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During World War II some of Hollywood's biggest filmmakers enlisted not to fight, but to film combat. These short documentaries (commissioned by the War Department) were intended to show Americans what was at stake and stir up patriotic feelings.

Today author  Mark Harristells us about this groundbreaking footage by John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra.

George Stevens’ chronicles of the liberation at the concentration camp Dachau was used as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials:

"What [Director George] Stevens filmed at Dachau was so painful that he didn’t talk about it for decades afterwards. But what we think of now as some of the images of Holocaust atrocity that are burned into our collective consciousness — that’s what Stevens saw: bodies in boxcars; starving, dying, skeletal people; bodies covered in snow; body parts; crematoria.

The worst things that we know of what the Nazis did in the death camps and the concentration camps were news to Stevens and his men, and of course to America when he discovered them. Imagine walking into Dachau not knowing what a death camp was and seeing what he saw. So he did the only thing that he could do, which was to record it. At that point, he was no longer interested in making a documentary, what he was doing and what he knew he was doing from the first hour that he was there was gathering evidence.”

Harris’ book is called Five Came Back: A Story Of Hollywood And The Second World War

An entrance gate with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Brings Freedom”) at Dachau concentration camp. photo via History cred Ted Horowitz/Corbis

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