Respite consists of silent black-and-white film scenes shot at Westerbork, a Dutch refugee camp established in 1939 for Jews fleeing Germany. In 1942, after the occupation of Holland, its function was reversed by the Nazis and it became a 'transit camp.' In 1944, the camp commander commissioned a film, shot by a photographer, Rudolph Breslauer.
By exhuming the scattered fragments and traces of the phantom film (intertitle cards, ideas for the scenario, graphic elements), Harun Farocki inscribes the Dutch footage within the genre of the corporate film. The film was meant to highlight the economic efficiency of the camp at the very moment its existence seemed threatened: at the time of filming, as the majority of Jews from the Netherlands had already been deported, Westerbork was converted into a labour camp with the approval of the commandant who feared its closure and was afraid of being transferred to another theatre of operations.
In this respect, one of the revelations of Respite concerns the discovery of a camp logo consisting of a factory surmounted by a smoking chimney … This is found at the centre of a chart signaling with arrows and numbers, “entrances” and “exits” (notably to the East) of the prisoners of the Dutch camp. Thus, the materials assembled for the Westerbork film clearly demonstrate its double function as labor camp and place of transit, antechamber of extermination.
Whatever the intentions of the creator of this striking logo might have been, for the viewers of Respite, the design echoes the tall chimneys of the crematorium installations at Birkenau. Taking this process as a source of inspiration, Harun Farocki chose to place the peaceful sequences of Westerbork in resonance with other tragic scenes and images that populate the collective memory and imagination. Over the innocuous scenes of the dental clinic, he evokes the gold teeth wrenched from the dead at Birkenau; over the white coats of a laboratory, the sinister medical experiments practiced at Auschwitz; over the exposed cables in a workshop, the heaps of women’s hair found by the Soviets; over the images of workers lounging in the grass, those of the open pits and the fields of corpses filmed by the Allies at the opening of the camps.
In Images of the World and the Inscription of War, Farocki juxtaposes photographs from diverse sources in order to decode the traces of the event inscribed in the pictures while simultaneously taking the measure of what is not immediately represented. In Respite, however, he starts with a single source in order to evoke memory-images. The sequences of Westerbork thus become palimpsest 2 images, which summon to the surface other image-strata, which recall the memory and history of cinema.
(Sylvie Lindeperg )
Original title Aufschub Author, producer Harun Farocki Collaboration Antje Ehmann, Christiane Hitzemann, Lars Pienkoß, Matthias Rajmann, Jan Ralske, Meggie Schneider Documentation Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork, Memorial Center Camp Westerbork Hoogdalen Photos Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie / The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, Amsterdam Production Harun Farocki Filmproduktion, Berlin, commissioned and funded by Jeonju International Filmfestival, Jeonju Film footage Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst Filmarchief, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Hilversum, Format video, b/w, silent Lenght 40 min.