Verdict on Auschwitz



First Run Features

NEW YORK -- Made in 1993 for German television but only now getting a theatrical release, this powerful documentary by Rolf Bickel and Dietrich Wanger deals with the relatively little known 1963-65 Frankfurt trial of 22 members of the SS accused of mass murder in the Auschwitz death camp.

Assembled from hundreds of hours of audio tapes made during the trial of the judges, lawyers, defendants and many survivor witnesses, "Verdict on Ausch-witz," being presented at New York's Quad Cinemas, is an invaluable addition to the ever growing canon of Holocaust-themed films.

The film often is less than compelling on a purely visual basis, as much of its running time consists of modern shots of the empty courtroom and the Auschwitz camp that are accompanied by the audio recordings. But there is no denying the deep emotional impact of what we hear, from the utterly unconvincing protestations of the defendants that they had no knowledge of what was taking place to the haunting testimony from the survivors about the horrors they experienced.

The film, divided into three sections dealing with the investigation, the trial and the verdict, also includes general portions of archival footage depicting the activities of the Nazis and the SS in particular, and of course much film that was shot at Auschwitz itself upon its liberation.

The sheer accumulation of details presented in this exhaustive film can be overwhelming at times, but the unemotional approach taken by the filmmakers only adds to its overall power.