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(A FOOTNOTE TO YALTA cont'd)

The inside of the captain's collar is of a lighter texture than the rest and this makes it possible to identify him in other shots even if we don't see his face clearly in close up. We now realize that he has played an indeterminate, but official role in the film making. In one scene, as the trucks carrying prisoners move down the muddy road toward the railyard, a jeep drives up on the edge of the frame and an officer gets out of the passenger seat just as the cameraman stops the camera. But there's enough on the film to recognize Captain Gardner's collar, although we don't yet know this as we haven't seen the shot of Gardner holding Gustonon's arm. Gardner has stopped his jeep to talk to the cameraman. To tell him he has a good story? That he has a Russian prisoner who slashed his chest and wouldn't that make a good picture? We can't tell, of course, but very soon after this appears the shot of Gardner with Gustonon. He's the one who holds Gustonon's arm to show that he's in charge (there's another officer in this picture, but he stands behind Gustonon and he's not named.) After patching up his chest, they're putting him on the train anyway, and Gardner makes sure that he, Gardner, is the one closest to the camera.  

And Captain Gardner appears a last time before the train pulls out with the Russians. The cameraman has already shown us a scene of Russians being searched at the entrance to the freight cars. He then gives us a shot (a "cutaway") of another group waiting with their bags behind a wire fence, the one with the shadow of a truck passing across it. The next scene logically for the cameraman to shoot would be the train pulling out of the siding. But no, we go back for another two shots of Russians being searched prior to entering the freight cars. And who is doing the searching this time? Captain Kenny Gardner. He certainly wanted to be in the picture, and as far as Stars and Stripes was concerned he succeeded.  

There's another shot that gives one cause for reflection. It occurs in the first portion of the film in which we are shown columns of men moving across the muddy expanse in front of their barracks. The activity seems confusing at first. One line is moving in one direction, another in the opposite direction, and a large group in the middle are not moving at all. Near them are what appear to be two trestle tables, their centers covered with white cloths. Could these possibly be makeshift altars, erected for a final service for men who expect the worst to happen to them before the end of this day? And could the figures standing motionless at these tables be praying? Perhaps this is overdramatizing the scene. If they are altars in the shot, no doubt they have been erected for a regular church parade. But that would mean this day was Sunday and surely the Americans would not have planned their drastic operation for a Sunday? It seems it was so, however, for February 24, 1946 was indeed a Sunday. 

Thus the images in the Plattling film offer us their own kind of evidence after all, while the film's existence in the Signal Corps archive itself raises interesting questions about the use of the film medium by the American army in war. Why was this particularly episode filmed? And filmed like this? Who authorized the filming? On whose orders? If the order to return all Russian prisoners to the Soviet Union - forcibly if need be - was so secret, why have a camera there that day? Tolstoy, who was denied sight of the film, speculated that it was intended as a guide for future operations. But the sequences hardly support this. It might of course have been a mistake; a snarl up in duties by Signal Corps operatives. But if this were so, why was the Stars and Stripes photographer also present?  

The more we think about these seven minutes of official film the more disturbing the questions become. Five weeks earlier, Russians interned at Dachau, site of the notorious Nazi concentration camp and not far from Plattling, had resisted their repatriation with a ferocity that stunned American military police, resulting in at least ten suicides. Did someone have the idea of using a film clip to quell rumors about the difficulties the American army encountered in the forcible repatriation program? Did they think they might show the clip in other camps whose inmates were also scheduled for deportation? The film material strongly suggests that it was intended to give the impression that the repatriation policy was being conducted without incident. Further research would no doubt teach us more about the use of visual images for propaganda purposes by all the participants in World War Two, use that on one reading of this film could be compared with the Nazi film, The Führer Gives A City To The Jews, made at the bogus Theresienstadt concentration camp to fool the Red Cross and neutrals. In the Nazi film, Jews are seen living in reasonable, if cramped, conditions, enjoying their own cultural activities and limited opportunities for work. They smile in some shots, tend their own gardens, watch their own games of soccer, and they even have the luxury of hot water showers (to quell rumors that signs to the showers led to gas chambers?) All who participated, including the cameraman, were sent on to Auschwitz. For the Signal Corps cameraman at Plattling, the assignment, it appears, was undemanding. He has distanced himself from his subjects and displays little sympathy for them. 

 

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