Thursday, August 9, 2012

42. The Relief of Belsen (2008) *

Elie Wiesel has stated that 'Auschwitz cannot be explained nor can it be visualised' (1978).  Certain philosophers and scholars believe that the Holocaust is unrepresentable and cannot be screened or captured by film (to simplify drastically the idea of ineffability).  According to Libby Saxton in her work Haunted Images scholars have more recently come to discuss representation, not in terms of prohibition, but rather in terms of challenges and obstacles.  Agamben for example argues that to state that the Holocaust is 'unspeakable' may result in victory for the perpetrators, stripping witnesses of credibility and rendering them speechless.  

Whilst the debate about representation of the Holocaust continues numerous movies have been made about the Holocaust and the different concentration camps.  Some of these movies, The Relief of Belsen, uses footage taken by the British when the camp was liberated in April 1945.  The camp was liberated before the war ended due to an outbreak of typhus which threatened to kill the 40,000 or so inmates still alive in the camp.  Roughly three-quarters of the survivors were women and children, dying from starvation and disease.  The movie tells the story of 20 doctors who set out to save the lives of people in the camp.  Through first hand accounts left in diaries and medical reports, the film narrates the struggle of British army doctors, personnel and former camp survivors like Dr Bimko, who set up a make shift hospital in order to contain typhus.  The film therefore highlights the aftermath of the liberation and the continued struggle to ensure survival of those who were not exterminated by the Nazis.  

Perhaps the Holocaust cannot be adequately represented, however, movies like Belsen cast light on some of the experiences of those who witnessed the horrors first hand. Written by Peter Guinness and Justin Hardy, the film emphasises the need for medical care in the field to be humane.  Doctors and nurses must treat their patients with humanity for patients to survive.  The film notes the difference made by adding paprika to Bengal famine mixture at the request of the Rabbi, holding people's hands throughout the night, not using syringes without explanation.  It also alerts us to the many young men and women who volunteered to work as medics and nurses after the liberation of the camps.  A well made docu-drama worth watching.  

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