Messengers Without an Audience
52 minutes, 2003
Produced and Directed by Willy Lindwer
AVA Productions (Netherlands)
A co-production with
EO Television (Netherlands), VRT (Belgium), TVP Television (Poland)
Could the genocide of the Jews during WWII have been prevented if Churchill and Roosevelt had listened to the early warnings of the messengers? The gripping story of the messengers of the first hour, but... without an audience!
During the war, very few people suspected that the Nazis were systematically planning and carrying out the genocide of the European Jews. However, a number of people were aware of the genocide at an early stage and did all they could to inform and warn others. They gave clear indications and informed Allied governments and the media in many ways, sometimes risking their own lives. These brave people, their efforts to make the world intervene, and the nature of and reasons for the lack of understanding with which they were so often confronted are the focus of this documentary. Unfortunately, they were "Messengers without an Audience".
In the end of April 1945 the news of the situation in the newly liberated camps crossed the world like wildfire. Journalists from many countries came to Bergen-Belsen and wrote appalled commentaries in their newspapers about the unbelievable atrocities committed by the Nazis, not only in Bergen-Belsen, but also in death camps like Auschwitz. Various radio stations also gave the camps much attention during that time. Public figures expressed their dismay in emotional speeches, and the entire world was horrified by the discoveries.
Shortly after the liberation, all of mankind stood amazed. It seems almost as though the murder of millions of Jews had been completely unknown until that time. The murder of millions of people went completely unnoticed, and therefore could be carried through to the extreme. But did it actually go unnoticed?
During the war itself, a steady stream of information came from various sources about the desperate straits of the Jews in the occupied areas. Governments, church organizations and media in the United States, England and other neutral and Allied countries were informed in considerable detail and under difficult circumstances of the atrocities being committed by the Nazis.
Intelligence services, journalists, resistance movements, diplomats, refugees and even Jews who escaped from Auschwitz and other camps reported specific instances of murder and, in a later phase of the war, brought horrific details of the ongoing genocide with them from the occupied zone. Methods, numbers of victims and locations were all made known at a relatively early stage.
Reactions to the terrible news came from many different groups. The Jewish communities in America and England, for instance, organized protest gatherings and demonstrations. They made passionate appeals to their governments to end the genocide. Jewish leaders also attempted to convince the politicians in power. Although protests were made from various sides, no clearly directed actions against the atrocities were taken during the rest of the war.
Auschwitz was not bombed, nor were any other military efforts taken to prevent the genocide. In addition, the news concerning the mass murder of Jews did not occupy a prominent place in either the official statements of the Allies or the majority of the newspapers. The statements after the conference in Bermuda in April of 1943, in which the British and Americans finally discussed the situation of the Jews, were extremely disappointing. Newspapers like the New York Times‚ and the British Evening Standard‚ mostly carried only brief general reports on an inside page.
Why was that? Didn't people believe what was happening? Did they not care, or was there an atmosphere of anti-Semitism? Were there other priorities? Why did such a large percentage of the world close their eyes to the genocide of civilians in Europe? These questions are addressed in the documentary "Messengers without an Audience" with the help of many witnesses, both prominent and previously unknown.
The Messengers: Gerhart Riegner, Jan Karski, Jan Nowak, Wladislav Bartoszewski.
The most prominent witnesses, Dr. Gerhart Riegner and Professor Jan Karski, unfortunately past away before the documentary was finished. Both men were active in supplying information to the Allied governments.
The documentary examines the role of the Americans during WWII and the reasons for ignoring the dramatic murder campaign executed by the Nazis. Was it anti-Semitism, common at the time amongst high officials of the American State Department? Was it shared by President Roosevelt? Was their claim to focus on other priorities valid?
The two Americans speaking about the subject are William Slany, chief historian of the State Department and Stuart Eizenstat, former US-Undersecretary of State.