German Concentration Camps Factual Survey

21st January 2021
German Concentration Camps Factual Survey

© IWM (A70 304/1), Belsen, Sgt Lewis, AFPU. 17 April, 1945

Award-winning lost masterpiece of British documentary cinema shows first scenes of Nazi concentration camps 

In April 1945 the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force ordered a documentary revealing the horrors of the German atrocities and concentration camps, using footage shot by combat and newsreel cameramen during the liberation of Europe. It was to be the film screened in Germany after the fall of the Third Reich - shown to German prisoners of war wherever they were held.

Sidney Bernstein led a small team including editors Stewart McAllister and Peter Tanner, writers Colin Wills and Richard Crossman, and Alfred Hitchcock (as Treatment Adviser) to produce the film from hours of footage. In September that year, the incomplete rough-cut of the documentary was screened at the Ministry of Information in London.  The film was eventually shelved due to the changing post-war political climate.  However, even in its incomplete form, the film was a shocking indictment of the Nazi regime.

IWM completed the film to the instructions laid down by the original production team 

Although there was an intention to return to the film in the spring of 1946, this never happened and in 1952, IWM inherited the mute rough-cut of five reels of the planned six-reel film, along with 100 compilation reels of unedited footage of  scenes in the camps after they were liberated, shot by Allied cameramen. IWM also acquired a script for the voice-over commentary and a detailed shot list for the complete film. 

Re-released on DVD/Blu-ray: Buy German Concentration Camps Factual Survey

A lengthy project was undertaken by IWM to restore and complete the film and it was released on Blu-ray/DVD in April 2017. It has now been re-released including the original extras of archival interviews, audio-commentary, accompanying booklet and multi-language subtitles. 

IWM’s work on the completion and digital restoration of the film, using the original title of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, was recognised with a Special Award at the FOCAL International Awards 2015.

Further reading

DVD - German Concentration Camps