Once I saw the trailer for A Film Unfinished, I knew I had to see it. Though horrified by the images of life in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, I wanted to know the truth.
Rarely, is the truth clear cut, as this film so aptly demonstrates.
After WWII, an unfinished Nazi propaganda film was discovered in a concrete vault. The silent hour-long rough cut portrayed life in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Shot over 30 days, in May 1942 —just two months before the Nazis started sending the Ghetto’s Jews to Treblinka—the film highlights extremes of poverty and luxury. Edits juxtapose scenes of people dying of starvation on the sidewalks with views of a fancy dinner party.
For nearly half a century historians used the film as a record of life in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Then in a film vault at an American Airbase, a British researcher stumbled on two film cans lying on the floor titled "Das Ghetto". Inside—30-minutes of footage left on the cutting room floor when the Ghetto film was made. The outtakes clearly showed the film crew had staged many of the scenes. Some caught cameramen accidentally filming one another.
Tragically, the scenes of profound suffering and death are not the fakes. Face after face appears, eyes vacant, skin taut over bone. A fly buzzes and lands. A hand too weak to brush it off.
I want to look away, but I don’t. I open myself to see each face that flashes on the screen as an individual human being. That man had a wife and children. That woman had plans and hopes, just like I do. That person never imagined his life would turn out like this.
I look at each skeletal body shown sliding down a chute into the mass grave. I make myself a witness to the human dignity of each one. Because that is an undeniable truth.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories of history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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