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The Documentary Film Satan at His Best (UK, 1995, directed by Maurice Hatton)

The British documentary film Satan at His Best is based on interviews that Maurice Hatton conducted with 13 former British prisoners of war who were interned in the E715 POW camp in Auschwitz and forced to work for I.G. Farben there. The title is taken from the interview with Arthur Dodd, who says in the film that he cried and prayed every night in Auschwitz and, in light of what he saw there, thought, “That was Satan at his best. Satan doing his best work, actually.”


In the opening credits, old photographs of young men in uniform—presumably the men who were interviewed—are seen, accompanied by the rattling of a train. In what follows, the film limits itself completely to the interview clips and a few intertitles. The intertitles give only the most essential information about the historical background, so that the viewers can integrate the interviewees’ statements into the happenings in Auschwitz, which are assumed to be already familiar, and the construction of a factory there by I.G. Farben, using thousands of Jewish concentration camp prisoners. Some of the intertitles also serve as chapter headings for the following interview clips, such as “What you could, you did,” “Up the chimney, ” or “That still upsets me.”


The film concentrates on showing the faces of the men interviewed and giving their statements. The first time an interviewee appears, his name, military rank, and unit are faded in. Narrative sequences, often quite short, from various interviews are grouped in thematic units, each of which seeks to shed light on some aspect of the Auschwitz experiences from several perspectives. No information is provided, however, about the interviewees’ individual biographies, their lives before the war, when and where they fell into enemy hands, and their lives after the war.


The statements of the former British POWs in Satan at His Best concentrate entirely on their experiences in I.G. Auschwitz, centering on their encounters with the mostly Jewish prisoners. They speak of the prisoners’ poor clothing and miserable diet, and of how relatively well the British POWs fared, partly thanks to the Red Cross parcels. This, they say, led them to help prisoners repeatedly, especially by giving them food, though it was strictly forbidden. The brutal dealings of the I.G. Farben employees, SS, and Kapos with the concentration camp inmates, along with the ever-present threat of punishment and the gas chambers, are mentioned and vividly depicted in several episodes. The former British prisoners of war also relate their attempts to sabotage the building of the plant as they worked. Toward the end of the film, the interviewees talk about the westward march from Auschwitz in January 1945: on the way, they found the corpses of the prisoners who had marched out a few days before them, and they witnessed shootings. The last few minutes of the film deal with the impossibility of forgetting what they went through, the resulting psychological problems of the former British POWs, and the lack of interest in their experiences that they encountered in Great Britain in the immediate postwar period.

(MN; transl. KL)


Title: Satan at His Best

Country: UK

Year: 1995

Direction: Maurice Hatton

Interviewees: Alfred Battams, Douglas Bond, Archie Dando, Arthur Dodd, William Driscol, George Duffree, Frank Harris, Don Harvey, Cyril Quartermaine, Ronald Redman, Eric Reeves, Richard Ridgers, Alfred Stowe.

Length: 53 min.