Memory of the Camps (1985): The Holocaust Documentary that Traumatized Alfred Hitchcock, and Remained Unseen for 40 Years

You may have heard the news that the world will soon see “Alfred Hitch­cock­’s unseen Holo­caust doc­u­men­tary.” That intrigu­ing sound­ing announce­ment belies a more com­pli­cat­ed real­i­ty. This new, restored film draws on footage shot by the British Army Film Unit in Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps in 1945, which was actu­al­ly released in the mid-80s, in a film called Mem­o­ry of the CampsThis first ver­sion, which you can watch above, took near­ly forty years to reach the pub­lic, when it was final­ly released in 1984, first at the Berlin Film Fes­ti­val, then on PBS. Until that time, the orig­i­nal footage sat unused in stor­age at the Impe­r­i­al War Muse­um, con­signed there after the Allied mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment decid­ed that such pub­lic­i­ty for Nazi atroc­i­ties would­n’t get Ger­many recon­struct­ed any faster. How, right in the after­math of the Sec­ond World War, might we have react­ed to its haunt­ing­ly reveal­ing cov­er­age of Bergen-Belsen?

Accord­ing to the Inde­pen­dent, a screen­ing of Mem­o­ry of the Camps’ mate­r­i­al left even Alfred Hitch­cock, cer­tain­ly no stranger to death and malev­o­lence, “so trau­ma­tised that he stayed away from Pinewood Stu­dios for a week.” He’d shown up there in the first place as an advi­sor, and in that capac­i­ty offered direc­tor Sid­ney Bern­stein advice on how, visu­al­ly, to place these shock­ing rev­e­la­tions in a rec­og­niz­able geo­graph­i­cal and human con­text. “He took a cir­cle round each con­cen­tra­tion camp as it were on a map, dif­fer­ent vil­lages, dif­fer­ent places and the num­bers of peo­ple,” Bern­stein remem­bers. “Oth­er­wise you could show a con­cen­tra­tion camp, as you see them now, and it could be any­where, miles away from human­i­ty. He brought that into the film.” For more on Mem­o­ry of the Camps and its upcom­ing suc­ces­sor, a remas­tered ver­sion with a “lost” sixth reel restored, see also Richard Brody’s relat­ed New York­er post.

Mem­o­ry of the Camps and oth­er wartime films appears in our col­lec­tion of 700 Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch World War II Rage Across Europe in a 7 Minute Time-Lapse Film: Every Day From 1939 to 1945

Did Hol­ly­wood Movies Stu­dios “Col­lab­o­rate” with Hitler Dur­ing WW II? His­to­ri­an Makes the Case

Don­ald Duck’s Bad Nazi Dream and Four Oth­er Dis­ney Pro­pa­gan­da Car­toons from World War II

How Alice Herz-Som­mer, the Old­est Holo­caust Sur­vivor, Sur­vived the Hor­rif­ic Ordeal with Music

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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Comments (4)
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  • Neerja says:

    Mankind’s shame­ful side should not be hid­den. Should be seen far and wide so that such cru­el­ty is not repeat­ed.

  • vahid says:

    down­load mem­o­ry of the camps

  • Linda Gorman says:

    I have stud­ied, read, reflect­ed on the unbe­liev­able his­to­ry of the Holo­caust since I was a child in school. Despite my read­ing, trav­el­ling, watch­ing the his­to­ry, still comes the ques­tion — HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED? The liv­ing must bear wit­ness or the denier or the unaware will make it hap­pen again and again. It has done so in so many rav­aged parts of the plan­et. Is this what man is capa­ble of. How can it be stopped, for good and always.

  • Julir says:

    Its hap­pen­ing now in present day. His­to­ry has not taught the world that these atroc­i­ties should nev­er be repeat­ed. Still Jews are per­se­cut­ed. As are Chris­tians. All in the name of Reli­gion

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