A film unfinished: Yael Hersonski's re-representation of archival footage from the Warsaw Ghetto.
The malleability of the audiovisual record is stated with particular acuity whenever archival footage is inserted into a new context. This process of audio-visual quotation raises questions about the historicity and origin of the archival footage, about what it was once meant to mean. In short, the presentation of history through archival footage equates to an act of re-representation.
The use that has been made of footage from the Third Reich is a particularly salutary example of the extent to which the meaning of archival footage is "up for grabs" (Sekula 116). The Nazi regime recorded its murderous reign with unprecedented fervor. A small percentage of material escaped the cull of evidence during its dying days. With few exceptions this footage consists of what Hirsch describes as "perpetrator images" (133). They represent a world seen through the lens of the oppressor. Having become subject to a constant process of re-appropriation and recirculation these images were instrumental in shaping our collective memory of a historical period. (1) In a moral and as, for example, in the context of the Nuremberg trials, a legal sense (see Douglas 2000) these documents have served as evidence for the indictment of the perpetrators.
The inherently problematic nature of this footage and its postwar uses is summarized by Elie Wiesel, who reminds us that:
For the most part, the images derive from enemy sources. The victims had neither cameras nor film. To amuse themselves, or to bring souvenirs back to their families, or to serve Goebbels' propaganda, the killers filmed sequences in one ghetto or another, in one camp or another: The use of these faked, truncated images makes it difficult to omit the poisonous message that motivated them. [...] will the viewer continue to remember that these film were made by the killers to show the downfall and the baseness of their so-called subhuman victims? (Insdorf xii).
Wiesel's concern about viewers' continued awareness of the contaminated evidence that is put before them is ever more pertinent at a point in history where the eyewitnesses of the historical period are falling silent. As Ertll and Wodianka note on the changing fabric of remembrance of the history of the Third Reich:
The impending loss of a generation that has been witness to what is to be remembered signifies the loss of a "specific competence of remembering." This is based on a combination of elements such as the accounts of eyewitnesses, a contemporaneous perspective, bodily experience and organic memory content. This, by contrast requires a reflection about not least media based) strategies, which can compensate for this loss and which can achieve the transition from lived history into cultural memory. (10. Translation from German by the author).
Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished is a reflection on the engagement with "poisonous" Third Reich footage at the point of transition to a wholly mediated representation of the Holocaust. The film draws on footage of the Warsaw Ghetto shot by a German camera team and also on amateur footage that was recorded at the margins of this official assignment. At the center of Hersonski's compilation are the circumstances of production as they are related by those behind, but also those in front of the camera. Her re-contextualisation of the material both questions and re-evaluates what is represented and can be seen as contribution to a "more complex semiotics of archive" which sees film "not only as a representation of what was in front of the camera but who was behind it and why" (Katz 100). By invoking the context of how these images came into being, Hersonski questions what it is that they proffer evidence for. The focus of this paper will be the cinematic strategies of re-representation with which she subjects her material to a critical analysis and the filmic means by which she wrests a new reading from it.
The Warsaw Footage and Anti-Semitic Film in the Third Reich
A Film Unfinished is constructed around silent footage filmed in the Warsaw Ghetto between 30th April and 2nd June 1942, two months before mass deportations to the Treblinka extermination camp commenced. One part of this footage consists of eight rolls of film that were sent to Berlin, developed, edited into a rough cut and never released. In 1954, the eight silent reels of this preliminary film version were rediscovered under the title Ghetto in the Filmmuseum Potsdam. Running to 63 minutes, the footage shows life in Ghetto locations such as the prison, the market, the living quarters, the streets, and the Offices of the Jewish Council, the internal self-administration authority set up by the Germans. It presents motif such as religious rituals, leisure activities, the trading and smuggling of food into the Ghetto, medical provision to control typhus (the alleged rationale for isolating the Jewish population), the training of the Jewish Ghetto police, and mass burials of emaciated bodies. Repeated studies of the living, the starving and the dead on the overcrowded streets are interwoven with these motif. (2)
