For the Research Forum this week, our students watched “A Film Unfinished” (directed by Yael Hersonski) and spoke with the director, Itay Ken-Tor afterward. Itay has also produced many of the films at shown at Yad Vashem and is a lecturer at The Open University in Israel, among other job titles.
The footage used in “A Film Unfinished” was shot in the Warsaw Ghetto just months before liquidation of the Ghetto, January 1945. The documentary is constituted of three main parts: raw footage from Winter 1944, survivors watching the footage, and an interview with one of the German cameramen. The survivors said there was less shooting while the Germans were filming. That’s not to say that there was no violence during the filming. Many scenes captured the Jewish Ghetto Police corralling people down the street. The footage from 1944 furthermore emphasized the difference between luxury and extreme poverty within the ghetto.
In the interview with the German cameraman, he said that even he didn’t know the purpose of the film, but simply that he was ordered to film by SS men. (The interview with the cameraman was an actor reading from the script of the interview conducted in 1972, as the cameraman has passed away.) In film recently discovered in archives, there is evidence that the cameramen staged many of the scenes. For example, the documentary showed seven takes of two poverty stricken children looking in a store window full of food, while an upper-class lady walks into the store. She then comes out with a bag of food, and passes the children by without a glance. The Nazi idea was to showcase the worst of humanity, ei the rich living in luxury in the ghetto while the poor are dying.
This propaganda is juxtaposed with a testimony from the survivors. While one of the survivors is watching a segment of the film showing a crowd of well-dressed Jews in a movie theater, he said “Everyone who didn’t laugh, his fate was doomed.” Another survivor said, stores were full of food and other goods but there were very few who had the money to buy anything, and anything they bought was at a very high price.
There is only one reference to this film that has been found in historical documents, this is in Goebbels’s Diaries. He mentioned that they were sending a film crew to the Warsaw Ghetto to document happenings before they liquidated the camp. The film also contained portions of Jewish religious rites like circumcision, ritual bathing and the Kaparot ceremony. All of these are filmed incorrectly, and harshly, to create a grotesque vision of Jewish life. Maybe this film was meant for the Jewish Prague Museum after the war? Historians may never know. What we do know is that through the Nazi lens, this film attempts to take humanity from the Jewish people forced to live in inhumane conditions brought about by the Nazi’s themselves.
In the student’s discussion with the producer after the film he said he didn’t want this to be classified as a Holocaust film. Rather this should be a study on how we perceive images. This film is only taken from one point of view, the Nazi view. Itay said it’s a discussion between reality, documentation and truth. He left the students with the advise to always question what they see.
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