Three Dimensions of Archive Footage

Researching Archive Films from the Holocaust

Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann
Holocaust; film; footage; archive; archive image; visual memory; historiography
Archive footage from the Holocaust is an ambivalent source. Hence, specific ways of “reading” this footage are required that analyse the specific content, review the context of its production, and also take into account the circulation and appropriation of the footage in visual culture and correspondingly examine its changing status. By reviewing particular footage from the Warsaw and the Theresienstadt ghetto the article delineates an approach to analyse these three dimensions of archive footage and correspondingly proposes a specific historiography of archive films from the Holocaust.

Exploring the Archives

First Dimension of Archive Footage: Content

Second Dimension of Archive Footage: Context

Third Dimension of Archive Footage: Appropriation






Suggested Citation

The archive, as a particular place of preservation and mode of accessing the past, became increasingly important in recent years (Marlene Manoff 2004: 9). My following assumptions regarding the evaluation of archive footage from the Holocaust are based on a broad definition of archives and archive films. With the term archive I am referring to an institution that is shaped by political power, selection, and systems of registration as well as to more tentative and sometimes provisional collections of fragmented remnants from the past. Summarizing Manoff, I define archive as “a repository and collection of artifacts” (2004: 10), in case of this paper film footage from the Holocaust, that is “shaped by social, political, and technological forces” (ibid.: 12). The archive functions “as the laboratory functions for the sciences” (ibid.:13) and in this respect archiving methods and techniques are also adopted for academic research and cinematic use of archive footage. However, it has to be emphasized that archives are no neutral institutions and that archived documents “are recording history form a particular perspective” (ibid.: 14).

For historians as well as filmmakers, archives are traditionally irreplaceable sources of knowledge and previously unknown images. Recently the archive image in general and specific historical footage in particular gained increasing interest from scholars and practitioners. Matthias Steinle has explored the character of archive footage that is used in different contexts, and described its compilation as a specific methodological approach (2005: 296). Archive images are visual quotes (ibid.: 296) that do not only warrant what is represented, but also provoke a specific historical reading of the films, in which they are appropriated and circulate (ibid.: 299).

Correspondingly in recent years, the archive as a place and space became a starting point for reviewing historical imagery in other films. The most significant examples of such film-examining-films that explore visual archives of the Holocaust were Shtikat haArkhion / A Film Unfinished (Yael Hersonski, 2010, Germany/Israel), which reconstructs the production of the notorious propaganda footage from the Warsaw Ghetto, Aufschub / Respite (Harun Farocki, 2007, Germany/South Korea), a silent and highly reflexive montage of semi-official footage that was shot by an inmate of the Dutch transit camp Westerbork, and Night Will Fall (Andre Singer, 2014, UK) that appropriates and contextualizes British liberation footage from the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. In such films, the relationship between past and present, material remnants, and retrospective examination, has gained particular attention and causes to reconsider how films evoke the past and reconfigure it from the perspective of the present (Sylvie Lindeperg 2003: 65). By exiting the archive and being used in other films, archive footage significantly shaped our perception of the past in general and of the Holocaust in particular (Steinle 2005: 303). Film-examining-films therefore transfer archive images from storage memory (Speichergedächtnis) to functional memory (Funktionsgedächtnis), and, according to Steinle, turn into cinematic memory places (ibid.: 303-304).

Jamie Baron has described such films as “appropriation films” that gather archival footage and are marked by a “sense of ‘foundness’” that evokes a particular “archive effect” (Baron 2014: 17). This encourages shifting the perspective from the represented past to its mediation and brings to attention the operations of assemblage and aligning archive footage (Lindeperg 2003: 68). Lindeperg proposed reading these films as palimpsests and emphasized to explore the different levels of their genesis, which also includes production and distribution.

