frontline is made possible by viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. with major support from the the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. and additional support from the park foundation, the ford foundation, the wyncote foundation and the frontline journalism fund. >> corporate funding for frontline is provided by: >> narrator: 70 years ago, in april 1945, camera crews with the british and american armies entered the nazi death camps and filmed the horror they found there. the edited film remained unfinished, with missing soundtracks-- stored for decades
in the archives of the imperial war museum in london. the film's directors, including alfred hitchcock, had developed a script to go with the pictures. so in 1985 frontline reconstituted the as closely as possible to what we believe the producers intended they made it as a document to serve our collective memory. at least six million people died in nazi germany's system of camps. more than three million were jews. (militaristic music playing) >> trevor howard: in march 1933, 17,264,296 germans voted for the
>> howard: the german people had embarked on that long, incredible journey that led seemingly out of chaos to unprecedented triumph. (crowd cheering) promise after promise had been fulfilled. austria 1938, czechoslovakia 1938, poland 1939, norway, denmark, and france in quick succession. a place in the sun at last.
true, they had lost their trade unions and a lot of books had been burned, but it seemed a good sort of bargain, and one got to like being told what to do, having one's views prescribed, especially if it meant a vista bright with the promise of grandeur and conquest. (bells tolling) in the spring of 1945, the allies, advancing into the heart of germany, came to bergen- belsen.
neat and tidy orchards, well- stocked farms lined the wayside and the british soldier did not fail to admire the place and its inhabitants-- at least until he began to feel a smell. it came from a concentration camp, a waste ringed with barbed wire and overlooked by watchtowers. coming in from the flowering countryside in spite of the frightful smell, things didn't seem so bad at first; children smiled through the barbed wire and women laughed and waved their hands. but belsen camp was vast, and inside was a different story. they had not eaten for six days,
and every soldier's stock of food was called into use. water, too, had been cut off and so the water cart was the most important thing to arrive. most of the people seemed to be listless, beyond hope and astonishment. hunger had probably affected them that way. we discovered that among this stench of disease and decay was something a bit worse than hunger. moving vaguely on rickety skeleton legs, they were too ill to eat. how grateful they were for a kindly word or gesture! what misery, to live amongst such unmentionable filth with
scarcely the strength to pick the lice which inevitably swarmed over them. they seemed accustomed to the smell and the horror. they had seen all there was to see. huts were almost impossible to go near; they were full of tangled masses of people who had died slowly and painfully of starvation and disease, writhing in agony, helpless in puddles of excrement. it was difficult to imagine those orchards now, those rich fields where the stolid cattle cropped the juicy grass, for here, a few minutes away inside the barbed wire, was nothing but filth and death.
dead prisoners hurled out and stacked in twisted heaps. dead women like marble statues in the mire. this was what these inmates had to live among-- and die among. the dead which lay there were not numbered in hundreds, but in thousands; not one or two thousand, but 30,000. here is a pit where the inmates, in order to earn
food, had to drag the bodies of their comrades, but they were too weak to keep up with the rate at which they were dying, so the pit remains only half filled. the s.s. guards in charge of the camp were captured and lined up for examination. their papers were gone through to confirm their status, their authority. each with his death's head badge. each justified by german law. they were unashamed, well-fed, well-dressed and cheerful. there were women also on guard in belsen. volunteers who came of their own free will, to do their bit.
not sickly pale with hollow faces and hungry eyes, but well-fed and well-kept with a strutting arrogance. the commandant of the camp josef kramer, was removed for trial as a war criminal by an allied military court. there was an urgent need to get rid of as many bodies as possible, as quickly as possible, so all the s.s. were set to work. 500 hungarian troops, captured with the s.s., were started on a grave-digging operation.
the s.s. themselves were made to do the unpleasant job they had forced the inmates to do. this, after all, was nothing to these men. they, the "master race," had been taught to be hard. they could kill in cold blood; and it seemed to the british soldier fit and proper that the killers should bury the nameless, hopeless creatures they had starved to death. the faces of the bystanders showed just a little of the hate that germany has inspired-- and some of the anguish, too. (no audio)
meanwhile, back at the camp, those who were still living were being attended to. supplies of hot soup were prepared and those who could eat unaided were fed as quickly as possible. there had been no water supply for six days. the germans pleaded it had been cut. we laid on water in a few hours and before 12 hours had passed had sufficient to enable them to wash. soap was provided, the first they had seen for months, and an orgy of washing ensued.
