Silent Witnesses: The ordinary Germans who watched the horrors of Auschwitz unfold

An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz and around 1.1 million died there. Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

A new film about ‘normal’ Germans who watched and ignored the horrors of Auschwitz is being planned by an English director.

Filmmaker Jonathan Glazier said that rather than focusing on the atrocities from the perspective of the victims or perpetrators, as other Auschwitz films have done, his new film, which hasn’t been given a name yet, would examine the behavior of those who witnessed the horrors of the Nazi German concentration camp unfold.

The Under the Skin (2013) director said: “I remember being very taken by the faces of the bystanders, the onlookers, the complicit, you know? Ordinary Germans.

“I started wondering how it would be possible to stand by and watch that. Some of the faces actually enjoy it. The spectacle of it. The kinda circus of it.”

The former Nazi German death camp was set up in the town of Oświęcim shortly after Hitler’s troops invaded Poland in 1939. The first camp was established to hold Polish political prisoners who arrived in May 1940 with the first exterminations taking place a year later.

But by 1942 Jews had started arriving where they were killed en masse in the camp’s notorious gas chambers as part of Hitler’s diabolical Final Solution.

An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz and around 1.1 million died there, if not in the gas chambers then through starvation, forced labour, diseases, medical experiments and individual executions.

Researcher Iga Bunalska from the Auschwitz Study Group who was historical advisor to the new film told The First News: “The film will focus on the German people who were connected to Auschwitz and their attitude to it. We focus on every aspect of their lives, so for example, what their days looked like, what they would eat or even on the relationships they had with one another.

“The 'what was happening' was always somehow in the background. There were lots of them who admitted they knew exactly what was going on. For many of them the situation in the camp and around it was just everyday life, and they didn't even feel anything was wrong.

“Many of them just refused to even 'witness' the situation; they thought that if you don't see it, it is not happening at all. I found a testimony about a woman forcing her husband to move to another flat because the prisoners were passing their old house every single day. They of course were Germans.”

She added: “There were hundreds of Germans as Oświęcim was to become a typical German town.

“The Germans who came there were not only those working in Auschwitz itself, they were also workers of multiple German factories and companies that came to Oświęcim, also families of those workers, basically anybody that wanted to come there.

“IG Farben [a German chemical and pharmaceutical company] really pushed the idea of taking Oświęcim this way forward; they were planning new roads and buildings for years in advance. Even for the end of 1940s.

“I think the film will give a new perspective of looking at Auschwitz, one we are not used to at all.”

Director Jonathan Glazier said that as a Jewish man he had looked into the ethics of making the film and said he would not be treating the subject lightly.

He added that he planned on beginning production next year and release the film in 2020.