Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine (2014) Reflection

This evening on Netflix, I watched Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine (2014), a documentary about a Holocaust extermination camp that has been covered up by the Nazis for decades. It was produced and directed by Alex Nikolic-Dunlop. Up until this documentary was released, there was no hard evidence of the existence of gas chambers in Treblinka; only eye-witness accounts and Nazi confessions opposed the idea that Treblinka was merely a transition camp. However, in this film, forensic scientist Caroline Sturdy Colls and her team of archaeologists finally uncovered fragments of the buildings in which these mass murders took place.

Usually documentaries don’t strike me as anything but intriguing, but this particular film both interested me and moved me. I think it really succeeded in providing a lot of information to its audience, but also reminded them that all of this happened to real people with their own lives and personalities. For example, while the narrator was describing the process in which the Nazis unloaded the Jews from the train and brought them to their deaths, the director chose to show B-roll of a bunch of family photos of Jews who were murdered in the concentration camp. While the information was purely objective, the photos humanized the victims and really made the viewers sympathize with them. The director also made the decision to show the leader of the excavation, Colls, crying during the dig. She was so horrified and saddened by her finds that she was moved to tears, and this part of the film really showed how taxing this entire experience was on the crew.

It was also really obvious to me that this was a well budgeted film. There were a lot of aerial shots of the entire area of Treblinka, and there were all sorts of interesting camera angles. One that was particularly bizarre was a shot where they put the camera in one of the trenches so that it looked like we were looking up at the archaeologist. There were a lot of shots from the helicopter they flew over the land, and a few shots where they put the camera on the side of their car to show the wheels and the road (I’m assuming this required some decent equipment to achieve).

Another interesting factor that the director added was the inclusion of old photos, videos, and documents. The inclusion of these different medias was refreshing; instead of watching fifty minutes of footage from the dig, the audience got a lot of alternation between this footage and old records. They also included virtual maps that showed Treblinka in relation to other concentration camps as well as the size and the landscape.

Overall, I thought this documentary was really well done. It was one of the only times that a documentary has really affected me; I felt a mixture of morbid interest, horror, and sorrow. The camera angles and quick cuts kept my attention and I learned a lot of new information about the Holocaust.