Seminal Image #879


Death Mills
(Billy Wilder; 1945)

9 comments:

Broom said...

I wasn't aware of this film. From Wikipedia:

The Death Mills, or Die Todesmühlen, is a 1945 American propaganda documentary film directed by Billy Wilder and produced by the United States Department of War. It was intended for German audiences to educate them about the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. For the German version, Die Todesmühlen, Hans Burger is credited as the writer and director, while Wilder supervised the editing. Wilder is credited with the English-language version.

The article is great.

Tom Sutpen said...

I knew that Wilder had merely assembled footage shot by others, but it's intriguing to watch the sequence where German citizens (who of course knew nothing about what had been going on these camps) are taken through them, and then compare it to certain scenes he shot five years thereafter for Ace in the Hole.

I'm just sayin' . . .

Fred said...

I wasn't aware of the film either (although I knew that many in Hollywood worked on propoganda films for the Allies during WWII, including Billy Wilder and Dr. Seuss). This picture brings home the fact that of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, more than one third were children.

Suz said...

Fred-- Given that the Holocaust was a generation the first world war, was it all that unusual that any European population would be skewed very young?

Fred said...

Suz, you make a good point, although I'm not sure of the demographics of pre-war Europe. Nevertheless, the Nazis had a policy of killing the old, sick and very young immediately upon arrival at the death camps, leaving those who could still work. This is why most of the survivors were between the ages of 10 and 40, and may have contributed to the disproportionate number of young children who were murdered.

Gerard Saylor said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking Nazis. That goes for all the modern versions, too.

Campaspe said...

I haven't seen this one and don't know if I could take it. I did know of its existence though, from reading biographies. While he was in Europe making this film, Wilder tried to trace what had happened to his mother. Just before the Anschluss Wilder had tried to persuade her to come to the US, where he was already successful, but Wilder's stepfather didn't want to do it and so neither would his mother. He never found a trace of her and always believed she probably died either in the Krakow ghetto, where Viennese Jews were first shipped, or Auschwitz.

Tom Sutpen said...

I haven't seen this one and don't know if I could take it.

I watched it for the first time last week (I'd been looking for a copy of it forever) and, to the degree any film with Nazi atrocity footage is watchable, I'd say this one is. Again, maybe it's the auteurist in me, but I can't help but see this film in the context of Wilder's seriously jaundiced view of humanity in general, despite his limited role in its creation. On that sliver of a basis alone I'd call it an essential (if by no means appetizing) work.

And on another note: Thanks for the Facebook add!

Vanwall said...

I saw this in college, along with a some other small Holocaust documentaries, one about Warsaw that particularly stood out, and a number of British historical record films that were shot during the liberation of some of camps, primarily Bergen-Belsen. They didn't mention Wilder's work, and when I found out some years later, I realized what a tough job it must've been for him. The Holocaust wasn't covered very well in school back then, and I made a point of seeking this out - I knew what was I was getting into, or thought I did - I was unprepared for the savagery and sadism. Between the films and the stills that we also saw, I had nightmares for while.

I don't know how easy it would be for me to watch it nowadays - I may have reached some kind of saturation point, but I often force myself to see this kind of thing; it doesn't do enough homage to the dead if one lets it fade into the past. My in-laws in Europe escaped by the skin of their teeth a number of times during WWII; my grandmother was Jewish, so I'm sure some of my distant relatives perished in The Shoah, and some of my wife's Polish and French relatives were lost as well. And that doesn't count the post-war losses to the Soviets and their creatures.