Exploring the Archives

Archive films, similar to historical photographs, are ambivalent sources. They have the potential to reveal marginal and sometimes accidental details that would not otherwise be shown or perceived. But just as they present things that happened in front of the camera, they also exclude other things that were not depicted. Correspondingly, for Georges Didi-Huberman such visual remnants of the Nazi past are “ill seen images,” because they have been “poorly described, poorly captioned, poorly classed, poorly reproduced, poorly used” by historians as well as filmmakers (2008: 67). Subsequently, every photographic or cinematic source needs to be read in order to tell us something about its origin, production, and historical context. This paper proposes an integrated approach to review the origin, context, and use of film footage from the Holocaust in order to outline an approach for a historiography of archive films.

Most existing studies on visual Holocaust memory focused on photography. Already in 1984 Sybil Milton outlined the ambivalent and problematic use of historical photographs (1984: 45). Hereupon, the visual heritage of the Holocaust was reviewed in several studies, which mostly continued focusing on photography. Clément Chéroux (2001) explored pictures that were taken in Nazi concentration camps and reconstructed the memory of the camps from preserved visual evidence. Cornelia Brink (1998) defined photographs from concentration camps as “icons of annihilation”, but focused also on their public use after 1945. Finally, Habbo Knoch (2001) analyzed in depth photographic remnants from the Nazi past and discussed their impact on cultural memory.

In his study on the context, origin, hidden traces, and limited use of four photographs that were taken illegally by members of the Jewish “Sonderkommando” in Auschwitz, Didi-Huberman accentuates the problematic way of reducing archive images from the Holocaust when not seeing more than documents of Nazi horrors in it (2008: 67). Therefore, referring to visual evidence of the Holocaust and more precisely to moving images, we have to take into account the relation between content, form, and context and to reflect the specifics of the medium. Form and style can tell about the personal and ideological perspective of the operator, the conditions of the recording, and eye-catching aesthetic patterns (such as the propaganda mode). The process of production is thereby inscribed into the form. This is especially true if we deal with perpetrator footage.

Gertrud Koch was one of the first cinema scholars who discussed this notion. In relation to a series of photographs taken by an amateur photographer in the ghetto Lodz, she noticed that the perpetrator’s gaze could be discovered through patterns of historic pictures and films (1992: 179), because the technical camera angle is related to the ideological attitude of the photographer (ibid: 9). Subsequent research, analyzing visual Holocaust memory in context of cinema and television studies, emanated from this observation. In her seminal study on the use of historical film footage in television documentaries Judith Keilbach (2008), for instance, pioneered in analyzing the impact of archive footage on televised representations of Nationalist Socialism and the Holocaust, and also explored the specific use and reuse of archive images.

In various case studies film scholars as well as historians explored specific films or groups of films that offered insight into origin, context, and production of different archive films from the Nazi past. In her introduction to this issue Natascha Drubek (2016) provides a useful overview, when she discusses the different phases of Nazi film production in relation to the newly established “ghettos”.

Most of the moving images from the Third Reich were recorded for the production of newsreels in Nazi Germany. Embedded within the organizational structure of the German Wehrmacht propaganda units, which contained photographers as well as film operators, collected news material from all areas of military operations (Daniel Uziel 2008; Alexander Zöller 2014).

Additionally, footage remained in the archives that was made in context of more explicit propaganda film projects. Some of these films were actually released. Regine-Mihal Friedman (1989), for instance, has critically reviewed the production context and ideological impact of Fritz Hippler’s notorious propaganda film Der ewige Jude / The Eternal Jew (1940, Germany). Another propaganda film, in this case about the life and culture in the Theresienstadt Ghetto was finalized in 1945 (Dorothea Hollstein 1971; Friedman 1988; Karel Margry 1992; Drubek 2016). However, in contrast to Der ewige Jude, which was actually running in cinemas accompanied by a press campaign, the Theresienstadt film was shown only two or three times for SS-personnel in closed screenings.

