Night and Fog

Night and Fog

What can you really say about Night and Fog? It's brief, somber, and heartbreaking. This is a documentary made only ten short years after the concentration camps were liberated, with heavy input from a Jewish holocaust survivor.

It combines footage from the war with a slow, meandering look at the ruins of the camps as they existed in 1955, which has the strange effect of making the horrific events of the Holocaust feel at the same time very fresh and as though they're already rapidly becoming lost to time, There's an eerie silence to the abandoned concentration camps that almost lends itself to peacefulness, and the film takes on the grueling yet immensely important responsibility of remembering, even as the train tracks become overgrown with weeds and the fences rust.

It probably goes without saying, but this is an incredibly difficult film to watch. The images shown of the concentration camps are relentlessly horrifying, but there's a sense of how necessary the scenes are to witness.

Above all, the film stresses that the events of the Holocaust can never be allowed to be forgotten. The images of its victims, however painful, must be remembered, and those responsible must continue to be held accountable. We see men in Night and Fog who worked at the concentration camps insist that they were not responsible for the atrocities, but the filmmakers refuse to let them off the hook that easily.

There was a great sense of injustice that so many Nazis were allowed to transfer blame to others and resume some semblance of a normal life shortly after the war ended. At the time that this film was made and for many years after, high profile Nazis evaded capture and remained at large -- so the issue of culpability and punishment is a particularly salient point.

If it were up to me, Night and Fog would be required viewing in every high school history classroom. It hammers home not only the tragedy of the Holocaust, but how easily the past can be wiped away if people don't make a concerted effort to preserve it.

With our sincere gaze we survey these ruins, as if the old monster lay crushed forever beneath the rubble. We pretend to take up hope again as the image recedes into the past, as if we were cured once and for all of the scourge of the camps. We pretend it happened all at once, at a given time and place. We turn a blind eye to what surrounds us and a deaf ear to humanity’s never-ending cry.

Another key point the film warns against is the instinct to keep the past in the past and pretend that the Holocaust was an isolated point in history, something that could never happen again. But the longer you shine a light on the past, the more you begin to identify patterns that pop up frequently over the years, which cannot be ignored.

Events happen because they are possible. If they are possible once, they are possible again. In that sense the Holocaust is not unprecedented, but a warning for the future.
— Yehuda Bauer


Night and Fog (The Criterion Collection)
Starring Michel Bouquet, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler, Julius Streicher
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