In 1998 two additional reels of approximately 34 minutes' duration bearing the title Warsaw Ghetto were identified by the British film researcher Adrian Wood as having been taken contemporaneously with the 1942 footage. They had been part of the Library of Congress holdings in the Motion Picture Conservation Center on the Wright-Patterson American Air Force base. The reels start with the warning: Achtung/Geheime Kommandosache or Caution/Top Secret. Archived under the title Ghetto--Restmaterial, they contain outtakes from the rough cut as well as sequences similar to those that can be found in the long segment. This collection of discarded scenes from the cutting room floor also exposes the degree of staging that went into the filming of the footage: individual scenes are shown as the result of multiple takes in which positions and actions as well as camera perspectives are changed. Several shots show cameramen captured in each others' lenses as they record orchestrated scenes such as the dispersal of a crowd by the Jewish Ghetto police. (3)
A third type of footage deployed by Hersonski was shot by members of the official film team on 16 mm stock. Two films of a length of 289 meters show similar motives and at times identical scenes as the official production, but from different vantage points. (4) The same applies to another 106 metres of amateur footage in color. (5) It also contains a shot that made it possible to positively identify one of the cameramen of the otherwise unidentified film team, Willy Wist. (6)
By the time the Warsaw footage was shot in 1942 the mobilization of film in the service of anti-semitic propaganda was well established. The most infamous examples of these productions by Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda are, of course, the documentary Der ewige Jude, the fiction films Jud Siiss and Die Rothschilds. Released in 1940 and shot in quick succession, they drew on a set repertoire of anti-semitic prejudices that formed part of the wider anti-semitic media campaign. Both Der ewige Jude and Jud Siiss were shown to the local population in the closer vicinity of concentration camps, and to prepare Ghetto workers for the task ahead (see Rentschler 1996 and Hollstein 1971).
It is not known whether any such specific uses had been destined for the Warsaw footage. As Adrian Wood notes in the additional material for the DVD edition of A Film Unfinished, there is a conspicuous absence of any official paper trail on the commissioning and production of the material as well as on the film's archival itinerary. (7) The footage therefore poses an archival riddle (see Rother 2010) at a number of levels.
However, even in its unfinished and silent state the rhetorical structure and propagandistic thrust that underlies the Warsaw footage is readily evident. It is predominantly conveyed through the constant juxtaposition of extremes between or within shots: the film is structured around the contrast between the well-clad and well-fed who live a life of "luxury," and the destitute and emaciated whose bodies are discarded as waste.
Against the backdrop of Der ewige Jude and Jud Suss, the material seems to bear the inscription of its historical moment: a central motif of these two films had been the Jewish gift for assimilation that supported the clandestine erosion of western civilization. The opening titles of Der ewige Jude inform viewers that they were about to witness "the Jews as they really are, before they concealed themselves behind the masks of civilized Europe." As Jenny Hansen shows, the intent to reveal a hidden reality and teach its audience to see behind the facade of racial respectability finds its stylistic expression in the prevalent use of devices such as close-ups, superimpositions, dissolves, and fades. (Hansen 84)
The very setting of the footage in the Ghetto implies an advanced historical stage in the program of annihilation. In it, the need to probe behind the surface apparition of assimilation has gone. Made to live in a state of segregation rather than as alien elements within a dominant culture, the Jewish race has dropped its mask. Where earlier propaganda films had mobilized an invidious juxtaposition of Aryan and demasked Jew, the Warsaw Ghetto footage, while drawing on the same propagandistic trope, revolves around divisions amongst the Jewish people (Fig. 1 and 2).
An early example of the uses to which the footage was put, the BBC documentary The Warsaw Ghetto (1968) by Alexander Bernfes, highlights resonances of the material with a wider anti-semitic discourse as the Final Solution gathered force. (8) On 24th July 1941 the Illustrierte Berliner Zeitung published a photo-report about the Warsaw Ghetto with the headline "Juden unter sich" or "Jews amongst themselves." In it, captions such as the following inscribe these collages of glamor and destitution with an argumentative thrust that resonates with the silent Ghetto footage:
The poor go in rags, the rich live in abundance-one of the many examples of Jewish solidarity. Here in the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jews live amongst Jews, where Jews administer Jewish life, a Jewish feeling of togetherness should surely show! (Anonymous 1941. Translation from the German by the author).
Like other footage of problematic progeny from the period, the Warsaw Ghetto footage was inserted into a process of image circulation that aimed at the visual construction of an historical event that seemed unimaginable and beyond representation to most people. (9) As ubiquitous proof of atrocities committed against the Jewish people its own history seemed to be forgotten.