Other footage, such as the iconic moving images from the Warsaw Ghetto, was kept locked in the archives (Anja Horstmann 2009, 2010/11; Kay Hoffmann 2013) or was, for instance in case of an earlier film that was shot in Theresienstadt in 1942, only preserved in fragments (Eva Strusková 2009). Many other, today iconic, archive films from the Holocaust are of semi-official origin. In the Dutch transit camp Westerbork, for instance, the German camp commander Walter Gemmeker ordered Rudolf Breslauer, a Jewish inmate of the camp, to depict every-day life with a film camera. Parts of this footage, documenting deportations to Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, later circulated in numerous documentary films (Koert Broersma and Gerard Rossing 1997; Aad Wagenaar 2005). But filmmakers also documented local anti-Jewish activities, such as the pogrom from November 1938 or deportations of Jews to the camps in Eastern Europe from several German cities. These films were kept in private collections or stored in local archives (Ebbrecht 2010/11 a+b). German soldiers also took their cameras to the front. In her seminal research Frances Guerin (2012) explored this kind of amateur footage was explored and discussed the aesthetics of these films as well as their value as historical documents. However, for nearly all of these films is true what Drubek (2016) describes as a significant aspect of what she calls “ghetto films”: “The surviving examples of this dubious genre are almost as scarce as the documentation of the intentions behind their commissioning.”

Nevertheless, such archive footage was made in a particular context. And it was intended for a particular reason. Hence, it “opens only a limited and often distorted view on historical events and therefore requires supplementation” (Ebbrecht-Hartmann 2015a: 124). As a consequence we need to intertwine archive footage from the Holocaust with memories, topographical knowledge, contemporary as well as retrospective testimonies, and other historical sources, an operation, which Didi-Huberman has described as “interpretative montage” (2008: 89). This includes “examining the conditions of their creation, by studying their documentary content, and by questioning their use” (ibid.: 67).

This paper emanates from this assumption and proposes a methodology to explore and investigate archive footage from the Holocaust. I delineate an approach to access and work with some of the most disturbing and challenging footage from the visual heritage of the Holocaust, footage that was recorded in the ghettos. In a new and innovative way this approach includes also the afterlife of archive films, their circulation and migration through other films and media, and thus takes into account their later use and appropriation.

First Dimension of Archive Footage: Content

Archive footage from the Holocaust needs to be analyzed in three dimensions [Fig. 1].

Three dimensions of analyzing and interpreting archive footage.

The first dimension refers to content, which is explored on two levels: the historical level and the visual-aesthetical level. While the first is referring to specific traces of people and incidents, the second might reveal additional references to the filmmaker, the situation of filming, and the specific style and dominant patterns that can be identified in the footage.

This analysis varies a scheme for adequately studying photographic remnants of the Nazi past, developed by Milton. She requires exposing the photographer’s identity and indicating his/her perspective (1984: 46). However, in many cases we do not have sufficient information to identify a filmmaker or cameraman because that would require access to the space behind the camera. In case of the Warsaw ghetto footage it is at least possible to deduct a general idea of the producers’ identities due to the special character of the footage (Horstmann 2010/11). Hence, it seemed likely that the footage was shot by members of German propaganda troops. This assumption can be deduced from the specific interrelation of gazes that are manifested in the material. Likewise, as it is also emphasized in Milton’s scheme, the function of the film can be guessed when closely examining the material. While parts of the street scenes meet the specific rhetoric and aesthetic patterns of newsreels, the constructed character of the obviously intentionally depicted contrasts between different groups within the Jewish ghetto population proves the propagandistic character of the footage (ibid.: 74-75). However, the professional depiction indicates that the footage was not shot by an amateur filmmaker and obviously was officially commissioned. Still, it is not clear from exploring the footage alone, if it was also intended to be used publicly.

