much more serious. Indeed, the subject of the survivors roiled the West, and motivated Harry Truman to approve some sort of action on their behalf. The other problem was the notion of a “healing process.” No one has healed, let alone the survivors.

  • Julian Clovelley

    I am a little puzzled by the note here about when the footage will be publicly released

    It seems to me that all of this footage being in the public domain is accessible via sites such as YouTube and in its 1945 form. It can also be found on various film archive pages as downloadable files or streaming.

    If you use the right keywords to search YouTube – and other archives – you might be amazed at just how much contemporary news material is available – including footage from the time around 1947 in the Palestinian Mandate

    Another source for contemporary material is the BBC I would draw particular attention to the 1945 radio broadcast by Richard Dimbleby of the BBC from Belsen two days after its liberation. There are a number of other vital recordings and documents linked to this page. including oral testimony from the liberating soldiers

    Peace

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/holocaust/5115.shtml

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