‘I peered into hell’ – Sgt. Benjamin Ferencz
I never took history at school but over the recent years I wish I had because it’s something I’m finding myself increasingly interested it. Last night I watch the Andre Singer documentary Night Will Fall which featured previously unseen footage shot at various nazi concentration camps.
The footage had been shelved by the British Government for almost 70 years – unclear as to the reason why, some say political reasons, some say that other documentation was more useful in nazi-shaming. Having watched the footage myself I think maybe it was a good thing they waited to release it. I’m not sure showing something in this much detail, in all its disturbing horror is something many people would have been able to handle. We all know stories of gas chambers, starvation, medical experiments, etc but I feel we’ve been eased in gently over the years with films like Schindler’s List and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (not that either of those are particular light entertainment by any means). If this footage had been released 20 years ago I think it could easily have started another world war; it’s that disturbing.
The true extent of the atrocities the Nazis committed during that 5 year period weren’t fully understood until allied forces came to liberate the concentration camps. Soldiers were sent to Auschwitz, Bergen-Beslen and Dachau with camera and film and told to ‘turn the cameras on and film’ in order to give the world an idea what they were fighting for. The footage the shot, is very, very hard to watch. Images of dead, starved, partially decapitated bodies of prisoners aggressively and thoughtlessly strewn into mass graves by soldiers, are intercut with interviews of survivors, British, American and Russian soldiers and ex German SS soldiers. Some of the interviews are just as heartbreaking as the footage, there don’t seem to have been words invented yet to describe what they’ve seen, felt, smelt. There was also previously unseen footage from the Nuremberg Trials, and explained that some of the film shot by the British soldiers was shown in court. Its as unbelievable today as it was then that even with all the overwhelming evidence, laid bare in all it’s depraved glory, there were still people standing in court and swearing on the bible that this never happened. It’s something that will forever make me so, so angry. It’s not an easy film, but I think it’s such an important one.
One of the things that has always bothered most about what I have learnt was the inscription of ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ on the gates of Auschwitz which translates to ‘Freedom Through Work’ as if anyone imprisoned in that hellhole had a choice. As if the harder your worked the more likely you were to be released. Today is 27th January; Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout Europe and I think when you look at things happening in Syria, and even closer to home with the recent shootings in France, it’s important to remember and learn the mistakes made by others.
Freedom isn’t through work, it’s through humanity, tolerance and understanding.