The Westerbork Film – a silent film – is unique…the only authentic documentary footage filmed in a Nazi camp – a waiting room for death in the Netherlands for more than 100,000 Jews, and Roma, Sinti, and resistance workers. A documentary filmed 75 years ago, spring 1944, in the Westerbork transit camp, by the German-Jewish camp prisoner Rudolf Werner Breslauer, who had been working already some 2 years as a photographer in the camp. A ‘Kulturfilm’ commissioned by camp commander, SS-Obersturmbannführer, Albert Konrad Gemmeker, to convince the Gestapo headquarters of Westerbork’s vital production value.
The Westerbork camp had been set up by the Dutch government before the war in Holland, in 1939, as a central refugees camp for Jewish refugees from Nazi-Germany.
In 1942 , when the Nazi’s decided to start ‘Entjüdung’ of the Netherlands, they took over the camp and named it Polizeiliches Judendurchgangslager Westerbork , for use as central transit camp for deportation of mainly Jews, and Roma, Sinti, and resistance people to eastern Europe.
Rudolf Breslauer started filming March 1944 – around the same time the camp status changed to ‘Arbeitslager’.
This film on the daily life of the Westerbork prisoners was added in 2017 to the Memory of the World Register of Unesco.
Iconic is the image of Settela – the girl with the headscarf -between the wagon doors of the deportation train to Auschwitz.
These few seconds are shown in the 1 minute slow-motion film Settela at Settela.com.
Images of the deportation train have been used in many documentaries over the years – such as our 2012 documentary ‘Transport XX to Auschwitz’.
Actually , however, the Westerbork film has as yet not been presented online or elsewhere as a full film – only in parts : as either Acte 1 , Acte 2 , Acte 3 , or Acte 4 for download or for streaming separately , either in low quality, small format (and generally just Acte 1) or with a rough overall edit (color-exposure grading) resulting in loss of details.
I therefore decided to first present the full film , all 4 episodes , unedited except for cropping black bars, as the : Westerbork Film ~ Full version RVD…and later focus on adaptations.
What is known as the Westerbork Film , actually is a simple montage of the available raw film footage – 9 reels of film – handed over by the (Dutch) Filmmuseum in 1986 to the Dutch National Centre for Information (the Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, RVD).
The RVD conservator glued together these available fragments – and this ‘product’ in 4 parts (Acte 1 , Acte 2 , Acte 3 , and Acte 4) has become known as the “Westerbork film”.
Reels number 1 and 2 were glued together in ‘Acte 1’, reels 3 and 4 in Acte 2, reels 5 and 6 in Acte 3, and reels 7, 8 and 9 in Acte 4 (see below).
Conservation of footage
In the early years after the war, the Westerbork film footage travelled via different routes, roughly, in part leaving the camp with ex camp commander Gemmeker, and another part ‘directly’ from the camp … to land partly in the nearby Drents Museum and partly in eg. the Department of Justice and next finally in a collection started in 1946 in the ‘RIOD’ Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (National Institute for War Documentation) – now ‘NIOD’ – Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
The RIOD glued fragments together probably, and fragments were extracted too, and lent for use eg. in the 1948 trial against Rauter, the trial against Gemmeker, and for use in the 60s dutch TV series ‘De bezetting’ (The Occupation) presented by Loe de Jong (journalist, historian, and RIOD director from 1945-1979). For conservation this ‘RIOD film’ went on loan in 1958 to the Filmmuseum (now EYE Film Museum), and in 1986 the footage went to the RVD.
The RVD did not receive all footage from the Filmmuseum – the fragments extracted by the RIOD for use in the trials and TV series were lacking and two reels just remained in the Filmmuseum vault.
Tracing extracted fragments , and the discovery of new images
Reel D1596 – The 1948 Dutch Polygoon cinema news extracts were not all assembled back in the Westerbork film reels – see the recent post 20190520 ~ Westerbork Film in ‘Proces Rauter’ 1948 at settela.com .
Also , not all footage given on loan for that ‘Polygoon news’ ended up in that news item. That ‘Polygoon’ footage copied onto 35 mm film – both the used and non-used fragments – were kept in the Dutch Filmmusuem on a so-called reel number D1596.
Research published in the 1997 Dutch book ‘Kamp Westerbork gefilmd’ by Koert Broersma and Gerard Rossing (editors Dirk Mulder and Ben Prinsen; ISBN 9023232658) – Reference 1 – traced the extracted film fragments, and further re-discovered film fragments with comparatively poorer quality on two reels – F1015 and F1014 :
Reel F1015 — F1015 (known till 1958 as reel 9a ; but actually the 10th reel of the Westerbork film) contains 9 scenes including 2 new scenes (not in the RVD Westerbork film): the religious service held March 5, 1944 in the Grote Zaal (Great Hall) and the scene of a woman on a ladder working on a signpost. This reel had remained in the Filmmuseum vault.