Re-representing the Footage
The opening scenes of A Film Unfinished highlight the fact that it represents a pre-existing document: here the camera travels through the long corridors and past the shelves of an underground archive to which it will return at the very end. Throughout the film, short inserts, during which a new film can is opened and strips of celluloid are fed into the projector, act as reminder that we are looking at distinct material that has been worked on by the 21st century filmmaker (Fig.3).
The work takes on a variety of forms. Hersonski's use of the footage is selective: some motives which appear in the source material such as, for example, the training of the Jewish police, and a sequence that clearly purports to show the success of measures taken against typhus in the Ghetto are omitted. Other parts of the footage remain invisible to the viewer when the camera trains on the survivors who comment on the film as it unfolds before them. Alterations are made from the shot sequence of the rough cut as Hersonski combines the footage with voice-over commentary and interlaces it with other archival materials, as well as two re-enacted scenes. Some of the color footage is presented in black and white as well as in color.
In addition to changes in relation to the source material, the documentary features highly visible markers of Hersonski's work with the footage: most notably, large parts of footage are shown in slow motion. Recurring freeze frames, zooms, and irises complement a stylistic repertoire that allows for the images to be scanned closely, and that guides viewers' attention towards particular sections of the image such as the cameramen who walk into each other's field of vision.
In addition to these stylistic interventions Hersonski embeds the silent footage in a rich soundscape. (10) An eerie score and atmospheric sounds respond to or at times are closely aligned with the visuals: thus realistic sound effects complement shots of a passing tram, musical accents underscore sights of a particularly abhorrent nature, or the music provides the accompaniment to a dinner dance. However, Hersonsksi also continuously foregrounds the non-diegetic origins and the temporal detachment of the music by endowing it with a cavernous resonance. In conjunction with the slow motion, the music inscribes the anticipation of impending catastrophe into this representation of the past. It frames the images with the invocation of "subsequent knowledge" (Hirsch 134) about the fate that awaits those depicted in them.
The musical accompaniment changes markedly in one of the reenactment scenes. Shot in color, this shows Heinz Auerswald's account of Ghetto developments as the words are being typed and read. The classical music that overlays it provides an ironic commentary on the murderous logic of these dispassionate institutional pronouncements.
Most notably, Hersonski's re-contextualization of the silent footage draws on a voice-over combining a number of elements: a voice-over narration provides the background on how the footage came into being, as well as on life in the Ghetto. It also serves to contextualize the quotations from the various documents Hersonski has selected. As the camera team recorded life in the overcrowded conditions, this conspicuous work was in turn documented by those who became its object. Their perspective on being recorded emerges from numerous entries into diaries such as those from the founder of the underground archive Oneg Shabbat, Dr Emmanuel Ringelblum, and some of its contributors. The self-declared aim of this collective archive was "to reveal the whole truth as bitter as it may be" and provide a "many sided" and "objective" documentation of everyday Ghetto life for later generations through the eyes of an array of inmates. The archive was interred in 1942 and 1943, and parts of it were discovered in 1946.1I Yet another perspective on Ghetto life comes from the diary of Adam Cerniakow, the Head of the Warsaw Ghetto Jewish Council, the body tasked with the day-to-day internal administration of the Ghetto and ultimately the provision of ever increasing quotas of deportees (see Hilberg 1979). The quotations from contemporary documents are supplemented by comments of five survivors of Warsaw Ghetto who recall life in the Ghetto as they respond to the footage.
Hersonski's selection from these documents focusses on the circumstances of the filming: they provide evidence of the staged nature of these records of Ghetto life as locations are requisitioned and actors are coerced to become the knowing cast in a document of their own unmaking.
The Gaze at the Ghetto
As Bill Nichols notes, viewing conventions of non-fiction film are based on the assumption that the documented events are "not entirely enacted with the camera in mind" (78). The space of non-fiction film is therefore "historical, we expect the filmmaker to operate from the inside, as part of the historical world." As filmmakers and subjects share this historical space, the question arises of how filmmakers acquit themselves in relation to the reality they capture and how their "gaze" (79) upon this is reflected in the visual record. Hersonski's re-contextualization of the Warsaw footage draws on two re-enacted sequences to make the nature of the gaze directed at the Ghetto inmates explicit.
