Like many children of my generation, I had no choice but to watch films about the Holocaust at Hebrew School during the weeks before Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) which takes place each spring. We all knew, from a young age, about the six million Jewish lives that were lost; about Hitler, and the Final Solution; and we knew about the Concentration Camps. We knew their names: Bergen Belsen, Dachau, Auschwitz. We knew, but we were kids. It was sad, but we really didn't want to think about it much.
As an adult, I've been to Yad Vashem in Israel, and I've seen photos and unbelievable relics of that horrible period. I've visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and found that to be profoundly moving as well. I remember seeing the film Schindler's List and finding it both horrifying as well as uplifting.
Yesterday, which was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I watched an astonishing film entitled Night Will Fall (you can see the trailer here). As World War II was ending, British soldiers were sent to film what they found in the concentration camps right after the liberation. They were there specifically to document the atrocities. The result of this was something called “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey." Stored away for many years, this film has resurfaced and is now available to be viewed.
As children, we saw photos of the piles of bodies. In this film, we see -- moving, alive, in black in white -- prisoners dragging, then dumping corpses of their fellow Jews, one by one, into giant pits. We see prisoners who are like living skeletons, standing outside their barracks once they are liberated. We see a parade of children, twins, who managed to survive the cruel experiments of Mengele. We see images of the soldiers themselves, photographing the horrors. We see SS officers and local German people brought to see -- and smell -- the horrors of the camps with their own eyes (and noses).
One of the most amazing things for me was to realize that some of the filming was in color. I had never before seen images of the Holocaust in color, and this made it all the more real.
Interspersed with the footage are interviews of Holocaust survivors, soldiers who participated in some of the filming, and others who were there 70 years ago. It is amazing to see people, now well into their 90s, as they recall vividly their experiences at that time.
It is hard to believe that the Holocaust was only 70 years ago. In some ways, it was a very long time ago, and in other ways, just a moment ago. Viewing this film from that time makes it so much more real and present. These are not unrecognizable figures from ages ago: they are people who look very much like ourselves, living through hell, and somehow, coming out the other side. We must never forget.