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HISTORY

       An article in the Mar 1993 issue of Mirabella magazine noted that co-director Nina Rosenblum’s father, who served in the Army Signal Corps in World War II, filmed inside some German concentration camps during the liberation. Nina Rosenblum, a Jewish woman from Queens, NY, and co-director William Miles, an African American former National Guardsman, worked on Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II over the course of ten years. Financing came mostly from European television pre-sales, as noted in a 21 Oct 1992 LAT article.
       The film opened 23 Oct 1992 at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, and ran for one week to qualify for Academy Award consideration. On Veteran’s Day, 11 Nov 1992, the documentary aired over the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). It was also shown at the Berlin International Film Festival as part of the “American Independents and Features Abroad” series.
       Shortly after the television premiere, a special screening was held at the Apollo Theatre in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, which was attended by 1,200 “members and leaders of the Jewish and African-American communities,” including Jesse Jackson and Mayor David Dinkins. It was hoped that the documentary would help ease tensions between New York City Jews and African Americans after a recent incident in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. There, a black seventeen-year-old had recently been tried for murdering a Rabbinical student and acquitted. Riots and violence between the two communities ensued.
       The film received an International Documentary Association award, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Before the Academy Awards aired on 29 Mar 1993, ... More Less

       An article in the Mar 1993 issue of Mirabella magazine noted that co-director Nina Rosenblum’s father, who served in the Army Signal Corps in World War II, filmed inside some German concentration camps during the liberation. Nina Rosenblum, a Jewish woman from Queens, NY, and co-director William Miles, an African American former National Guardsman, worked on Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II over the course of ten years. Financing came mostly from European television pre-sales, as noted in a 21 Oct 1992 LAT article.
       The film opened 23 Oct 1992 at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, and ran for one week to qualify for Academy Award consideration. On Veteran’s Day, 11 Nov 1992, the documentary aired over the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). It was also shown at the Berlin International Film Festival as part of the “American Independents and Features Abroad” series.
       Shortly after the television premiere, a special screening was held at the Apollo Theatre in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, which was attended by 1,200 “members and leaders of the Jewish and African-American communities,” including Jesse Jackson and Mayor David Dinkins. It was hoped that the documentary would help ease tensions between New York City Jews and African Americans after a recent incident in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. There, a black seventeen-year-old had recently been tried for murdering a Rabbinical student and acquitted. Riots and violence between the two communities ensued.
       The film received an International Documentary Association award, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Before the Academy Awards aired on 29 Mar 1993, a 15 Feb 1993 LAT item reported that PBS flagship station WNET-TV had pulled Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II due to complaints that it contained factual inaccuracies. An 18 Feb 1993 HR article quoted Jeffrey Goldberg, bureau chief for the Jewish weekly newspaper The Forward, as saying he had spoken to fifteen surviving members of the 761st Tank Battalion, and they confirmed that the film “grossly misrepresented” their wartime exploits. A 16 Feb 1993 HR brief noted that the 761st likely played a role in liberating other concentration camps, but Buchenwald and Dachau were not among them. In an 18 Feb 1993 LAT item, American Jewish Committee program specialist Kenneth Stern confirmed the 761st had participated in liberating “a smaller, lesser-known camp” but did not specify which one. According to a 22 Feb 1993 Var article, home video sales were also suspended. Nina Rosenblum responded to the controversy by admitting the film’s narration “might be misleading,” however, she also discredited one of Jeffrey Goldberg’s veteran sources, stating he had been “severely brain-damaged by shrapnel.” Goldberg defended his position in a 9 Sep 1993 LAT article, and stated his belief that Rosenblum and Miles misrepresented history out of “an honest desire” to ease tensions between the African American and Jewish communities. Meanwhile, Jon Wilkman, president of the International Documentary Association, spoke out in support of the film, saying it was “basically accurate,” as noted in a 19 Feb 1993 LAT item.
       WNET-TV conducted a review of the film, led by Emmy Award-winning documentarian Morton Silverstein and assisted by researchers Diane Wilson and Nancy Ramsey. Interviews with roughly 100 U.S. Army veterans, and Holocaust survivors who were interned at Buchenwald and Dachau, led to the conclusion that it contained several errors in addition to naming the wrong concentration camps, including “inaccurate dates for military events [and] the misattribution of still photographs and film footage of concentration camps.” WNET stated it would consider airing a corrected version of the film.
       End credits include: “Special Thanks: John Adams; Sarah Bender; Jeremiah Birnbaum; Elisha Birnbaum; Cynthia Bradshaw; Hilton Caston; Jerome Chanes; David Chick; Suzanne Coston; Michael C. Dagley; Pam Difede; Lewis Dodley; Nancy Friedman; Julie Gall/Galex Foundation; Kathy Gerhardt; Dan Gold; Cantor Sherwood Goffin; Neil Goldstein; Leon Goodman; Ruth Greenstein; Debbie Gruber/William Morris Agency; Leigh Haber; Dee Harris; Hillary Hawthorne; Annette Insdorf; Dr. Juanita Howard; Roz Kaye; Suzanne Klein; Jeremy Koch; Jackie Ioachim; Genya Markon; Sybil Milton; Fred Nadis; Bill Nisselson; Harriet Obus; Bill Owens; Frederick Owens; Naomi Paiss; Nic Pavecivic; John O’Neil Pettway; Tiffany Rosen; Walter and Naomi Rosenblum; Karen Salerno; Commissioner Lisa Rosenblum; Marie Salerno; Michael Shepley; Guy Spera; Lawrence E. Tooks; U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; Michelle Vallardaros; Betty Vaughn; Hilary Vlachos; Claire Wachtell; Alexandra White; Terrie Williams Agency; Phoebe Yantsios; Irwin Young”; “Produced in association with Thirteen/WNET for ‘The American Experience’”; “Funding provided by: Corporation for Public Broadcasting; Ford Foundationtion; New York State Council for the Arts; National Black Programming Consortiumtium; The Donnet Fund; Brooklyn Union Gas; Philip Morris Companies, Inc.Inc.; Foundations of the Milken Families; New York Amsterdam NewsNews; Moet & Hennessy U.S. Corporation; Knowledge Exchange”; “Co-producers: Channel Four/United Kingdom; WDR/Germany; La Sept/France; SBS/Australia.”