Hersonski quotes from transcripts of the interrogation of Willy Wist, which took place in the course of the preliminary investigation of Heinz Auerswald, the Commissioner of the Warsaw Ghetto.12 In Wist's statements the occasional acknowledgement of the destitute state of the people he films combines with the invocation of fallible memory, the abdication of responsibility to superior authority and outright denial. His answers reflect well-documented strategies by those implicated in war time atrocities and threatened by exposure or indictment. But his statements also feature technical and aesthetic concerns that seem wholly incongruous in the light of the sights he captures. Thus he complains that lighting conditions were often inadequate due to a lack of filmic expertise by the film team's official guide. Throughout the footage there is evidence of attempts to remedy this situation in the reflection of rigged up lighting in the destitute housing that features so prominently in the film. Wist also recollects the filming of a group of naked women who immerse themselves in a small pool and vents his frustration at having had to work in such poor lighting conditions. Earlier in the re-enactment he comments that he and his team "didn't have a chance to express ourselves." When the questioner repeats this statement in what appears to be an attempt to ensure that he has understood it properly, he emphatically confirms his complaint.
Hersonski's outtakes from Heinz Auerswald's reports on the Ghetto reverberate with the detached incongruity of Wist's stance in the face of the reality he encounters. A meticulous listing of the starvation rations that have been brought into the Ghetto via official channels leads the Commander of the Ghetto to conclude that "the population resorts to free trade in order to ensure a minimum level of nourishment." He follows with a report about the successful suppression of the smuggling operations that formed part of such "free" trading, and notes that many culprits have been executed. An accompanying shot and the commentary of a survivor illustrates the fact that those were commonly children (Fig. 4).
The two re-enactments dramatize what Nichols describes as a "clinical gaze" a perspective which is indicative of a "technical and machine like competence" (Nichols 88) in the face of an event that seems to call for a human response. Presented in conjunction with an example of official discourse, Wist's personal statement appears as a "symptom of a social pathology that carries detachment beyond a justifiable limit" (Nichols 88).
Further resonances between Wist's and Auerswald's statements are evident in the frequent effacement of agency. Where Wist portrays himself as the unsuspecting recipient of orders, Auerswald's diction makes purposeful use of the passive voice, even--as the voice-over informs us--when he himself has initiated the action he reports about.
Hersonski's marked selection of multiple shots of cameramen caught in the process of filming anchors the gaze at the Ghetto inmates in human agency (Fig. 5 and 6). The most striking visual illustration of this occurs when Wist recollects a mass burial of skeletal corpses that are sent down a ramp into a pit. Hersonski combines this memory with footage that illustrates his description, freezing on a uniformed cameraman who emerges from his vantage point at the bottom of the pit amidst layers of corpses (Fig. 7).
Hersonski's inclusion of amateur footage contributes another point of view to the reflection on the nature of the gaze that has been trained on Ghetto inmates. Photographic evidence testifies to the considerable attraction that Ghetto life held for non-professional photographers (Zelizer 12). Based on such records as well as diary entries, Keller reports that the Warsaw Ghetto attracted constant attention from "picture-hungry tourists," most of them soldiers (Keller x). Where Wist argues that the film team merely recorded what they were ordered to, the amateur footage attests to a troubling personal fascination with capturing such motifs as starving children
The Gaze Returned
The plenitude of the audiovisual and the richness of quotidian detail about the past that the documentary image captures, suggests a potential of meaning that resists containment, a meaning that "stands outside the web of significance spun to capture it." (Nichols 142).
In its version as rough cut, and through the discarded scenes of the Restmaterial, the Ghetto footage offers a rich seam of excess. In A Film Unfinished traces of it surface in the out-takes in which we see repeated stagings of scenes, such as of two boys in rags who are filmed as they look at a butcher's shop window. Shots of cameramen who capture a seemingly spontaneous crowd scene from a vantage point on top of a strategically positioned chair also exemplify moments where the seeming authenticity of life observed as its unfolds is temporarily undermined. In the rough cut this occurs when "actors'" behavior clearly indicates that they carry out directorial orders, as is, for example, the case when a woman pulls back a cover from a starving child and pushes its head up to make it visible to the cameraman to whom she looks for reassurance.