A more complicated case is a short archive clip that shows a family carrying suitcases and other baggage and leaving an apartment. The clip was included in the GDR documentary Aktion J – Ein Film der Beweise (Operation J - Film of Evidence, Walter Heynowski, 1961). Unfortunately, beyond the film’s voice over mentioning that the footage was produced by the SS and found in a Czech archive, no further information exists that would indicate the origin and intended use of the material. However, when examining the footage, we can still analyze the “relationship between camera and subject” (Milton 1984: 46). Milton refers in this regard to signs of cooperation, awareness or unawareness of the camera, and posed, staged or candid scenes. Indeed, the glances of the three depicted people, a woman, a man, and a boy, indicate a relationship of dominance and subordination towards the camera (and the cameraman behind it), which is clearly the source of power. Finally, the relatively short clip contains three repetitions of the very same scene, the family leaving the apartment and entering the stairway. This obviously proves the staged character of the footage. Although staging and the production of several takes was a common practice of most documentary films made during that time the confrontation with the repeating takes in the raw materials preclude the impression of authenticity.

In relation to the historical level, the content of this particular clip contains even more information. For instance, it is possible to guess the date of the filming. Shape and style of the clothes make it likely that it was produced during wartime. The suitcases and baggage furthermore suggest interpreting the depicted situation as part of the deportations, which started only in October 1941. If we consider the stairway as typical for metropolitan buildings in the German Reich (including Austria, Bohemia and Moravia) it is most likely that the footage was taken during the big deportation actions in 1942. This would be definitively the case if we consider the footage originating from the Czech capital Prague.

In order to examine the content of such an archive film we need in a first step to analyze the existing footage. This includes shot-by-shot analysis in order to identify the position and moving of the camera, significant aesthetic patterns, references to specific film aesthetics (amateur films, newsreels), and framing. If possible it is also useful to conduct a frame-by-frame analysis, which can help to identify particular details, relevant clues, and significant failures that might hint towards the intention or background of the filming (Carlo Ginzburg 1979; Marc Ferro 1988). In case of the short film fragment from Prague the single frames reveal, for instance, numbers that are written on the suitcases.

Second Dimension of Archive Footage: Context

This leads over to the second dimension, which refers to context. The handling of this dimension is based on what Didi-Huberman calls “interpretative montage”. In order to contextualize archive films from the Holocaust, we need to interrelate the footage with additional sources, memories, and historical documents. Such montage, a basic technique of filmmaking and the most important method of film-examining-films, is also a crucial element of every historical narrative. Different sources, pieces, and fragments are used as plot-points that create an interpretative framework and activate the writing of history. Hence, it is necessary to index and locate the origin of the material as well as to explore the circumstances of its production. This also means to explore whether a photograph or a film was made as part of a sequential series and to identify, if possible, the entire footage that was shot.

The context dimension refers again to two different aspects: the reconstruction of the historical context and the exploration of the specific situation of filming. When analyzing the footage from the Warsaw ghetto we can refer to a number of significant sources, which have reported about the production of the film. Several inhabitants of the ghetto, among them Rachel Auerbach, Adam Czerniakow, Chaim Kaplan, Emmanuel Ringelblum, and Jonas Turkow, have referred to both, the unbearable conditions in the ghetto and the production of the ghetto film that revealed the intention to adjust the depiction of the ghetto to the dominant image of Jews in the anti-Semitic propaganda (Horstmann 2010/11: 71-72; Brad Prager 2015: 136). Hence, we are at least partly able to reconstruct the context and conditions in which the filming took place, as well as the production itself. Ringelblum, for instance, emphasized how particular scenes were specifically arranged for filming. In his report from the shooting he also refers to one of the most famous shots from the preserved footage, which was already included in the eight silent reels that were discovered in the GDR state archive in 1954 (Ursula Böser 2013: 40): “Yesterday they instructed a child to leap over the ghetto wall … and buy potatoes there” (quoted in Prager 2015: 137).

Additional films that were discovered only in 1998 help us to contextualize the fragments. We can review them in context of a series of partly identic and party differing footage. Böser describes this footage:

Archived under the title Ghetto-Restmaterial, they contain outtakes from the rough cut as well as sequences similar to those that can be found in the long segment. This collection of discarded scenes from the cutting room floor also exposes the degree of staging that went into the filming of the footage: individual scenes are shown as the result of multiple takes in which positions and actions as well as camera perspectives are changed (2013: 41).

