September 18, 2019

‘Night Will Fall’ lifts a curtain on concentration camp atrocities

The first time I saw the horrific newsreels of the liberation of the concentration camps, showing mountains of skeletons piled up and skulls staring out of empty eye sockets, was in 1959.

By a fluke, I had a bit part playing a court translator at a war-crimes trial in the “Playhouse 90” TV production of “Judgment at Nuremberg.” The producers decided to give the cast a preview of the concentration camp footage presented as evidence at the trial.

When the short newsreel finished, there was a stunned silence. After what seemed like an eternity, Maximilian Schell, who portrayed the German defense attorney (as he did in the later feature film), stood up and said quietly, “I want everyone to know I am not German; I am Swiss.”

In the intervening decades, photos and newsreels showing the death camps, with their crematoriums and walking dead, have become almost commonplace, with repetition and the passage of time attesting to the human ability to go on with daily life after peering into the fires of hell.

But thoughts of those first revelations floated back to the surface last week when I watched a screening of director Andre Singer’s documentary “Night Will Fall,” the raw footage of which had been stored in the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London for more than 60 years. The new documentary, which