Rolling logs, meat on their bones. Some are smiling rather than burning…for now.
Concentration camp laborers are shown, under the thumb of anyone whose head they’d inadvertently clunk, when raising their own to see what bright thing it was up in the sky causing sunburn, thirst and shadow.
You don’t see such “life” at Yad Vashem. It’s also no wonder. If Jews were behind the camera, chances are they were being threatened as well. The more common spirit, through kinescope, rarely has the capacity to make us blink more than once. But the staccato bodily movement in the home movies taken of concentration camps, even to those aware of their true horror, demands a reality check. Forgive the redundancy.
After all, the wasting-away can’t roll logs. Casting call! You! The one who can still eat and breathe…Act! With the queasiness bred by the assumed aftermath, the hopelessness and dread among the imminently dead, the heroes of yesterday still speak. A stifling duality took hold in the memory of this “onlooker” as a log is heaved like a giant ore, and fingernails are dug into concrete. The smiles looked so genuine, the truth…on the ticker of the filmmakers’ watches. How much longer do we give these wretched souls? They’re already buried alive. Let them breathe, smile, work a little longer…as we laugh a little longer.
It isn’t strange that murderers would allow their victims to speak, even look brave. So should we be grateful to these historical criminals for their pleasure in filming their own witness? If only Jack the Ripper had done the same. Let’s, instead, be grateful to the inventor of witness…and the mercy in justice it affords. And since art shares the disturbing, it’s no wonder that film has become witness to it in some of its truest forms.
There is the reminder for today’s forgetful souls. Those that claim the Holocaust never took place, however, would view this footage as homage to their own “right of denial.” There could be no before-and-after. And the fallacy would be perpetuated.
But few others should need the reminiscence of the stamina and dire moxy of laborers who escaped. We are used to seeing mobilized bones in concentration camps. It must have been early in the war. Early enough for so much death to still take place.