The Auschwitz Tattoo in Visual Memory

Der Rat der Götter

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Der Rat der Götter, Kurt Maetzig, GDR 1950

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The use of the shots from Auschwitz in Kurt Maetzig’s film Rat der Götter (1950), produced for the East-German DEFA, represents one of the first cases of metamediation. Liberation footage, including the children in Auschwitz, is projected on a diegetic screen, and thereby categorized as cinematic evidence. This happens by the help of a condensed montage of liberation footage. Images of prisoners behind barbed wire (from Auschwitz) are superimposed with a close up of a the indictment in a trial (against managers of German companies that supported and benifited from Nazi crimes). What follows is a sequence of shots from different liberated camps that are framed by curtains and the ratio of a projection screen. Used in a generally illustrating way, the footage assembles what we until today consider iconic images from the camps, among them the first two shots from the sequence with the children in Auschwitz.

The montage has a clear narrative structure. It first introduces the prisoners and emphasizes with the shots of the children that they were innocent victims, then demonstrates the industrialized ways of mass killing by utilizing shots of Zyklon B cans, and finally refers to the murderous results by showing dead corpses in mass graves. Only then the viewers understand the setting of the screening: a court room  that had transformed into a screening room.

However, most notably in the use of the footage in Rat der Götter is the fact that the film abstains from adding any voice over or other additional sounds to the montage of images. They should speak for themselves. This furthermore emphasizes their function as evidence in a double sense: evidence within the diegetic trial setting and evidence for the audience.

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