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Hollywood's First Holocaust Film Rediscovered

None Shall Escape promotional poster (Photo: wikicommons)

In the seven decades since the darkest chapter in Jewish history occurred, many artists have attempted to portray the Holocaust on film, in writing, and through other media. However, Tablet's Thomas Doherty writes about None Shall Escape, the very first Holocaust movie that was made - while World War II had two more years to go - and that has now been rediscovered after more than 70 years:

Part prophecy, part educated guess, None Shall Escape is a one-of-a-kind film: the only wartime Hollywood production to depict what would later be called the Holocaust—a flash-forward to an unimaginable event somehow imagined on a backlot at Columbia Pictures in 1943. Viewed today, the machine-gun slaughter of a group of Polish Jews being rounded up for deportation and herded into boxcars plays as docudrama. In its time, it must have seemed wild fantasy or jingoistic propaganda.

Unavailable on (legal) DVD, seldom screened on the repertory circuit, and cropping up only sporadically on TCM, a serviceable 35mm print of None Shall Escape is now in circulation. It played in May at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and will be shown tonight, Nov. 1, at the Wasserman Cinematheque at Brandeis University. The 35mm screenings are prelude to a full-on restoration for Home Entertainment release and on DCP for wider theatrical exposure by Sony Pictures.

Directed by Hungarian émigré Andre DeToth, shot by ace cinematographer Lee Garmes, and scripted by Lester Cole from an original story by Joseph Than and Alfred Neumann, None Shall Escape was an ambitious, albeit low-budget, project from the often B-movie-class specialists at Columbia Pictures. After a couple of title changes (in preproduction the film was called The Day Will Come, and then Lebensraum), the studio settled on None Shall Escape, a callback to a promise made by FDR to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.

Shot and edited from Aug. 31 to Oct. 26, 1943 (not until June 6, 1944 would the Allies storm the beaches at Normandy), the film looks forward to a postwar reckoning in which a United Nations-like Tribunal sits in judgment of a Nazi war criminal whose twisted course is traced in flashback from 1919 onward. “The time of our story is the future,” reads an introductory scroll. “The war is over. As was promised, the criminals of this war have been taken back to the scenes of their crimes for trial. In fact, as our leaders promised”—and here the screen devotes full frame to the boldfaced imperative—“None Shall Escape”...

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