Most persistently, Hersonski's presentation of the footage as resistant to its wholesale appropriation for propagandistic rhetoric draws on the gaze that subjects direct at the camera and those who operate it. The investigation of the direct look at the camera takes two forms. The film contains numerous shots of spontaneous reactions to the film team's and their SS accompaniment's activity as the camera captures life in the thronging streets. The expectation that the appearance of a uniformed film crew would have raised for the ghetto inmates is described by one of the eye-witnesses: "Germans would often show up, usually for unpleasant reasons and usually shooting. So when they were filming it was much more positive." A Film Unfinished shows the traces of power constellations in the Ghetto in the emotional gamut of fear and hesitant relief as the presence of the film team is acknowledged: curious stares alternate with tentative smiles, the quick aversion of gazes, surreptitious glances, an explicit address as one man raises his hat to the German cameramen (Fig. 8, 9 and 10). The persistent impact of these gazes is frequently extended as Hersonski zooms in on faces or slows down or halts the flow of images entirely.
By contrast to these captured studies of faces, the film features a series of close-ups conspicuously arranged. In them, expressionless, immobile faces evoke the genre conventions of the mug shot for police identification. These proved to be a prominent device in the stylistic armory of anti-Semitic film. Revealing the racial distinctness and inferiority of the Jewish race in closely observed facial features, they provided, physiological corroboration of anti-Semitic tenets. (13) In the context of Hersonski's investigation of what remains outside the camera's field of vision, and thus the hors-champ of the footage, the connotation of these shots shifts. The persistency of those extended looks undermines a display that has been arranged to represent the victims of this destitution as its root cause.
This recalcitrance of images to their appropriation is strikingly dramatized in a sequences in which the gaze of subjects is rendered mobile. They show a line of emaciated faces in profile. To the sound of a sudden base note, and at the behest of an unseen authority, they all abruptly turn their face towards the camera. Forty-four minutes into the film yet another sequence of close-ups starts with individual portraits in profile. Executing an off-screen directorial command, the subjects of these shots perform a slowed-down hundred-and-eighty degree turn of their gaze that builds up to a moment in which the subjects' eyes interlock with the viewer and music accentuates the alignment (Figs. 11,12 and 13). In this cinematic dramatization of the mobile gaze, the subject/viewer relation undergoes a transformation. In these silent portraits in profile, those captured within them are offered to the viewer "as items of information, objects of contemplation, impersonally as though they were specimens in a display case." (Kress 124). As they turn to train a direct gaze at the viewer, a different kind of relationship is established. As Kress notes, such shots constitute an "image act," placing a demand on the viewer "to enter into some kind of imaginary relationship" (122) that will be shaped by the specific contexts, the cinematography and the paralinguistic features associated with it.
In the scenes discussed above, Hersonski dramatizes the transition from object to subject of the gaze and thereby unsettles an act of representation in which subjects are made to " 'stand revealed' but cannot reveal the detachment of the human subject who represents them" (Nichols 91). These silent shots present the coerced participants of the footage as witnesses who now expose the gaze that is directed at them.
The Footage as Record and Propaganda
Notwithstanding its unfinished and silent state, the intended propagandistic thrust of the Ghetto footage is clearly evident. But just as it yields moments of recalcitrance, its lack of a sound track introduces, in Barthes' terms, a lack of "anchorage" and thus a degree of semantic instability (Barthes 39). The image/language constellations that Hersonski creates mobilize this instability. Throughout the film comments by witnesses and survivors explicitly corroborate images as "real." However, their comments also reveal a wider context that remains off-screen. Twenty-nine minutes into the film a shot shows a pile of ordure and excrement in the courtyard of a dilapidated block of tenements. This is accompanied by Willy Wist's recollection of the shooting of this particular scene: "I remember thinking to myself that either because of the winter or because of the overcrowding, the sanitary installation had stopped working." Reflecting his detachment, he casts the desolate sight as an instance of technical malfunctioning due to natural causes. The eyewitness who comments next, emphatically verifies the authenticity of what we see: "These piles of garbage are real." She explains the sight: "People would throw their garbage out of their windows because they were too weak to go downstairs. Hungry people become apathetic. They don't care anymore." Her commentary reframes this scene as evidence of a human catastrophe, which is conspicuously invisible to Wist.
In another scene we see a group of people who cart away household possessions (Fig.14). Over this, a survivor describes her family's move when they are forced out of their home as the Ghetto area is further reduced. She remembers how during the move they saw the film crew. Her commentary inscribes records that were made with the generic and propagandistic intent of showing everyday Jewish life with the authority of lived and individual experience. But while this implies a degree of mutual verification of testimony, the commentary also evokes the off-screen of this record as a space of latent violence and subjection: when her father loses control of the cart, "the Germans jumped on him and beat him until he fell down and the cart rolled away." His daughter recollects how her screams were silenced to protect her from a similar punishment. As Hesse notes, visual NS propaganda eschewed the representation of acts of violence and predominantly drew on images of "regulated coercion and torment without visible violence" (Hess 145). In the above example this context is restored to the image.
