Sidney Bernstein’s legacy


One aspect of his legacy which I have been personally involved in is the completion of restoration of the film that he began making in 1945, a documentary about the concentration camps, and there’s an extraordinary story there which is well covered in Andre Singer’s interesting documentary Night Will Fall, which was part-funded by Channel 4 and broadcast on Channel 4 two years ago. My father went into Belsen, the first of the concentration camps liberated by the British Army, and realised that these atrocities had to properly filmed. He was responsible for a lot of news propaganda materials, he realised this was something more serious that needed a full-length documentary as he saw it, and he began such a project with the approval of the British and American high command in April 1945. The project was never completed because the war ended – the war in Europe ended, I should say – and the allied administration of occupied Germany decided they didn’t want the film, and it was never completed. It was deposited – the work had been done and all the film stock was deposited – with the Imperial War Museum in the early ‘50s, passed on by the War Office, and in the 1980s, Steve Morrison put together a fascinating film that was based largely on the material that my father had begun to put together with his team, and with interviews with my father and others, that was broadcast under the title of Painful Reminder in 1984-5 on Granada. Four years ago, maybe five now, the Imperial War Museum contacted me and my family and said, “We’ve had a look in our film archive, we can complete your father’s project. We’re confident that we can do it justice now because there is enough material and we feel it ought to be done. We’re coming up to the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and we feel we should do this.” And we were able to use some of the funds that my father had left in the charitable trust to assist in the completion of the project, and under the working title, unglamorous, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, the documentary was completed and has now been shown at a number of film festivals in Germany, in Israel, in London and around the world, and shortly I understand the Imperial War Museum will release a DVD of the film, and I am very proud that we have been able to complete that part of my father’s legacy. He told my sister that it was one of the great regrets of his life that film was never completed and shown before he died. It has been now. So that’s something I am quietly very proud of.

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