Witty, macabre playing cards comment on the fresh horrors of the Nazi concentration camps
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Boris Kobe
These fascinating playing cards are the work of a Slovenian artist named Boris Kobe who was held by the Nazis as a political prisoner in Allach, which was a sub-camp of the Dachau concentration camp near Munich. Kobe lived to see the end of the war, and was a very successful architect in his native Slovenia afterwards; he died well into his seventies in 1981. His most prominent project after the war was probably the restoration of the Ljubljana Castle with Jože Plečnik.

As I see it, it’s a little unclear when and where these cards were made. Sources uniformly describe them as having been made “at Allach”—yet at least one of them appears to have been made after the Allied liberation of the camp, and it’s difficult to imaging Kobe hanging around the camp for very long after that. Certainly there wasn’t weeks of clandestine card games going on after that crucial moment. It’s difficult to tell, but there might be a little rhetorical sleight of hand going on there.

Whatever the case, the cards are simply remarkable. First, they look pretty great; Kobe was a gifted caricaturist, and there’s a lot of pleasure to be gained simply from looking at them. But most importantly, they show a life at Dachau close-up in the frankest terms. The cards depict inmates and guards alike, although most of the figures depicted are inmates forced to do back-breaking work, crowded into bunk beds,  disrobing en masse, and, of course, as a pile of skeletons. The king of clubs is depicted as a skeleton.

As I mentioned, these cards were almost certainly created after the liberation of Allach on April 22, 1945 by the 42nd Rainbow Division of the U.S. Army. How do we know this? It’s apparently depicted in one of the cards: Card XXI seems to show liberation, the Slovenian flag, and a tombstone-like image marked “Allach” that is being consumed by flames.

The cards are intended for a game variously called Tarock/Tarot, but the word tarot here is likely to be misleading to English-speaking audiences. Tarock/Tarot is a trick-based game like spades or gin that was popular in the Habsburg Empire and Europe generally for centuries. So this is not a tarot deck in the occult sense as we would think of it; that should be obvious from a glance at the cards, which lack characters like The Fool, The Magician, The Hanged Man, The Sun, and so on. To their creator Kobe and whomever else originally used them, it was just a regular deck of playing cards. I have family in Austria and on my visits there we would sometimes play a related game called “Schnapsen” which didn’t require four players and used a restricted deck, I think the cards only went down as far as the eight card. Basically a game of Schnapsen there was equivalent to the way dominoes is played in a lot of places, you’d play it aimlessly and shoot the shit and gossip.

See the complete deck at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies website hosted by the University of Minnesota. The original deck is at the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia.
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
More of these amazing cards after the jump….

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Alfred Hitchcock’s unseen Holocaust documentary to be restored

It is claimed Alfred Hitchcock was so traumatized after viewing footage of the liberation of the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp that the legendary film director stayed away from Pinewood Film Studios for a week.

Hitchcock had been enlisted by friend and patron, Sidney Bernstein to make a documentary on German atrocities carried out during the Second World War. The director was to use footage shot by British and Soviet film units during the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. The material was so disturbing that Hitchcock’s complete film has rarely been seen. Speaking to the Independent newspaper, Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator at the Department of Research, Imperial War Museum, said:

“It was suppressed because of the changing political situation, particularly for the British. Once they discovered the camps, the Americans and British were keen to release a film very quickly that would show the camps and get the German people to accept their responsibility for the atrocities that were there.”

According to Patrick McGilligan in his biography Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light:

[Hitchcock met] with two writers who had witnessed the atrocities of Bergen-Belsen first-hand. Richard Crossman contributed a treatment, while Colin Wills, an Australian correspondent, wrote a script that relied heavily on narration.

The director had committed himself to the project early enough to give Hitchcockian instructions to some of the first cameramen entering the concentration camps. Hitchcock made a point of requesting “long tracking shots, which cannot be tampered with,” in the words of the film’s editor, Peter Tanner, so that nobody could claim the footage had been manipulated to falsify the reality. The footage was in a newsreel style, but generally of high quality, and some of it in color.


The footage spanned eleven concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ebensee, and Mathausen. The filmmakers ended up with eight thousand feet of film and newsreel, some of it shot by allied photographers, the rest of it impounded. It was to be cut and assembled into roughly seven reels.

Hitchcock watched “all the film as it came in,” recalled Tanner, although the director “didn’t like to look at it.” The footage depressed both of them: the piles of corpses, the staring faces of dead children, the walking skeletons. The days of looking at the footage were long and unrelievedly grim.

In the end, the planned film took Hitchcock and his team much longer than anticipated, and when it was delivered, the perceived opinion was the documentary would not help with Germany’s postwar reconstruction. Despite protests from Bernstein and Hitchcock, the documentary was dumped and five of the film’s six reels were deposited at the Imperial War Museum, where they were quietly forgotten.

Some later thought Hitchcock’s claims of making a Holocaust documentary were mere flights of fancy, that was until 1980, when an American researcher discovered the forgotten five reels listed as “F3080” in the Museum’s archives. These were screened at the Berlin Film Festival in 1985, and this incomplete and poor quality version was then shown on PBS under the title Memory of the Camps, with its original commentary by Crossman and Wills, narrated by Trevor Howard.

Now, the Imperial War Museum has painstakingly restored all six reels according to Hitchcock’s original intentions. This has led to some “wariness” over seeing the documentary as a “Hitchcock film” rather than as an important and horrific record of Nazi atrocities.

Haggith, who worked as an advisor on the project, has said the film is “much more candid” than any previous Holocaust documentary, and has described it as “brilliant” and “sophisticated.”

“It’s both an alienating film in terms of its subject matter but also one that has a deep humanity and empathy about it. Rather than coming away feeling totally depressed and beaten, there are elements of hope.

“We can’t stop the film being incredibly upsetting and disturbing but we can help people understand why it is being presented in that way.

“Judging by the two test screenings we have had for colleagues, experts and film historians, what struck me was that they found it extremely disturbing.

“When you’re sitting in a darkened cinema and you’re focusing on a screen, your attention is very focused, unlike watching it on television… the digital restoration has made this material seem very fresh. One of the common remarks was that it [the film] was both terrible and brilliant at the same time.”

Work on Hitchcock’s documentary is almost complete, and the film (with as yet to be announced new title) will be shown on British TV in early 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the “liberation” of Europe. The film will also be screened at film festivals and in the cinema.

The following is the 5-reel version of Hitchcock’s documentary. Warning: the film contains horrific and disturbing images, which may not be suitable viewing for all.

Via the ‘Independent’ with thanks to Tara!

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment