Alfred Hitchcock Made The Holocaust’s Most Disturbing Documentary — So Why Haven’t We Ever Seen It?

Few genocides have been so painstakingly depicted as the Holocaust, not to mention by such a slew of iconic filmmakers. Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanksi, and Alain Resnais are just a few of the classic directors who have brought the tragic, gut-wrenching reality of the event to the screen. Up until now, documentaries like Resnais’ Night and Fog have relied heavily on memories of the event, but a new film seeks to tell the story through footage gathered at the moment of the liberation itself — a project led by Alfred Hitchcock.

With a team led by Alfred Hitchcock, a varied group of film technicians shot perhaps the most shocking glimpse into what happened in Germany’s concentration camps. Yet despite being called a classic of the form, Alfred’s team never was able to produce their Holocaust film for public exposition.

While it was never properly released to the public, Alfred and his crew assembled footage that was used in the Nuremberg and Lüneburg trials to prosecute German officials who ran the camps. There are several theories as to why Hitchcock was never allowed to screen the film, one of the most prominent being that the allied powers wanted to bring Germany under their wing to confront the threat of the Soviet Union. Releasing a graphic documentary about the worst atrocities of the Holocaust — even in the hands of a filmmaker like Alfred — may have seemed counterintuitive, reported the Guardian.

Another possible explanation for the halt on Hitchcock’s doc was the Labour government’s foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, who had a reputation for being against the Zionist call for a Jewish state. André Singer, Night Will Fall’s director, concedes that there is also no undeniable evidence for this theory.

“Why the film was scuppered is not very well documented… The only documentary evidence we have is a memo from the Foreign Office saying that screening such an ‘atrocity film’ would not be a good idea.”

While Singer’s re-imagination of the Alfred’s footage might not have a clear backstory, the exposition of the images captured are powerful even without the addition of their controversial past. Hitchcock’s oversight brought together what is probably the most unflinching visual documentation of the Holocaust, and Singer is adamant that people should have to confront its grim reality.

“We’re in an age where such imagery is so prolific. I think the imagery in Bernstein’s film and mine, if used in the right context, can only help understanding. We can only truly understand the horror of war if we use images like this… since 1945 there have been a number of genocides that have not been stopped by lessons from the past.”

The tale of Night Will Fall, Alfred Hitchcock and the Holocaust will air January 24 on Britain’s Channel 4.

[Image via Night Will Fall]