Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
Night and Fog (1955): A Microcosm of the Genocide: John J. Michalczyk
John J. Michalczyk
From a tranquil deserted field, the camera pans to barbed wire and the silent remnants of a concentration camp. Enter the Nazi threat in 1933, gradually evolving to a destructive force that encompasses the lives of millions of victims. The latter are first herded through the gates of the camp, “another planet,” where there is hunger, death, but also resistance. The final judgment of the perpetrators is meted out at the Nuremberg Trial. As a coda, the narrator asks, in a clinical tone, who is responsible for these atrocities and adds a final warning for today that this could happen again, since “War sleeps with one eye open.”
In 1955, French director Alain Resnais, known previously as a director of short art documentaries (Gauguin, Van Gogh, Guernica), directed an eye-opening documentary on Nazi atrocities. Although the US government produced earlier films about the death camps during and shortly after the Liberation, none had provided such an overall insight into the genocide from both a political and human perspective. Ilan Avisar in Screening the Holocaust discusses the challenge inherent in producing a film on a provocative subject such as the Holocaust:
Jean Cayrol [Mauthausen camp survivor/poet and novelist] and Alain Resnais begin Night and Fog by addressing the most fundamental problem of any Holocaust representation, the difficulty of reaching the horrific past from a distance of time and of reconciling the unbelievable atrocities with current perceptions and patterns of thought.1
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