The Westerbork film in the context of local and transnational remembrance communities


05 Jul 2023, 11:00 – 05 Jul 2023, 12:00


Newcastle University, UK

Paper by Fabian Schmidt ath the Panel „Appropriating perpetrator perspectives – how post-war survivor communities integrated footage shot by perpetrators into their narratives of the Holocaust“ at the Memory Studies Association (MSA) Conference in Newcastle

In 1944 the camp commander SS-Obersturmführer Albert Konrad Gemmeker commissioned the production of a 16mm film in order to document the successful deportation of Dutch and German Jews in the today infamous transit camp in the Netherlands. After the war, some of the scenes, specifically the passage with the leaving deportation train, became iconic images of the Holocaust. They are used as illustrations in many documentaries and art films about the genocide. However, the actual event of the deportation on May 19th, 1944, recorded on the Westerbork film, suddenly gained new importance, when in 1994 the Dutch journalist Aad Wagenaar identified the most prominent person visible in the film as of Sinti (and not Jewish) decent. For the Sinti and Roma community, this was a crucial discovery that suddenly included them and their ancestors in the iconic imagery of the Holocaust. The tension these films are subjected to, being records of actual events on the one hand and generalising icons of the Holocaust on the other at the same time, becomes tangible by looking at the different remembrance communities or Erinnerungsgemeinschaften that use these images as identity forming assets. So called perpetrator footage, such as the Westerbork film which was produced by the SS, developed in these processes from anti-Semitic trophies to seemingly neutral documents and symbols or icons of the Holocaust. This has recently raised critical questions about the perpetrator gaze inscribed in these images, but this process can also be understood as a successful appropriation of a self-confident remembrance culture. By focusing on specific remembrance communities, the paper tries to uncover change and durability within the formation of remembrances of violent pasts such as the Holocaust and the significance of archive films for this process.