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Werner Breslauer, Westerbork Deportation Footage

Werner (Rudolf) Breslauer: Westerbork Deportation raw footage 1944
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Films of deportations are a rare form of evidence about the Holocaust. Typically made under orders from German officials, such films often show the perspective of the perpetrators. Nazi authorities and their collaborators usually created these films for their own use, or fashioned them into propaganda for the German public.1 Some scholars have criticized postwar documentaries about the Holocaust that rely too much on these "perpetrator films."2

The featured footage shows the deportation of Dutch Jews and Roma and Sinti from Westerbork on May 19, 1944. Cameraman Werner Rudolf Breslauer, a German-Jewish photographer who had fled to the Netherlands with his wife and three children, was ordered by a camp commander to film different scenes of daily life in the camp, including this deportation. The film was meant to illustrate the camp's effectiveness to Gestapo officials. In September of 1944, Breslauer and his family were deported to Auschwitz via Theresienstadt, where Rudolf, his wife, and his two sons were killed. His daughter Ursula survived the war.

One of the most striking moments from Breslauer's footage captures a young Sinti girl named Settela Steinbach as she is forced to board a deportation train. Steinbach was one of the 245 Dutch Sinti killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau between July 31 and August 1, 1944, the date of the destruction and murder of Birkenau's so-called "Zigeunerlager" (literally, "Gypsy camp").3 The image of Steinbach peeking through the train doors with her head covered has become a symbol of the genocide of Roma and Sinti during the Holocaust.4

This film footage presents a unique and layered primary source: it was commissioned by perpetrators and created by a Jewish prisoner in order to document the deportation of Romani people. Is this tension and complexity evident in the perspective of the film itself? Breslauer's camera lingers briefly on individual people, but it also seems to be an impersonal record of the deportation process. How do we understand this footage? Is it simply a perpetrator film, or is it a primary source created by a fellow target of Nazi persecution? Is it possible for a source to be both things at once?

For example, a 2011 documentary entitled, A Film Unfinished, assembled raw Nazi footage of the Warsaw Ghetto (much of it highly staged) presumably taken for the purpose of a propaganda film that was never fully realized. For a critical analysis of this film, see Stuart Liebman, "The Never–Ending Story: Yael Hersonski's 'A Film Unfinished,'" Cineaste 36.3 (2011): 15–9. See also a 1944 propaganda film produced by Nazi authorities about the Theresienstadt ghetto and concentration camp .

The most famous postwar documentary to utilize perpetrator footage was Alain Resnais's short film, Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard, 1955). For more information about the history and reception of the film, see Christian Delage, "Nuit et Brouillard: A Turning Point in the History and Memory of the Holocaust," in Toby Haggith and Joanna Newman, eds., The Holocaust and the Moving Image: Representations in Film and Television Since 1933 (New York: Wallflower Press, 2005), 127–39.

Roma are a European ethnic group whose ancestry can be traced to modern-day India and Pakistan. Sinti are a distinct Romani group with historical roots in German-speaking lands. In many languages, however, Roma are often referred to by exonyms (names or labels assigned to a group or place by outsiders). The German-language word is "Zigeuner." In English, this word is "Gypsy. These negative labels are generally understood to be racial or ethnic slurs today.


For a brief introduction to the experiences of Roma and Sinti during the Nazi era, see the Experiencing History collection overview for Roma and Sinti in Nazi Germany.

To learn more about this iconic image, see Chris Vos, "The Past in Iconic Clichés: The Case of 'The Girl Between the Doors of a Cattle-Wagon to Auschwitz,'" History in Words and Images (2005): 157. For more information about the intersecting experiences and memories of Romani and Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, see Ari Joskowicz, "Separate Suffering, Shared Archives: Jewish and Romani Histories of Nazi Persecution," History & Memory 28.1 (2016): 110–40.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 60.2101, FILM ID: 2240
Date Created
May 19, 1944
Duration 00:04:42
Sound No
Videographer / Creator
Werner Rudolf Breslauer
Westerbork, The Netherlands (historical)
Moving Image Type Raw Footage
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