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