Review: Filming the Camps, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

By Gene Santoro
6/8/2012 • Dwight Eisenhower, World War II Reviews

John Ford, Samuel Fuller,
George Stevens
From Hollywood to Nuremberg

The Museum of Jewish Heritage,
New York City. Through October 14, 2012.

The 1945 Nuremberg Trials marked many firsts, including the first time movies were used as evidence. This thoughtful, powerful exhibit uncovers who made them and how, using footage, photos, scripts, and documentation previously unseen by the public.

Director George Stevens, known for musical comedies starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, arrived at Dachau when it was liberated. With him was his 45-member crew from the Special Coverage Unit, which, under Eisenhower’s orders, roamed the Western Front from D-Day on. They stayed for a week, filming the horrific conditions, the dead and dying, and interviewing survivors.

Cut to John Ford, famed director of westerns. In 1939, Ford formed the Field Photographic Branch, training 60 technicians to shoot war in real time. (The branch copped a 1942 Academy Award for The Battle of Midway.) In 1945, Ford was in Europe for a weighty task: creating a documentary to prove Nazi atrocities for Nuremberg’s International Military Tribunal. He used footage shot by Stevens, among others, in his groundbreaking film.

Ford and his consummate pros took the job—and the mountains of film they gathered—deadly seriously. Here we see their tightly plotted storyboards and scripts, watch the creative process of movie-making deal with convincingly documenting the Holocaust. Shown first to American audiences, Ford’s movie had its intended effects—on the audiences and, later, the Nuremberg judges. (Ford filmed those trials as well.)

Pan to Samuel Fuller (The Big Red One), who wasn’t in the other directors’ league yet—though he had been awarded the Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart. Fuller’s captain ordered him to shoot the liberation of the camp at Falkenau on his Bell & Howell camera (above left). The wrenching improvised shots appeared in the 1988 documentary Falkenau, the Impossible, but are shown here restored and unedited for the first time.

The large, spare gallery is lined with interactive screens and artifacts cabinets. Finish at the rooftop Garden of Stones, planted by Holocaust survivors: it offers spectacular Manhattan views.

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