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CineAction (1999) - Seeing and Believing: Sid Bernstein's German Atrocities Film and the Question of Hitchcock's Participation




In February, 1945, the Allied Command asked Sidney Bernstein, chief of the film section in the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) to produce a 'German atrocities' film. Using footage gathered by British, American and Russian army units, the film would act as a document of visual testimony, attesting to what Allied troops found when they liberated the German concentration camps. The footage would provide irrefutable evidence of the German nation's responsibility for Nazi atrocities by recording the state of the victims found upon liberation and by documenting evidence of the collaboration of the many participating facets of German industry. The film would also contradict German and Polish civilian claims of ignorance by outlining the proximity of the camps to populated cities and towns. The film's objective — the establishment of national culpability — would also serve to help secure the German people's acceptance of the Allied occupation.

The concentration camps film has gained notoriety because it was never shown. The American contingent withdrew its participation from the project in July, 1945 and by September, British military authorities decided that documenting Germany's success with its agenda of carrying out industrialized mass murder on an unprecedented and unrivalled scale, was no longer politically expedient. What was subsequently suppressed and buried in the Imperial War Museum under the heading F3080, is also known for Alfred Hitchcock's participation in the project. Sidney Bernstein, an established British exhibitor and distributor who knew Hitchcock since the '20s through his work with the London Film Society, and had invited him to direct two short films for the Ministry of Information in 1944(1), asked Hitchcock to come to London ...

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  1. Two short films were made with a French cast and crew, Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, neither of which was shown in England (both are now available on video and DVD). Donald Spoto claims that Hitchcock was worried about Bon Voyage because one of the characters who was supposed to be a hero commits a murder (Donald Spoto, The Dark Side of Genius: the Life of Alfred Hitchcock, Ballantine Books, New York 1983, page 285). Bernstein and Hitchcock had also begun planning their partnership in Transatlantic Pictures.
  2. Elizabeth Sussex, "The Fate of F3080", Sight and Sound, 53.2 (Spring 1984), page 95.
  3. Ibid. page 93.
  4. This is the thesis and title of Daniel Goldhagen's controversial book Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Alfred Knopf, N.Y., 1996) which argues this point — that the Nazi regime depended upon a compliant nation.
  5. Sussex, Op. Cit. page 94.
  6. Ibid. page 95.
  7. Ibid. page 97.
  8. Ibid. page 96.
  9. Ibid. page 92.
  10. Some have taken issue with the film's hesitancy to directly proclaim in the voiceover commentary that the majority of these victims were Jews. (A similar point of criticism can be made of Resnais' commentary in Night and Fog).