By Terrie Hayes
The post-Holocaust film, Night and Fog (1955), by director Alain Resnais is disturbing. Contemporary color footage of the long-abandoned Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp eerily contrasts the black and white stock footage of emaciated prisoners, living and dead, yet both present evidence of an atrocity so incomprehensible, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone survived. Borrowed from Hitler’s Night and Fog Decree (1941), which authorizes elimination of underground threats to German security, the film’s title speaks loudly of how millions of Jews were forcibly evicted from their homes and deceptively transported to an unknown destination where an active smokestack would soon hint of their demise. Bodies of the forsaken have long since returned to the earth, but remnants of their horrifying experience remind the world how grotesque racism can become.
Hitler wanted Jews removed from society, Heinrich Himmler set the course for killing, but “patriotic” German citizens and militia carried out the unquestionably immoral tasks toward dehumanization. Gross images, such as warehouses filled with worn shoes and mountains of human hair echo the tears, confusion, and humiliation of their former bearers in the face of dispassionate captors. Unsanitary hospital rooms with medieval medical equipment speak of crude human experiments carried out with sadistic curiosity by doctors and nurses that once swore upon the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” Rows upon rows of narrow, wooden bunks, where three (and sometimes more), meagerly hygienic strangers slept together, would be entirely intolerable to anyone that still had free will. Any trace of modesty was surely lost in the long, rectangle latrine stalls where closely spaced holes offered neither privacy nor relief from the gut-heaving stench.
More than just a place of captivity, the concentration camp with its unrelenting opportunities for disease, discomfort, theft, starvation, and punishment was a deliberate dystopia designed to exhaust the essence of humanity until each unwarranted prisoner was but a vacant shell of their former selves—much like the now abandoned Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Perhaps the most horrific remnant in this film is the barbed-wire barrier from behind which the inmates had