Trauma and Cinema: Cross-Cultural Explorations

By E. Kaplan Ann; Wang Ban | Go to book overview

4
Post-traumatic Cinema and the
Holocaust Documentary

JOSHUA HIRSCH

Of the mass killing of more than ten million people in Nazi concentration camps and by Nazi mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen), there is only one known piece of motion picture footage, lasting about two minutes.1 It was shot in 1941 by Reinhard Wiener, a German Naval Sergeant and amateur cinematographer stationed in Latvia. According to testimony given by Wiener in Israel in 1981, he had walked into the town of Liepaja one day in August of that year, carrying with him his 8mm film camera loaded with stock, as he did whenever possible, in case he saw something he wanted to film. He was walking in a wooded park when a soldier ran up to him and told him not to walk any farther, because something "awful, terrible" was happening there. Asked what it was, the man replied, "Well they're killing Jews there."

Wiener decided to go and see for himself. He came to a clearing where a group of German soldiers had gathered near a trench to watch the proceedings. When a truck arrived full of people wearing yellow patches on their chests and backs, he began filming. He recorded about two minutes of film, in which one can see people running into the pit and then shot by a firing squad.

It was several months before Wiener was able to get the footage developed. By that time, Himmler had outlawed the filming of any activities related to the extermination of the Jews, which had begun in June of 1941 with mobile killing actions like the one filmed by

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