Hence, footage that was not intended for presentation, and maybe not even for preservation, plays an important role for reconstructing and contextualizing the filming. In addition, an amateur color film depicted the making of the Warsaw ghetto film and even made it possible to reveal the identity of one of the cameramen: Willy Wist (ibid.).

Such orchestration of different sources and additional footage is more complicated in the case of the short clip from Prague, because we do not have any information about the origin of the fragmented film. The written script of Aktion J offers just general information and refers only to an “original scene” without any additional information (Ebbrecht-Hartmann 2015b: 152). Hence, potential traces within the footage itself need to be reviewed in order to reconstruct the historical and filmic context. Most significant in this regard are the numbers that are written on the suitcases, which are depicted in the footage. These numbers refer to deportation transports, and it is indeed possible to link the coded figures to a specific transport. The number “Ck 799” refers to Hana Mirjam Goldmann who was born in 1934 and lived with her family in Benediktská Street in Prague. She was deported on December 22, 1942 to Theresienstadt together with her father Karel, her mother Anna, and her ten-year-old brother Ivan Josef (ibid.). Karel Goldmann died in Theresienstadt, Hana, her mother, and her brother departed on December 18 with transport “Ds 1733” to Auschwitz. All of this information is preserved in the Shoah Names Database at the Israeli memorial Yad Vashem, which is based on millions of Pages of Testimony that record biographical details of those who were killed during the Holocaust.

However, the fact that the second number, which is visible in the short clip, is not related to the Goldmann family is another indicator for the arranged character of the footage. The suitcase with the transport number “Ck 466” belonged to Zdeněk (Zdenko) Adler who was deported to Auschwitz on January 26, 1943 and murdered there. Hence, we can assume that the people that are depicted in the film are Karel, Ana, and Ivan Josef Goldmann and that the filming took place in Prague during December 1942 (ibid.: 153).

This information caused the Czech researcher Eva Strusková to assume that the footage might be part of the first Theresienstadt film that was produced in 1942 and is today only preserved in fragments (2009: 67). A script described the narrative frame of the unfinished film as journey of a fictive Jewish family from Prague to the ghetto (Strusková 2011: 126). The short clip from Aktion J seems to match this storyline and it also corresponds another fragment from the preserved footage that shows Jews in Bohušovice, the train station close to Theresienstadt where the transports arrived.

Hence, emanating from the footage itself it is possible to indicate traces that lead to other documents, historical information, and even additional film fragments that supposedly originated from the same production, which makes it possible to reconstruct at least parts of the biographies of the depicted people as well as the historical context and the production background of the archive film.

Third Dimension of Archive Footage: Appropriation

The third dimension refers to the use and appropriation of archive films from the Holocaust. This dimension helps to identify which parts of historical footage were screened and re-screened while others were left behind in the archives as well as when certain footage was extensively recycled and thus played a significant and dominant role in shaping visual memory of the Holocaust. Furthermore, we can identify codified ways of using and appropriating the footage in question, specific techniques of introducing, framing, and editing as well as its changing status.

The footage from the Warsaw ghetto, for instance, was publicly screened for the first time in the East German compilation film Du und mancher Kamerad (Andrew and Annelie Thorndike, 1956, GDR). Although the filmmakers only used a very short extract of the then just recently discovered footage (Hoffmann 2013: 91), already at this early state they introduced prototypical techniques of its appropriation. They included a short title that marked the shot as secret, although this title was originally not intended for public use but served as a classical archival marker. Furthermore, they presented the shots without additional voice over and thus emphasized their singularity and importance. Finally, they added music that recalled Jewish spiritual tunes (Ebbrecht-Hartmann 2015b: 151). Thereby, the footage was framed in twofold ways. On the one hand the editing style marks the footage as singled out from the coherent flow of archive footage from disparate sources that characterizes the film. Thereby, it is explicitly exhibited and presented as a unique document. On the other hand it is framed from the victim’s perspective. The “Judaizing” of the Nazi footage by the help of sound clearly indicates the attempt to contain the disturbing propaganda notion of the film.

