HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Cpl. Murray Goldblatt of the U.S. Army was "a tourist in uniform" as World War II came to a close in Europe in 1945.
Armed with a 16 mm film camera, he captured images of notable landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, just like any other tourist.
His film also shows jubilant crowds as the Americans drove their tanks down the streets of liberated cities, GIs enjoying some down time and a treat — Jack Benny, Ingrid Bergman and opera star Grace Moore visiting the troops.
But as Darrin Archer of Hagerstown watched the footage at the invitation of Goldblatt's friend, Robert Gatarz, he realized he was seeing a rare record of global history unfolding.
Among the more than 50 minutes of amateur film was footage of what U.S. soldiers found at the death camps of Buchenwald and Dachau.
Archer, president of Washington County-based Infinity9Films, said he knew the film was "a rare find, and there was only one place it could go."
So on Monday, the 72nd anniversary of V-E Day, Archer and Infinity9 partners Katherine Archer and Gus Zucco gathered at Bridge of Life Church in downtown Hagerstown with local officials, clergy and Gatarz to formally donate the film to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Gatarz and Goldblatt had become friends years ago when they both lived in Princeton, New Jersey. When Goldblatt and his partner decided to move to a retirement community, the former soldier asked Gatarz, a film collector, if he wanted some footage he had from his service in World War II.
Gatarz, who now lives in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, accepted the gift and brought it with him when he moved to the area.
When Gatarz was cast in an upcoming World War II film Infinity9 is producing, he mentioned the footage to Archer. After watching it, they realized it needed to be available to everyone.
For the past few weeks, they have been busy with staff at the Holocaust museum arranging the donation.
At Monday night's ceremony, archivist Lindsay Zarwell of the museum's Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive accepted the film, noting its importance in teaching people who are increasingly distant from the events it depicts.
Zarwell noted that the U.S. Army Signal Corps had shot film of the death camp liberations, but a number of servicemen also had shot "personal, intimate frames" of the events that never were intended to be shared publicly.
But they add to the record of what happened in Europe during the war, she said.
The archives will digitize and preserve the original film.
Zarwell told Herald-Mail Media it should be available online to anyone who wants to watch it in about three months — along with the more than 5,000 other films now in the archives.
Del. Brett Wilson, R-Washington, observed that access to the film will help "preserve a history that has to be remembered."
People consider the events of the Holocaust to be inhuman, but, in reality, they were "all too human. If we don't remember these things, we may allow ourselves to repeat them," he said.
"America is a forward-thinking country, but the past matters. The survivors are quickly fading, and the evidence of what those victims suffered is increasingly important," said Rabbi Ari Plost of Congregation B'nai Abraham in Hagerstown.
But he warned that "we can become so disturbed by the images that we become numb."
Only a few took courageous actions during the war "to save another's life," he said.
"Loving our neighbor can be the difference between life and death," Plost said.
Although the Holocaust Memorial Museum has an overwhelming number of artifacts and documents, "we're always seeking more," Zarwell said.
Each piece adds to the understanding of the Holocaust, she said.
Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com
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