Saturday, March 29, 2014

Documentary Review: A Film Unfinished: The Ghetto (Warsaw Ghetto)

This documentary is based on an unfinished propaganda film which was made by Nazi film team, under the direction of the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto.  Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the German ghettos for Jewish persons.  It was walled in in 1940.  The ghetto held about 400,000 people; 30 percent of the population of Warsaw on 2.5 percent of the area.  Conditions were crowded.  In addition to this the area was walled in, meaning there was no economic base.  The citizens were allowed 184 calories a day.  The film shows a monthly allotment.  2.5 eggs per year, 6 ounces of vegetables a month, it was just crazy.  Smuggling items from outside the ghetto was the only way to survive.  Many small children were involved in smuggling.  If they were caught, they were killed.
"The Ghetto" was filmed in 1842.  Rumors were flying of the death camps, but exportation from the Warsaw Ghetto had not begun.  The motivation of the film was two-fold as far as I could tell.  One they tried to make the life in the ghetto to not be that bad.  To do this they staged many scenes--a large funeral procession, a woman putting on lipstick, a party, an opulent home, a thriving market with meat and other items.  It also tried to show the callousness of the rich Jews towards the poor.  They would show poor beggar Jews, and the opulent people ignoring them.  They tried to show this contrast in several different ways.  Another thing they showed was corpses on the street, and everyone avoiding them.  They were trying to make a statement.
When the film was first discovered in German vaults, it was taken as on-the-street filming.  However it was only after finding takes in another area, and talking to people from the ghetto, ad one of the film makers, that the pieced together that much of what is shown is scripted, while some of it is what was happening.
Adam Czerniak√≥w was the Jewish administrator.  He cooperated with the Nazis.  He also documented in his journal some of the filming, some of which was done in his residence, trying to show the opulent Jewish population.  Of course this was only 20 or 30 people of the 400,000.  Czerniakow committed suicide the day the exportations to death chambers started.  240,000 to 300,000 were sent to termination camps from the ghetto.  Possible as many as 100,000 more died from the conditions, typhus and hunger, and murdered by the Nazis.
There are a couple of depictions that are very moving, but also hard to watch.  The first is a group of men, and then women who are made to get naked and participate in a ritual bath.    It does show nudity.  They were healthier.  I think as a way of showing the contrast between the poor and the rich.
The second is a few of corpses.  The camera man indicated that there were corpse upon corpse, he couldn't tell how many.  They are all naked.  They are thrown around like sacks of potatoes, as they are slid into a mass grave. 
This documentary was never finished.  But that it was conceived shows a special kind of viciousness.  Those who were shown in the film were not saved from the gas chambers.  For many this is a documentation of those who would die in just a could of months. 

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