Wednesday, August 18, 2010
A Film Unfinished
New York Times
August 17, 2010
For almost half a century, an unfinished Nazi propaganda film of the Warsaw Ghetto, simply titled Das Ghetto and discovered by East German archivists after the war, was used by scholars and historians as a flawed but authentic record of ghetto life. Shot over 30 days in May 1942 — just two months before deportations to the Treblinka extermination camp would begin — this hourlong silent film juxtaposed random scenes of Jews enjoying various luxuries with images of profound suffering.
Like the flickering shadows in Plato’s Cave, these images were subjected to a radical rereading with the appearance of another reel in 1998: 30 minutes of outtakes showing the extent to which scenes had been deliberately staged. Over and over, in multiple takes, we see well-dressed Jews enter a butcher’s shop, ignoring the children begging outside. In a similar scenario, prosperous-looking passersby are directed to disregard the corpses abandoned on the sidewalk. The propagandists’ manipulation of their half-million prisoners was now clear, even as its eventual purpose — perhaps more than just to manufacture scenes showing callousness on the part of wealthy Jews toward their less fortunate brethren — remained as murky as ever.