As the commentary interacts with the pictures, the Ghetto emerges as a stratified social construct, which is evident in a scene in which Czerniakow's recollections of the requisitioning of his flat as a film location are read, followed by a Ghetto survivor's comments at the sight of a bunch of flowers in his well-appointed flat: "What on Earth! Where did one ever see a flower? We would have eaten the flower. Who could stay in their private apartment with their furniture and their teapot? Who? Only the privileged like Czerniakow! We would have eaten these flowers!"
Scenes of an outdoor market where food seems to be available in abundance leads another eyewitness to comment: "This is horse meat. Not everybody could afford it. People who had goods or money were able to buy food up until the very end, albeit at exorbitant prices."
These scenes highlight the fact that propagandistic distortion and the documentation of reality cannot simply be read from these images. This becomes strikingly evident in a sequence in which sunbathers are seen relaxing in a makeshift enclosure of deck chairs Fig. 15). One of the survivors comments at this sight: "People made jokes in the Ghetto and laughed. Sometimes we would even sing. People did what they could. That was the tremendous contrast and paradox that the Germans had created." Her statement draws our attention to the sense in which the footage has to be understood as subject to a staging on a far wider scale than is implied by the arrangement of the pro-filmic world of the material. As Koch notes in her study of the visual construction of Jewishness in the photography of Ghetto life, these records ultimately testify to the fact that, "Within a very short time the Nazis had created Jews according to their image. The very thing they had brought about themselves was now presented as the ontological state of 'Jewish nature'" (Koch 173).
However, while the footage represents a fundamentally distorted reality, it is also endowed with the significance of an authentic trace of a world that has perished. This is thrown into sharp relief when, at the very start of the display of footage, one of the survivors looks at the screen and asks: "Oh God! What if I see somebody I know?" This statement is punctuated by shots of passers-by who turn and cast searching looks that strain to establish the identity of onlookers across the passage of time. A little later another eyewitness echoes her anxiety: "I keep thinking that among all these people I might see my mother walking" (see Magilow 40). There are indeed several instances where survivors recognize characters such as Rubinstein, a man in rags who performs a dance for the film crew, or a woman who begs in the Ghetto streets.
Hersonski topicalizes the duality of the footage as propaganda and surviving trace with a shot of a photographic portrait that a man briefly picks up from a heap of garbage he has been carefully sifting through. He picks up this memento of a life only to consign it back to careless destruction. Hersonski's extension of the duration of this gesture in a freeze frame crystallises the loss of self representation of the victims in a shot which in its original context supports the film's propagandistic portrayal of the Jewish people as culturally and socially inept.
In Hersonski's A Film Unfinished the staged footage is presented in its duality as trace and propagandistic falsification. In her constellations of word and image Hersonski acknowledges the fascinations of these inscriptions of light, but she also highlights the need for a perceptual engagement that resists the pull of the indexical and views the images as inscribed.
In A Film Unfinished the combination of the Warsaw Ghetto footage with samples of official Nazi discourse and Wist's recollections reconstruct the stance behind the images. In their combination with diary excerpts and the survivors' commentary the existence of what they show is corroborated, but its significance is recast. In drawing the attention to the perennial hors-champs of these images Hersonski highlights the evidence they proffer as ever-tenuous and in need of critical contextualisation.
However, Hersonski's cinematic reframing of the footage also mobilises stylistic means to foreground an excess of meaning. Her selection, arrangement and emphatic presentation of individual shots highlights traces in the footage which eschew a propagandistic determination and the coerced actors of this farce are made to address us with an urgent silence that undermines their staged self-indictment. It is by such means that Hersonski carves a resistance to its propagandistic appropriation out of the footage.
