Review: Verdict on Auschwitz

Verdict on Auschwitz isn’t a film so much as it is a discovery.

Verdict on Auschwitz
Photo: First Run Features

Verdict on Auschwitz isn’t a film so much as it is a discovery. From 1963 to 1965, the first Auschwitz trial played out inside a Frankfurt courtroom, where a tribunal of judges heard from over 300 witnesses, including more than 200 Auschwitz survivors, who testified against 22 men put on trial for the mass extermination of Europe’s Jewry. In 1993, directors Rolf Bickel and Dietrich Wagner pondered the significance of the trial—the investigation leading to the arrest of the accused ghouls (all of whom learned that saying and admitting to nothing was in their selfish interest), the toll the 20 months of proceedings would have on everyone from witnesses to the public, and the serving of the verdict and its outcome—through a mix of archival footage, photographs, interviews with people present at the trial, and excerpts from 430 hours of audiotapes. The film doubles not only as an autopsy of a trial but an examination of how the mass slaughter that took place at Auschwitz-Birkenau could not have been possible without the meticulous paperwork the Germans kept—records that would prove to be their undoing in courts of law from Nuremburg to Frankfurt. The documentary’s aesthetic isn’t groundbreaking, but when set atop the image of the empty Frankfurt courtroom as it appeared to the filmmakers in the early ‘90s, the voices of the trial’s witnesses resonate like wails from a haunted house. In the documentary’s third part, it is revealed that the horrific would become routine to the public as the trial dragged on, and though there are enough Holocaust documentaries to match the number of days it took for the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial to come to its conclusion, the voices Bickel and Wagner allow us to overhear never cease to shock and awe.

 Director: Rolf Bickel, Dietrich Wagner  Distributor: First Run Features  Running Time: 180 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1993  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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