Reel F1014 seemed lost in the archives of the Filmmuseum and was denoted then ‘Afvalmateriaal/uitschot’ , that is ‘Trash’.
All footage is now kept at the Netherlands Institute of Image and Sound .
Below list of shots of the Westerbork Film (Ref. 2) :
Westerbork (Reel 1), (cat.nr. 02-1167-01), 16 mm, mute, 21’05 “
– 1. Inbound transport from Amsterdam, March 1944: 1 min 37 sec.
– 2. Inbound transport from Vught, March 20, 1944: 2 min 09 sec.
– 3. Outbound transport to Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, 19 May. 1944: 4 min 41 sec.
– 4. In and around the aircraft dismantling workshop, April / May 1944: 11 min 23 sec.
Westerbork (Reel 2), (cat.nr. 02-1167-02), 16 mm, mute, 21’41 “
– 5. Disassembly of old batteries and manufacture of new batteries, April / May 1944: 1 min 22 sec.
– 6. Separation of different layers of aluminum foil, April / May 1944: 1 min 22 sec.
– 7. Clothing Company, April / May 1944: 2 min 51 sec.
– 8. Toy factory, April / May 1944: 3 min 28 sec.
– 9. Manufacture of furniture, April / May 1944: 2 min 14 sec.
– 10. Metalworker / Forge worker, April / May 1944, 2 min 47 sec.
– 11. Manufacture of brushes, April / May 1944: 43 sec.
– 12. Shoe repair, April / May 1944: 1 min 38 sec.
– 13. Manufacture of handbags, April / May 1944: 1 min 09 sec.
– 14. Manufacture of soles and gloves, April / May 1944: 33 sec.
– 15. Weaving and repairing stockings, April / May 1944: 1 min 25 sec.
Westerbork (Reel 3), (cat.nr. 02-1167-03), 16 mm, mute, 18’03 “
– 16. Cufflinks Factory, April / May 1944: 1 min 16 sec.
– 17. Clothing, April / May 1944: 32 sec.
– 18. Laundry / ironing, April / May 1944: 1 min 18 sec.
– 19. Medical Laboratory, April / May 1944: 45 sec.
– 20. Dental Clinic, April / May 1944: 25 sec.
– 21. Unloading equipment for the construction of barracks / unloading trucks with bricks, April / May 1944: 1 min 33 sec.
– 22. Construction / installation of greenhouse and watering plants in greenhouse, April / May 1944: 1 min 46 sec.
– 23. By narrow gauge at Oranjekanaal / construction of jetty / unloading cargo ship with bricks / truck loading / return to camp, April / May 1944: 4 min 33 sec.
– 24. Visit to the farm, April / May 1944: 4 min 39 sec
Westerbork (Reel 4), (cat.nr. 02-1167-04), 16 mm, mute, 21’30 “
– 25.Visit on the farm (continued), April / May 1944: 2 min 30 sec.
– 26. Return / visit agriculture / plowing and planting potatoes, April / May 1944: 4 min 20 sec.
– 27. Return to camp / unloading truck bricks, April / May 1944:
– 28. Construction of the purification plant, April / May 1944:
– 29. Slaughtering and harvesting trees near Assen, April / May 1944: 4 min 50 sec.
– 30. Religious Service in the Great Hall, March 5, 1944: 6 sec.
– 31. Football match at the venue, April / May 1944: 2 min 04 sec.
– 32. Female gymnastics, April / May 1944: 1 min.
– 33. Gala evening and cabaret Bunter Abend in the Great Hall, April / May 1944: 4 min 05 sec.
Rudolf Breslauer and family
Rudolf Breslauer (1904-1944) was in Westerbork for over two and a half years with his wife Bella Weismann, daughter Ursula, and sons Mischa and Stephan.
In Sep 1944 they were transported to Auschwitz via Theresiënstadt, and murdered in the gas chamber, except Ursula who survived the war and went to Israel in 1948, where she and her husband Chaim Moses set up their own company. Her name has since been Chanita Moses – she has children and many grandchildren.
1 ‘Kamp Westerbork gefilmd’ by Koert Broersma and Gerard Rossing (editors Dirk Mulder and Ben Prinsen; ISBN 9023232658
2. Gerard Rossing and Koert Boersma, Kamp Westerbork Gefilmd (1997), pp. 86-88.
‘Westerbork Film’ , montage of the Westerbork reels 1-4 (RVD cat.nrs. 02-1167-01, 02-1167-02, 02-1167-03, 02-1167-04 courtesy of Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid | OpenImages). Footage filmed by Rudolf Breslauer in 1944 , Camp Westerbork, Netherlands. Westerbork Film (20190605) Michel van der Burg | Settela.com – CC BY 4.0 .
20190605 – Updates including the other footage and more information will follow in both this post and new posts on the Settala.com site.