Monday, October 25, 2010

Memorandum by Donald Brittain and John Spotton,1966, documentary

"[A]ll [scenes] examine the Holocaust from two perspectives - past and present - and they all remind the viewers of the character of the Holocaust as well as the deep feelings of its survivors, like Bernard Laufer ..." from the book The Technique of Film and Video Editing: history, theory, and practice, by Ken Dancyger, 2007

In 1965 Bernard Laufer, who had been born in Poland and after the war settled in Toronto, Canada, went with a group of thirty to revisit Bergen-Belsen, the last of many camps where Laufer had been a prisoner. Accompanying him was his son Joseph. The writer/director team of Brittain and Spotton made a one-hour documentary for the National Film Board of Canada on the occasion of this return visit.

The fact that this black and white documentary was made in 1965, forty-five years ago, and only twenty years after the war, points to its being part of a pioneering effort to focus on the Holocaust as a political/historical event that needed to be probed and investigated.

The creators of this documentary have embedded Laufer’s experience during the war and during his 1965 visit into the context of the larger war. They intersperse scenes of the trip and of on-going 1965 trials of Nazis with footage from WWII Nazi propaganda newsreels, with local street scenes in Germany, and with footage from WWII ghettos and concentration camps. Joseph Laufer, Bernard’s son, talks about his experience observing Germans in 1965 on their visit. He tries to reconcile the Germans going about their everyday business in 1965 with their counterparts in the 1930s and 40s..

The camera frequently trains its lens on Laufer as he contemplates Germany in 1965. The film ends up at the Bergen-Belsen memorial where the visitors say Kaddish. The camp itself was off-limits; in 1965 it was being used as a NATO artillery range. As the film shows newsreel footage of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and the wasted bodies that lay everywhere, Laufer explains that he was one of them. He weighed seventy pounds when the camp was liberated.

He looks around at the memorial and is upset. He reads the markers on top of mounds of buried victims where are inscribed the numbers of the estimated dead. (The narrator mentions that Anne Frank’s remains are interred somewhere in one of the mounds.) Laufer is convinced the count has been intentionally underestimated. He worries that in time the numbers will shrink further. He envisions “revised” markers. He does not like that the camp now looks like a German Garden.

You can watch the entire one-hour documentary, Memorandum, on the National Board of Film of Canada website for free. Click here to access the documentary.

Click here for a link to the new Bergen Belsen Memorial opened in 2009.

Bernard Laufer
    Joseph – his son
Peter Weiss
Simon Weisenthal
Klara Silbernik
Josef Rosensaft
Erika Millay
Norbert Prager
Herbert Weichmann
Zenon Gotaszewski

Auschwitz, Poland
Buchenwald, Germany
Frankfurt, Germany
Hanover, Germany
Bavaria, Germany
Berlin, Germany

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