However, at that moment the “posthumous life of Nazi propaganda”, as Tomasz Łysak describes the use and appropriation of the Warsaw ghetto footage, began (2016). Numerous subsequent films used and reused the footage, and most of them referred to identical extracts as well as similar methods like Du und mancher Kamerad. In the German context maybe Erwin Leiser’s Den Blodiga Tiden / Mein Kampf (1960, Sweden) had the most sustainable impact. Leiser explicitly introduced the footage as Nazi propaganda. However, he appropriated mainly extracts that depicted the unbearable conditions in the ghetto and didn’t use any sound for presenting most of the footage. Thereby he obviously attempted to reassess the anti-Semitic intentions that are inscribed in the footage. Still, at the end of the sequence with the Ghetto footage Leiser also adds Jewish spiritual tunes and hence assigns an even sacred status of suffering to the images.

Leiser’s film influenced strongly the imagination of the German crimes in the first post-war generation in West Germany. During the 1960s the film was screened in local cinemas and at schools. Subsequently, especially the Warsaw ghetto footage had a lasting impact on the young audience’s perception of the Holocaust and its Jewish victims. This impact is for example illustrated in Pepe Danquart’s documentary film Joschka und Herr Fischer (2011, Germany) about the famous German Green-party politician and former foreign minister Joseph Fischer. Fischer always emphasized that his awareness of the Holocaust was for a significant part a result of Leiser’s film and especially the shocking footage from the Ghetto. That is also the reason why exactly this footage, as part of an extract from Leiser’s film, appears in Danquart’s film as an on-screen installation in front of the protagonist.

Most other compilation films, including Aktion J, adopted the same techniques of reassessing and containing the footage. Hence, the images from the Warsaw ghetto transformed into visual icons and migrated also into narrative films. Roman Polanski even staged some of the scenes in his acclaimed film The Pianist (2002, France/ Poland/ Germany/ UK) according to the representation of the ghetto in the propaganda film. However, he combined the point-of-view of the archive footage with the witnessing perspective of his Jewish protagonist and thereby also intended to thwart and subvert its propagandistic character (Ebbrecht-Hartmann 2015c: 42). Hersonski’s Shtikat haArkhion in contrast comes from the ambivalent footage itself, as well as from its “unclear production history and searches what is missing” (Ebbrecht-Hartmann 2015a: 127). According to Prager, Hersonski’s film revises the perspective of the earlier appropriation of the footage from the ghetto and “aims to provide iconic images with new frames and to counteract their propagandistic weight” (2015: 142). Thereby, Shtikat haArkhion begins to explore the footage and its different dimension within the framework and with the techniques of filmmaking and hence turns into the prototype of a film-examining-film.

Again, the archive footage from Prague represents a more complicate case. It is nearly impossible to explore the dimension of appropriation because the fragment was only preserved as appropriated footage in a single film. Hence, in this case, we are writing a history of non-appropriation and we have to ask how the short clip ended up in Aktion J and why the footage was not reused in other subsequent films.

In a first step we can analyse the actual appropriation of the footage in Heynowski’s film. Abruptly in the midst of Aktion J, the image of a film projector fills the frame. The voice over announces unique footage shot by SS cameramen that was found in an archive in Prague. Then the three shots of the family leaving the apartment are cut into the film. This introduction specifically emphasizes the footage as a revealing document. The uniqueness of the rare findings is indicated by a reference to the exhibiting character of cinema, which is symbolized through the film projector.

However as stated above, the specific form of the film fragment, the repetition of the very same situation, emphasizes its clearly arranged character. Due to this impression, and as part of Aktion J as a clearly propagandistic film project to assist a GDR campaign against the Federal Republic and the West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s advisor Hans Globke who delivered a national-socialist commentary to the Nuremberg race laws from 1935, the audience might have decoded the archive footage as fake. Hence, the context of its appropriation, its use for a post-war political campaign, might have provoked doubt over the authenticity of the actual archive film and its documentary value. This could explain why the clip did not attract any further intention and why it did not continue circulating in the visual memory of the Holocaust (Ebbrecht-Hartmann 2015b: 151).