together with 90 medical students from london hospitals were rushed to the spot to deal with it. lack of soap and water brought lice to the inmates, and lice carry typhus. to get rid of typhus, one must first get rid of lice, so contaminated patients were removed from their huts and put through a "laundry" process.
training school and hospital well stocked with medical supplies. strange that these should not have been used by the germans for the inmates. scores still died every day. they were too far gone, many of them, to digest any food and there was a desperate shortage of nursing staff. still, one could be thankful that they were not simply being left to rot away with neglect. there were children, too, in belsen camp, though what crime they had committed was difficult to imagine. most of them had been saved by the women inmates who gave up what little food they could get to the children. meals for these children had always been few and far between, so they ate what food we gave
them with infinite care. nothing could be more dreadful now than to lose a piece of potato or a drop of soup. clothes was another urgent problem, so an outfitting department was set up, and clothes gathered from shops in the surrounding towns were soon being tried on and gossiped over as women love to do. there was something symbolic about new clothes. new clothes meant renewed hope. they donned them with pride.
now he can look forward to growing up to useful manhood. there were more than 200 children under 12 years old found still alive in belsen camp. to these children, clean, dry clothes and kind words from a stranger were strange, undreamed of, mysterious things. some had been born behind the barbed wire. in what circumstances, one dare not try to imagine. where are their parents?
men. the things in this camp are beyond describing. when you actually see them for yourself, you know what you're fighting for here. a picture in the paper can't describe it at all. the things they have committed well, nobody would think they were human at all. we actually know now what has been going on in these camps and i know, personally, what i'm fighting for. >> i am the reverend t.j. stretch, attached as padre to the formation controlling this camp. my home is at fishguard. my parish is at holy trinity church aberystwyth. i've been here eight days and never in my life have i seen such damnable ghastliness. this morning we buried over 5,000 bodies. we don't know who they are. behind me you can see a pit which will contain another 5,000. there are two others like it in preparation.
all these deaths have been caused by systematic starvation and typhus and disease, which have been spread because of the treatment meted out to these poor people by their s.s. guards and their s.s. chief. >> howard: we shall never know who they were or from what homes they were torn. whether they were catholics, lutherans, or jews, we only know they were born, they suffered and died in agony in belsen camp. (no audio)
on the 28th of february of that year, the presidential emergency decree suspended the basic civil rights of the german people for an indeterminate period and so eliminated legal safeguards against arbitrary imprisonment. here were 32,000 men of every european nationality, including 5,660 germans. from the outside one might, at a casual glance, have seen nothing remarkable or horrifying, but dachau was crammed with three or four times the number it was designed for.
this was not used as a bath house, but as a death chamber. batches of prisoners were marched in here to die. when the chamber was full, the doors were shut and sealed, a man at the controls let in the poison gas and another batch of helpless victims screamed their lives out beyond the grill. the gas chamber was conveniently
placed next to the mortuary, and next to that was the crematorium. these great ovens were constructed exclusively for the burning of large numbers of corpses. in the last three months official records show that 10,615 people were disposed of here. their clothes were turned over to the deutsche textil und bekleidungswerke g.m.b.h., a private corporation whose stockholders were s.s. officials, which reclaimed and repaired the garments-- with the use of unpaid prison labor-- and then resold them to the camp clothing depot for the use of new prisoners.
the prisoners arrived often in railway trucks. but, there had been no hurry to unload this one. they went away, leaving the prisoners to die of hunger and cold, and typhus. we found them like this, frozen stiff in the snow alongside a public road. by some miracle, 17 men were still alive. all the rest, about 3,000, were dead. germans knew about dachau, but did not care. in buchenwald, there were about 80,000, of whom 34,000 were
employed outside the camp in an armaments factory. during the first week of april 25,000 were removed by the germans to other camps because of the approach of the allied forces. when the camp was liberated on april 13th, 20,000 inmates remained. african negroes, albanians austrians, belgians, brazilians, bulgarians, canadians, chinese croats, czechs, danes, french, germans, british, greeks, dutch, italians, yugoslavs, latvians, letts, norwegians, mexicans, poles, rumanians, spaniards, swiss, americans, and russians. 55,000 of them died because of this place. people were tattooed across the
belly with slave numbers and forced to work on starvation diet. people were coldly and systematically tortured. here schoker, the camp commandant, said, "i want at least 600 jewish deaths reported in the camp office every day." thugs were appointed as overseers or block leaders. there was no efficient distribution of food. one prisoner collected the rations for ten or 15 men.
hunger and hopelessness turned some of them into beasts. sometimes, a prisoner carrying rations back to the hut was waylaid and robbed by other prisoners. sometimes, he ate the best part of the food himself. sometimes, he sold it. corruption was fostered, for it gave another excuse for killing. all this seemed so remote from humanity, so far beyond the behavior of man.
british members of parliament came, and saw, and were sick at heart. it had to be seen to be believed. german citizens were brought in from weimar. they had to see, too, to see what they had been fighting for, and we had been fighting against. they came cheerfully, like sightseers to a chamber of horrors, for here indeed were some real horrors. if a prisoner had a curiously tattooed skin, it was taken from
him. we can only hope he was dead when it was done. the skin was tanned and made into lampshades, et cetera. these shrunken heads belonged to two polish prisoners who had escaped and been recaptured. some of the visitors did not care for the sight and were assisted by ex-prisoners. ebensee is a holiday resort in the mountains. the air is clean and pure.
it cures sickness and there is a sweetness about the place: a gentle peace. in this place the luftwaffe or s.s. panzer officer on leave relaxes, eats well, breathes deeply, finds romance. everything is charming and picturesque. but the concentration camp had become an integral part of the german economic system, so it was here, too. they were able to see the
mountains, but what use are mountains without food? prisoners at dachau and buchenwald dreaded being sent here. to them, this place did not mean recuperation, only starvation, tuberculosis through slavery in an underground factory, and finally left to cough one's life out unaided and crowded in the filth and stench of a hut, unfit for dogs, but for some reason called a hospital. the daily collection of corpses
in the north of germany, it was the same story. the few who remained alive were staggering on the verge of death. they were the survivors and these were the rest-- hurriedly murdered lest they be set free to live a normal life. the authorities in the camps took special measures to make sure that a man would neither live normally nor die normally neither should he sleep normally. he was surrounded by barbed wire
there would not have been an attempt to destroy the evidence. in the outskirts of leipzig, an effort was made to prevent 300 forced workers in a factory from being set free by advancing allied troops. 300 were locked in a mess hut and burned. this is where it stood. some of the desperate, screaming prisoners broke out. flame throwers and machine guns were waiting to receive them. this was a woman.
germans had locked 1,800 prisoners and set burning straw alight to suffocate them. in the morning before retreating they had poured petrol on the bodies in an attempt to burn what remained. it still smoldered when the american troops arrived. this man was shot because he gasped for air, trying to escape while the rest of him burned in the barn.
auschwitz. the most up-to-date institution was better equipped for killing. transports of prisoners from all over occupied europe were sent for extermination in one of the special vernichtungslager. here, four million people were murdered. as many men, women, and children as you could pack into a great
what they have befouled. thousands of german people were made to see for themselves, to bury the dead, to file past the victims. this was the end of the journey they had so confidently begun in 1933. 12 years? no, in terms of barbarity and brutality, they had traveled backwards for 12,000 years. unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall. but, by god's grace, we who live will learn. >> >> go to pbs.org/frontline for more on the making of tonight's film and new research on the camps.
>> frontline is made possible by viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. with major support from the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. and additional support from the park foundation, the ford foundation, the wyncote foundation and the frontline journalism fund. corporate funding for frontline is provided by: >> for a dvd of "memory of the camps," visit shoppbs.org.
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