In 1945, Allied military and newsreel cameramen documented the liberation of Nazi concentration camps as the British, American, and Russian forces pushed ever further into Germany. This footage was compiled and edited by the British government to make the film German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (with Alfred Hitchcock as a supervising director). More than 100 reels of footage were shot to make this documentary, the intended audience was to be German people living inside the former Nazi state to show them what the regime had done in their name.
Earlier this year, HBO launched a new documentary, Night Will Fall, which draws on footage shot by those same military cameramen while using testimony from Holocaust survivors from infamous places like Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Dachau and others. Narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter, the documentary includes interviews from the film’s director, Billy Wilder, and even Hitchcock himself. But the film was never completed.
German Concentration Camps Factual Survey itself was set to include interviews with the camps’ survivors, the soldiers who liberated the camps, and historians looking back to put the events into context. The rough cut of the documentary was put away into the depths of the British Imperial War Museum and was unearthed in an effort to restore this and other films like it. In fact, the sixth and final reel of the film was missing and so Night Will Fall will finally bring this heart-wrenching documentary to a conclusion after 70 years.
The unfinished film was screened on PBS’ Frontline and at the 1984 Berlin Film Festival, and uses the most shocking and riveting concentration camp footage ever seen, fully restored. This restored footage was screened in 2014 at the Berlin International Film Festival. Some of the holocaust survivors in the HBO documentary can recognize themselves in the footage shot by military cameramen. The scenes shot by the cameramen are so striking, they were used against Nazi regime officials in trials at Nuremberg.
In the end, the film was not shown because the British needed the German people to rebuild their economy on their own, as the economies of all of Europe had been derailed by the war. The British government decided showing this film would only demoralize the Germans further.
Night Will Fall aired worldwide in January 2015, but can be seen on HBOGo and HBO Now.