In his discussion of ways of reading perpetrator photographs from the Holocaust, Brad Prager points to attempts to open these up to new meanings and thus their "liberation" from initial determinations. He highlights how such disturbing images instil the desire "to restore life and a voice to those depicted" (19) while "the work of history may best be served" (20) by "a confrontation with our emotional investment in that which is too infrequently called into question as evidence." (34) Hersonski's refraining of the Warsaw footage provides a contextualisation of what purports to be evidence and invites us to see the inscription of a meaning that escapes the original intentions invested in these records. Her film does not hold the promise of "liberation" of images, but the offer of a critical engagement with these disquieting traces that may ultimately sharpen our perception of the cinematically mediated past.
No other crime against humanity has been documented as comprehensively as the Holocaust. As Assmann notes, our remembrance of this period is supported by an unprecedented amount of artefacts, exhibitions, archives, and other institutional manifestations of collective memory. The question Assmann therefore raises is not whether this memory will be maintained once those who have lived through it have died, but rather what the "quality of this memory will be once it has entirely turned into cultural memory" (246). This question seems of particular relevance with regard to the visual record. Susan Sontag's reflection on the nature of recollection that is triggered by the photograph can be extended to the silent documentary image. In her essay Regarding the Pain of Others she states:
The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs. This remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding and remembering (79).
As the digital turn of media history heralds a severing of the indexical link between historical reality and the visual record, Hersonski's investigation of the documentary image between authenticity and distortion is a timely contribution to the perception and significance of the archival record of the past.
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(1) Some examples of post-war compilations films made from NS footage are: Erwin Leiser, Mein Kampf (1960); Annelie und Andrew Thorndyke, Du und mancher Kamerad (1959); Joachim Hess, Die Deutschen im Zweiten Weltkrieg (1985).
(2) Ghetto Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, reference number 11780, 35 mm, b/w, silent, 1,746 metres. For further information on the provenance of the footage see Horstmann, A. 2011.
(3) Ghetto Restmaterial, Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, production company: unknown, reference number 19675, 35mm, b/w, silent, 945 metres.
(4) Das Warschauer Ghetto, Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, amateur footage, reference number 20382, 16mm, b/w, silent, 289 metres.
(5) Im Warschauer Ghetto, Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, amateur footage, reference number 20814, 16mm, colour, silent, 106 meters.
(6) Horstmann notes that while propaganda company PK 689 had been previously involved in recording the Ghetto previously it had been dispatched to the Russian front by the time the Warsaw footage was shot. She suggests that a special unit was created for the filming assignment in May 1942. See Horstmann, A. 2011, p. 71.
(7) Additional material of the DVD of A Film Unfnished, 2011, Oscilloscope Laboratories. The film was released in German under the title Geheimsache Ghettofilm; its Hebrew title is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] Shtikat haArkhion.
(8) Alexander Bernfes, The Warsaw Ghetto (1968), 16mm, b/w, 51 mins. The report in the Berliner lllustrierte Zeitung is also singled out in Ulrich Keller, 1984 p. x for its highly tendentious captions.
(9) Claude Lanzmann's eschewal of archival footage in his 9 1/2 hour documentary Shoa (1985) is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of this injunction against representing the Holocaust in a cinematic context.
(10) In role 6 metres 100 - 117 of the material archived under the title Ghetto, and at 1.10.36 of A Film Unfinished a microphone can be spotted in the left half of the shot. The sequence shows the funeral of Henryk Czerwinski, a member of the Jewish Council in the Warsaw Ghetto. See the online data base Cinematografie des Holocaust which provides an in-depth description of individual scenes of the footage under the title Asien in Mitteleuropa. This working title stems from the records of the Warsaw Ghetto survivor Jonas Turkow. The data base is available under htjp://www.cine-holocaust.de (last accessed 12 September 2012).
(11) See J. Sloan (ed.) 1974. Other contributors quoted in the film are Rachel Auerbach, Chaim Kaplan, Abraham Lewin, Ben Shem, Jonas Turkow and Hersh Wasser. For further background on and excerpts from Oneg Shabat documents see S. Kassow. 2007 and the Yad Vashem website <http ://www 1. yadvashem.org/v/en/exhibitions/ringelbum/overview.asp> Web 29 October2012).
(12) Rupnow provides further information on the two investigations which WillyWist was called to attend in connection with his activities during the war. The second of these was carried out in connection with the investigation of Ludwig Hahn, the commander of the Security Police or Sicherheitspolizei in Warsaw. See D. Rupnow. 2010. p. 26.
(13) On the use of the close-up in anti-Semitic films of the Third Reich see: J. Hansen. 2008. p. 62.
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|Date:||Dec 22, 2012|
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