From Filming to Fighting

Stevens_And_His_Crew_France_1944John Ford, Samuel Fuller, and George Stevens produced some of the most popular and critically acclaimed classic movies of all time. Their work ranges from drama to romance to westerns, and they also directed films inspired by their experiences on the battlefield. From February 16 to August 3, the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s special gallery exhibit, Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens, showcased these directors and their documentation of World War II.

When he began his directing career in the 1930s, George Stevens created light-hearted films such as Swing Time (1936) and Gunga Din (1939). In the 1940s, he enlisted in the army to oversee the Combat Motion Picture Unit (IMDB). During his four years overseas, he witnessed tragic events that affected his filmmaking. Stevens responded by creating movies that captured the human experience and influenced viewers. He wanted his films to have profound meaning and moved away from lighthearted entertainment. His more serious post-WWII films include Oscar nominees A Place in the Sun (1951) and Shane (1953).

Samuel Fuller, known for his low budget and progressive films, is the only featured filmmaker who did not make his directing debut before the war. Before WWII, he aspired to be a journalist. At age 12, Fuller started in the newspaper business as a paperboy, and by age 17 he was a crime writer for the San Diego Sun. His strong writing skills landed him in Hollywood as a screenwriter, but when WWII broke out, he enlisted in the army. The war became the inspiration for some of his most popular films. After the war, Fuller continued writing screenplays and directed his first film, I Shot Jesse James (1949). The screenplays for many of his post-war movies addressed progressive topics for the time, such as interracial relationships in The Crimson Kimono (1959) and feminism in The Naked Kiss (1964). Fuller’s most popular film, The Big Red One (1980), was based on his personal experiences in WWII.

John Ford directed many popular classic movies such as Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and How Green Was My Valley (1941). To this day, he holds the title for the most Oscars won in the category of Best Director (4). Though he was most popular for western films, his Oscar acclaim comes from his more serious dramas. When WWII started, Ford went straight to the front lines to film the action, and for two consecutive years released Academy Award-winning short documentaries, The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943). These films were the first color footage from the war released to the American public.

During The Battle of Midway, the narrator reminds the viewer, “…yes, this really happens.” It was vital to Ford that he successfully portrayed the arduous acts of war. “We assume that many Americans simply do not believe the stories of mass killings of Jews and Anti-Nazi Christians… Those stories are so unfamiliar to the common experience of most Americans that they seem unbelievable” – “Caption Sheets” Units No. 5,6 and 7, titles “Dachau Atrocities.” The directors showcased in Filming the Camps helped American civilians understand the full complexities of war and the Holocaust. As well as assisting the American public, the film and photography captured were also an important factor during the post-war trials. “Human memory is faulty, and because objects constituting physical evidence decompose, change or are lost, it is important that a contemporary record be made of the event in such a form that will constitute an acceptable proof of the occurrence, and afford a method of locating, and afford a method of locating principals and witnesses so far as many be possible at some future time,” – John Ford, wrote in his “Report of Officer Returning from the Field.” The Filming the Camps exhibit exposes the harsh realities of war and the Holocaust uncovered by these directors.

Beginning September 7, 2017, the Museum will present the new special gallery exhibit, Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII.


In 1896, Plessy vs. Ferguson held in favor of racial segregation, maintaining that public institutions were to be kept “separate but equal.”  Almost 45 years later, this system was still prevalent in much of America. In the south, segregation was embodied in the Jim Crow laws.

Executive Order 8802, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, opened war industries to African American workers. However, black soldiers were still segregated from their white counterparts, often forced to work non-combat jobs (as cooks, logistics, stewards, etc.) without proper training. Despite segregation and other obstacles, many African Americans joined the war effort. As American soldiers fought against Nazi ideology, institutionalized prejudice flourished at home. The new exhibit, Fighting for the Right to Fight, uncovers the struggles African Americans faced when trying to fight in WWII.

