Friday, November 5, 2010
The Real Face of Nazisim
“A Film Unfinished” a Staggering, Devastating Documentary Film
By Skip Sheffield
Be forewarned: “A Film Unfinished” will make you weep.
I have seen dozens of films about the Holocaust, but none as chilling, gut-wrenching, infuriating and heartbreaking as this documentary by Israeli television editor Yael Hersonski.
What separates “Film Unfinished” from most Holocaust films is that it is real footage shot in the Warsaw ghetto in May of 1942. In essence these are outtakes, discovered in 1998, from a larger film commissioned by the Nazi Party as propaganda and discovered just after World War II. This “lost footage” gives glimpses of the reality behind the rosy picture being created to depict cheerful, humanely-treated Jews who have been relocated to their own district in Warsaw, where a half-million human beings were crowded into an area of three square miles.
“This film documents evil, passionately and systematically,” the introduction explains. “This is a rough draft of a film called ‘The Ghetto.’ This systematic deception should not be forgotten.”
Silent black-and-white 16 mm film is juxtaposed with interviews of present-day survivors, most of whom were young children in 1942. Their reactions are varied from anguish to horror.
The “systematic deception” is made apparent by capturing scenes of suffering, diseased, starving ghetto dwellers, many of them dead or dying.
This is contrasted with edited footage that shows parties and banquets choreographed by the Nazi filmmakers. The intention is to show rich Jews living it up while there poorer brethren suffer and starve.
The footage is augmented by narrative: a diary kept by detainee Adam Czernikow; recollections of the Jewish Council leader in Warsaw and court testimony by German filmmaker Willy Wist.
“Film Unfinished” is a perfect example of how truth can be distorted and turned inside out through careful staging and editing. Of course Nazis weren’t the only ones who practiced this deception. Consider the recent political campaigns and the outrageous charges of some of the candidates.
Warsaw was just one example of what went on all over Europe in the name of “racial purity.”
Director Hersonski saves the worst for last: footage of the disposal of those who did not survive to be herded into cattle and hauled to death camps. The inhumanity of it all is staggering and devastating, but the horrifying truth must survive.