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Clip description

Max, an Australian survivor of Belsen concentration camp, is shown some photos taken at the camp for the first time. He recognises his brother in a photo and recalls life in the camp.

Curator’s notes

A moving sequence, particularly when Max states that he does not hold the German people responsible for the atrocities but rather the individual guards and members of the SS. The director has chosen a very simple technique, with little or no music, and long, slow takes. This is very effective, particularly in the sequence where Max is looking at the photos from the camp.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Max, a Jewish survivor of the Belsen concentration camp, looking at black-and-white photographs that were taken at the camp at the time of liberation. The photographs include prisoners with typhus isolated in a 'cage’, emaciated figures behind a barbed-wire fence, women crammed into a room with no beds, and hundreds of skeletal bodies in piles. Max recognises his brother in one of the photographs. While he examines the photographs, Max recalls camp life and says he does not hold the German people responsible for the horror that he experienced.

Educational value points

  • Belsen (also known as Bergen-Belsen) was a concentration camp in north-west Germany. It was originally a prisoner-of-war camp, but Jewish people, who were to be exchanged for German nationals held in Allied countries, were interned there in 1943. In March 1944, Belsen became a concentration camp under SS command (SS standing for 'Schutzstaffel’, meaning 'protection squad’). Prisoners who were too sick to work were sent to Belsen, but they received no medical care. Fifty thousand people died there from starvation, overwork, disease and brutality.
  • The camp was part of the 'final solution’ or 'Endlösung’ of Germany’s dictator Adolf Hitler. In 1941 Hitler embarked on the 'final solution’ to exterminate all Jews in Europe as he considered them to be subhuman. In January 1942 the Nazis began the systematic deportation of Jews from all over occupied Europe to six extermination camps in former Polish territory, where about 3 million Jews were sent to the gas chambers. Jews in these and other work camps were also shot or died from starvation or disease. The 'final solution’ was responsible for the deaths of about 6 million Jews, or two-thirds of all Jews in Europe.
  • Initially, living conditions at Belsen were better than at other camps, but overcrowding changed that. According to accounts written after Belsen was liberated, 'people were sleeping three in a bed, mainly in treble-bunk beds, and huts which would normally accommodate 60 were housing 600. There were no sanitary arrangements, and both inside and outside the hut was an almost continuous carpet of dead bodies, human excreta, rags, and filth’ (www.durham.gov.uk). In the women’s compound most were 'so weak they could hardly raise themselves’ (www.guardian.co.uk).
  • When British forces liberated the camp on 15 April 1945, they found thousands of corpses lying unburied on the camp grounds, and 60,000 surviving prisoners in a facility built for 10,000. Most of the survivors were seriously ill. More than 10,000 of them were too ill to recover, and died after liberation. After evacuating Belsen, British forces burned down the camp to prevent the spread of typhus. While the Allies knew that the camps existed, the British soldiers were deeply shocked by what they saw.
  • As the Allied forces advanced into Germany in late 1944 and early 1945, thousands of prisoners were moved from other camps in eastern Europe to Belsen, swelling the prison numbers at the camp from 22,000 to 60,000. Overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and the lack of adequate food and shelter led to a typhus epidemic. Tens of thousands of prisoners died, perhaps as many as 35,000, including the now-famous Anne Frank and her sister Margot.
  • The clip shows piles of bodies in the woods around Belsen. When the British forces arrived in Belsen in 1945 they found 10,000 unburied bodies. One survivor commented that there was no more room in the crematorium to dispose of the bodies. The British forced the SS guards who had not fled the camp to collect and bury the bodies, but with the ever-increasing risk of more serious disease outbreaks, eventually the British had to resort to bulldozers to push the thousands of bodies into mass graves.
  • A survivor talks about how the experience of being in Belsen has affected him. Most survivors left Europe after the War. Often they discovered that their entire family had perished in camps, while their former property had either been destroyed or taken. Some suffered 'survivor syndrome’, which included feelings of guilt for having survived when others had not, thoughts of death, fears of renewed persecution, nightmares and panic attacks. Many survivors feel compelled to bear witness to the horrors of the camps.
  • The clip features a Jewish survivor of a concentration camp who settled in Australia. Between 1945 and 1954, about 17,000 Jewish refugees displaced by the War (many of whom were camp survivors) emigrated to Australia. These numbers were small in comparison with the overall migrant intake, as the Australian Government, aware of anti-Semitic feeling within the community, had taken covert steps to limit Jewish immigration. However, in 1945, after intense lobbying from the Jewish community, the Government allowed the first 2,000 Jewish survivors into the country.

This clip starts approximately 14 minutes into the documentary.

Max is sitting in an office chair on a leafy back veranda. He is wearing casual attire.
Interviewer Next, there were some photographs taken at the camp at the time of the liberation.
The interviewer hands Max a photo album.
Narrator Max has not seen these photographs before.

We see the interviewer sitting with Max in a wideshot. Black and white photographs of the camp are shown on camera. The photographs include prisoners with typhus isolated in a cage, emaciated figures behind a barbed-wire fence, women crammed into a room with no beds, and hundreds of skeletal bodies in piles. There is an image of a young girl lying in a top bunk and a young boy peering up from the bed below.
Max Yes, of course. My God! Somebody…it’s all coming back naturally, you know, when you look at it. My gosh! Yes. That’s my brother. Unmistakably, this is Jack. Look at the eyes.

Max and the haunting images from the album are closely framed.
Interviewer Do you recognise any of the others?
Max I think this girl, she died a few days after the liberation. Oh my God. I’ve seen some faces of those people, especially this one. There. I remember this scene very clearly here. The skeletons and the graves.

Again we see the medium and wide shot of Max talking with the interviewer, this time without the album.
Max Naturally, I have seen a lot of horror as a child in both those camps that are intolerable by normal everyday thinking. Um, personally, I don’t hold the horror that we experienced against the German people as a whole. I, ah, I do not think of the horrors I have experienced every day, I can’t say that I do, because I don’t, but on numerous occasions I do think of the experience that I had in Belsen.

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