African Americans joined the war effort hoping to inspire change in America. The Double V Campaign, which spread like wildfire in black communities, called for a victory overseas and a victory for American minorities at home. It began in 1942 when a black man from Wichita, Kansas wrote to The Pittsburgh Courier:

Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?…[Is it] too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life? Is the…America I know worth defending? Will America be a true and pure democracy after this war?…I suggest that while we keep defense and victory in the forefront that we don’t lose sight of our fight for true democracy at home.–James G. Thompson.

After the war, African Americans expected improvements in society, but conditions remained stagnant. Over the next decade, racial tensions grew. Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) which banned segregation in public schools led to the official start of the Civil Rights Movement. Sit-ins, marches, freedom rides, and rallies pushed the limits of race relations in the nation and drove the government to institute necessary legislation against segregation.

Upstanders emerged to oppose hate, injustice, prejudice, and ignorance. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall inspired others to stand up and fight for what they believed.

The Civil Rights Movement demanded that the treatment of minorities in America change. Current events bring home the point that this is a work in progress. The Museum special exhibits discussed here will inspire visitors to continue to stand up against injustice and hatred.


Samuel Fuller Film Screenings in July: The Big Red One and Falkenau, the Impossible

Director Samuel Fuller (Emil Weiss)

Acclaimed Hollywood director Samuel Fuller is featured in the Museum’s current special gallery exhibit Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg—John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens. Fuller was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to Jewish parents in 1912. He later moved to New York City and became a crime reporter at the age of seventeen. Fuller joined the U.S. Army during World War II and was assigned to the 16th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Big Red One” for the red “1” patch worn on the shoulder of the Division.

The First Infantry Division took part in the Allied invasion of North Africa and Sicily, and the unit stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944. In 1945, Fuller witnessed the liberation of Falkenau concentration camp, a subcamp of the Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was asked by his commanding officer to film the atrocities of the camp with his camera, a gift from Fuller’s mother. His footage became part of the French documentary Falkenau: the Impossible.

In July, the Dallas Holocaust Museum presents two film screenings that accompany the current special gallery exhibit Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg—John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens:

The Big Red One

Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 7 p.m.

Studio Movie Grill (Spring Valley and 75)

Free. RSVP through Eventbrite.

The Big Red One stars Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill as a sergeant and a soldier of the U.S. First Infantry Division, a group of GIs who witness the armed conflict in North Africa and Sicily, Omaha Beach, and Belgium. The unit liberated Falkenau concentration camp and saw the horrors of the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia. The film, based on Fuller’s personal experience during World War II, depicts his service in the First Infantry Division and the liberation the infamous concentration camp.

Falkenau, the Impossible

Sunday, July 16, 2017 at the Museum, 2 p.m.

Free. RSVP required through Eventbrite.

Emil Weiss’s 1988 documentary Falkenau, the Impossible features interviews with Fuller at the site of Falkenau concentration camp. The documentary also includes original footage shot by Fuller of the camp.

Filming the Camps is on view at the Museum now through August 3, 2017. The exhibition, curated by historian and film director Christian Delage, was designed, created, and distributed by the Mémorial de la Shoah (Paris, France), and made possible through the generous support of SNCF.

Community Partners: VideoFest, Dallas Jewish Film Festival, Denton Black Film Festival, 3 Stars Jewish Cinema

– Janet Montealvo Hitt, Marketing Coordinator, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

“Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg—John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens” Special Gallery Exhibit Open to Museum Visitors

Exhibit Curator Christian Delage Presents “Filming the Camps”

The Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance opened the new special gallery exhibit Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg—John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens on Thursday, February 16, 2017. Christian Delage, the exhibit curator, and Déborah Sinclair, Head of Touring Exhibitions in North America, for Mémorial de la Shoah, spoke at the opening reception. Delage pointed out many notable details about the three men, their filming, and the impact of what they encountered.

The Nuremberg Trials in 1945 used an unprecedented form of evidence—film of the war and the liberation of concentration camps. The raw footage compiled into a documentary titled Nazi Concentration Camps, became crucial evidence, presenting the crimes the Nazis committed in an unflinching and authentic format to the court.