However, how the footage finally ended up in Aktion J is even more subject of speculation. A possible link between the Theresienstadt film project from 1942 and the production of Aktion J was the graphic designer Leo Haas who served as an advisor for Heynowski’s film and was imprisoned at the Theresienstadt ghetto since 1942. There he worked in the drawing room, which was also involved in smuggling out pieces from the unfinished Theresienstadt film (Strusková 2011: 135).


The analysis of the three dimensions of archive footage from the Holocaust shows that, although visual evidence from the Holocaust and its depiction of human suffering are a distinctively significant in our commemorative culture, the status and character of particular archive films is not fixed but also change over time. Even if such footage is determined by a clear ideological intention its use in a different context might change, subvert or thwart these intentions (Ebbrecht-Hartmann 2016). While this observation refers to the use of particular footage in changing contexts, the footage also bears a certain agency that proposes specific use or provokes particular techniques of appropriation. Hence, a close analysis of the content and context of the footage reveals particular ideological impregnations or patterns that also have an impact on its later appropriation.

Because most of the archive footage from that period was only preserved as mute remnants, it provokes, for instance, the use of additional sound or voice over in order to frame and contain the footage. This became obvious in case of the Warsaw ghetto footage and attempts to thwart its propagandistic character by adding music or framing the footage with the help of a voice over.

Many films are also characterized by a specific interplay of gazes, the gaze of the filmmaker and the gazes of the depicted people. This constellation is obvious in the film fragment from Prague. Correspondingly, we need to explore the traces that are left by the depicted people and therefore contextualize the footage by the help of “interpretative montage” in a different way. However, the voyeuristic filming situation and the exhibition of the “looking at” also provokes specific forms of appropriation such as presenting the footage on a diegetic screen (as it can be seen in Shtikat haArkhion) or in a film-in-film constellation. The latter was for instance the case in Aktion J, which introduces the archive clip from Prague with the image of a film projector.

Finally, many archive films are only preserved as fragments or present a particular point-of-view, which results in attempts to complete the footage through editing and to add other perspectives. The adding of Jewish spiritual tunes is one way of such containing completion. The editing of various sources in Shtikat haArkhion, however, proves to be a more complex way of appropriating archive footage from the Holocaust. Other films, such as the fragment from Prague, offer only few possibilities of reconstructing their origin and context of production. Hence, the visual archives of the Holocaust might offer new opportunities of re-reading and re-viewing iconic archive footage. But they might also lead to a dead-end.


A first version of this paper was presented in September 2016 at the EHRI WP6 Workshop on Holocaust Film Footage at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The paper also benefited immensely from intensive and fruitful discussions with Chris Wahl from the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf on the use of archive footage and the concept of appropriation.


Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann

Department of Communication and Journalism / DAAD Center for German Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

DAAD Center for German Studies | Dept. of Communication & Journalism | The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, 9190501 Jerusalem, Israel. Email:

Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann is lecturer for Film and German Studies in the Department of Communication and Journalism and the DAAD Center for German Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Cardinal Franz Koenig Chair in Austrian Studies. He received his doctorate from the Freie Universität Berlin with a thesis on cinematic narration of the Holocaust, which was published in 2011 as Geschichtsbilder im medialen Gedächtnis: Filmische Narrationen des Holocaust (Bielefeld). His fields of research and publication focus on visual memory of the Holocaust and political violence, and the use and appropriation of archive footage.


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Suggested Citation

Ebbrecht-Hartmann, Tobias. “Three Dimensions of Archive Footage: Researching Archive Films from the Holocaust.” Ghetto Films and their Afterlife (ed. by Natascha Drubek). Special Double Issue of Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 2-3. DOI:


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