Rudolf Breslauer—Photographer of Westerbork

Rudolf Breslauer was born on 4 July 1903, in Leipzig, German Empire. He was a German Jewish director and cinematographer. He died on 28 February, 1945, in Auschwitz, a month after liberation.

Westerbork Film is the title of a film made in 1944 at the Westerbork Transit Camp in the Netherlands. It was a transfer point set up by the Germans for Jews transported to other concentration camps.

In 1938, Breslauer fled with his family to the Netherlands. Four years later, he was arrested by the Germans and sent to Westerbork. The camp commandant at the time, Albert Gemmeker, had an idea to make a documentary about the camp to show how civilized things were there, and Bresllauer took on the task to shoot the movie. Very similar to what Kurt Gerron, known from The Blue Angel, was told to do at Theresienstadt, in 1944. The film Der Führer gives the Jews a city made from Gerron’s pictures.

In contrast to Gerron’s work, Breslauer’s film is hardly known to a broader public because it was never officially completed. Filming stopped after a few months. Breslauer’s colleague Wim Loeb processed the raw material into two versions—an official and a residual. The latter was eventually smuggled out of the camp and used primarily as a research object. It was only recently restored and compiled into a final film after UNESCO included the contemporary document in 2017 in the list of world memories that —must never be forgotten. It shows how perfidious the propaganda and lying machine portraying the everyday life in the transit camp was to look like something thoroughly normal, almost as a gesture of good nature towards those people.

Aside from shooting the film, he also snapped a great number of photos at the camp of the supposedly normal daily life in Westerbork.

The most iconic image is of Anna Maria (Settela) Steinbach, a Dutch girl, gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Initially identified as a Dutch Jewish girl, her personal identity and association with the Sinti group of the Romani people were discovered in 1994.

The Westerbork Film was never completed, but much of its raw footage was preserved.

The Westerbork Film is regarded as an irreplaceable, unique visual document that occupies a special place among all sources on the Second World War. The historian Jacques Presser called it “unsurpassable” in this respect, and rightly so because such film material was not known from any National Socialist Concentration Camp. In 2017, the film, and production documents, were included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The unique footage was then examined, selected and painstakingly restored.

The edited version of the Westerbork Film is now online in colour with background music on YouTube.



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