John Ford, Samuel Fuller, and George Stevens, the directors featured in the exhibit, filmed the atrocities committed by the Nazis, particularly at the concentration camps of Dachau and Falkenau. The U.S. government wanted to capture the crimes and horror of the Holocaust to use as evidence. The use of a “single take” filming technique was used to ensure no one could claim the footage had been cut or modified.

The first panel of Filming the Camps shows the name of the exhibit in stark grey letters on a black background. Music from George Stevens’ 1936 musical Swing Time emanates from the panel calling to mind the pre-war light-hearted comedy starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

“I didn’t want to immediately shock [visitors], so the exhibit starts with the music coming from Swing Time 1936, and you can see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing,” said Delage, referring to the first panel of the exhibit. “That’s what I wanted the visitors to be confronted with.”

Influenced by the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, George Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II and headed a film unit under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Stevens’ unit included a team of 44 filmmakers and writers and shot footage documenting D-Day with his personal 16mm home movie camera. His footage is some of the only color films of World War II.

During his four years of service, he filmed the liberation of Paris and the horrific scenes of the infamous Dachau concentration camp. Stevens’ footage of the camp became crucial evidence in the Nuremberg Trials.

Renowned director John Ford was well known before the war for westerns such as Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as well as the films The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. During World War II, Ford commanded the Field Photographic Branch under the Office of Strategic Services and made propaganda films for the U.S. Navy Department. He won back-to-back Academy Awards during this time for his documentaries, The Battle of Midway and December 7th.

Samuel Fuller served as a soldier in the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Big Red One.” He captured footage of the liberation of Falkenau, a sub-camp of Flossenbürg concentration camp, under the orders of his captain with a camera Fuller’s mother sent him.

In 1945, Ford created a documentary of the war incorporating Stevens’ footage of Dachau. The film, shown first to American audiences, was used as evidence of Nazi crimes at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Ford also documented the Nuremberg Trials. The footage showed the dead at Dachau, disoriented and emaciated survivors, children, guards, and tools used on the victims.

The courtroom at the Nuremberg Trials set up a focal placement of the film screen, and the judges watched the documentary evidence three separate times during the trial. The Nazi prisoners on trial watched the film along with the public.

“The criminals were confronted [with] their crimes, and the graphic footage disturbed most of them,” said Delage. “We know that because a psychologist named [Gustave] Gilbert watched them during this screening [and] on a daily basis so he was writing notes and we know exactly what each defendant thought during this moment.”

The war and the camps deeply affected the three directors and their future work.

Following the war, Stevens’ films gravitated toward more serious subjects. He went on to direct the Academy-Award winning films Shane, Giant, and The Diary of Anne Frank. After the war, Fuller directed many films including The Big Red One, based on his wartime experiences.

The lively music at the start of the exhibit serves to show what the directors, namely Stevens, did before the war and how unprepared the filmmakers and the public were to face the horrors of the Holocaust.

“[Swing Time] is what George Stevens did before going into World War II,” said Delage. “That’s why he’s so sad in the photo you can see at the top [taken at the Nuremberg Trials] because his life was never the same after and the same for John Ford and the same for Sam Fuller.”

The exhibition contains film and photographs of World War II as well as clips from the filmmakers’ pre-war films.

The exhibition, curated by historian and film director Christian Delage, was designed, created, and distributed by the Mémorial de la Shoah (Paris, France), and made possible through the generous support of SNCF.

This presentation was made possible through the support of the Consulate General of France in Houston, the Embassy of France in the United States, and SNCF.

This presentation is sponsored by the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, Studio Movie Grill, the Consulate General of France in Houston, the Embassy of France in the United States, and SNCF, and is on view at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance February 16—August 3, 2017.

Community Partners: VideoFest, Dallas Jewish Film Festival, Denton Black Film Festival, 3 Stars Jewish Cinema

– Janet Montealvo, Marketing Coordinator, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance