Night Will Fall – Yom HaShoah 2024

Night Will Fall. Courtesy of BFI/HBO.

Night Will Fall is a documentary that chronicles the making of a 1945 documentary that captured scenes at the concentration camps.

“Unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall…but by G-d’s grace, we who live will learn.” – Narrator for German Concentration Camps Factual Survey

The British cameramen were working under the supervision of producer Sidney Bernstein. Alfred Hitchcock did not take a fee during his brief time as treatment advisor–he helped shape the 1945 film into what it is today. Unfortunately, the documentary was never finished until before its 2014 Berlin Film Festival premiere. Even though footage was sitting in the archives, its footage formed the basis of the Frontline episode, Memory of the Camps, airing on May 7, 1985. Memory of the Camps is not an easy watch but it only runs about an hour long. Footage would also make its way into Billy Wilder’s two-reel Death Mills (Die Todesmühlen). I cannot stress enough that the images can be graphic in nature. Night Will Fall features a number of filmmakers and crew involved with the making of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.

The mid-1940s were a time when the Allies were liberating Nazi prison, labor and extermination camps. Many American and British filmmakers would serve the Allied forces by documenting the camps. It’s a far cry from a few years earlier when they would make films exclusively for propaganda purposes. A number of liberators and survivors are featured in either contemporary or archival interviews. Army liberators describe their experiences of their initial shock at seeing the camps. Survivors, on the other hand, describe their feelings of liberation. Unfortunately, the film units did not have any sound equipment. Only upon news teams arriving did they gain access to such equipment. Adding sound would become a major game-changer in documenting the Holocaust atrocities.

Broadcaster David Dimbleby said the BBC had doubts about whether his father accurately described what he had seen. What his father saw is a warning for the entire world. These images are horrific and yet there are still people denying the existence of the Shoah.

Raye Farr, who worked at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, discusses the footage captured by the British at Bergen-Belsen. In liberating the camp, the British would force the Nazis to bury the dead. The footage is a bit on the graphic side. Anyway, Bernstein opens up about how Germans denied the existence of the camps. It’s one of the reasons why the documentary was made–so that it cannot be denied. Soviet cameramen would also film footage at the camps that they liberated. Unfortunately, Western audiences didn’t believe it at the time, thinking it was propaganda.

Schindler’s List producer Branko Lustig thought he was dying. He confused the Scottish bagpipes for the music of the angels. As week as he was, nobody could blame him for having such thoughts.

Cameramen from both the British Army Film Unit and American Army Pictorial Service documented footage. While the British Ministry of Information and the American Office of War Information collaborated at first, things eventually fell apart. That’s where it was first suggested in June 1945 by the Americans that Billy Wilder finish the film. By July, the Americans were out. The post-war climate also had an impact on the film’s completion. British officials felt a need to improve relations with Germany after the war rather than punish the country with collective guilt. Another factor in the British shelving the film is their own issues with British Mandatory Palestine. In short, Zionism and Jews still displaced in camps did not help in British–it was a humanitarian crisis of the Allied’s own making.

Anyone watching the film would feel something for the Jews still remaining at the camps. Because of everything going on, they were suddenly politically inconvenient for the British. The Jews remaining at what were now Displaced Persons Camps wanted to go to Mandatory Palestine or the US but the British would not let them. Anyone attempting to make the trek to Mandatory Palestine would get stuck at camps in Cyprus. For more on this, I highly recommend watching the 1997 Oscar-winning documentary, The Long Way Home, from director Mark Jonathan Harris and Simon Wiesenthal Center’s production company, Moriah Films.

Night Will Fall is essential Holocaust documentary viewing as it draws on the 1945 official British documentary, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. Once you watch Night Will Fall, you will never be able to unsee the film.

DIRECTOR: André Singer
SCREENWRITER: Lynette Singer
NARRATOR: Helena Bonham Carter

Night Will Fall aired January 27, 2015 on HBO. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.