      The home video version viewed by AFI did not contain complete end credits; therefore, onscreen credits are not accurately represented. The following people’s names appear onscreen, but their roles could not be determined: Col. Jesse Johnson, Philip Latimer, Bernard C. Nalty, Dr. Leroy Ramsey, Johnnie Stevens.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Hollywood Reporter
16 Feb 1993.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 1993
p. 8, 31.
Los Angeles Times
21 Oct 1992
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
7 Nov 1992.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 Feb 1993
Section F, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
18 Feb 1993
Section F, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
19 Feb 1993.
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Sep 1993.
---
Mirabella
Mar 1993
pp. 68-69.
Variety
9 Nov 1992
p. 66.
Variety
22 Feb 1993.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Direct Cinema Limited Presents
A Film By William Miles and Nina Rosenblum
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Grip/Gaffer
Grip/Gaffer
Grip/Gaffer
Grip/Gaffer
Still photog
Still photog
Still photog
Still photog
Still photog
Still photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
Graphic des
FILM EDITORS
Apprentice ed
Editing room intern
Editing room intern
Editing room intern
Editing room intern
Negative matching
Video postprod
MUSIC
Orig mus
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec in charge
WNET
Exec in charge
WNET
Prod exec
American Experience - WGBH
Prod exec
WDR
Prod exec
Channel Four
Prod exec
La Sept
Contributing prod
Asst to the prod
Research by
Research by
Research by
Research by
Research by
Research by
Research by
Research by
Research by
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod coord/Germany
Prod coord/Israel
Prod coord/New York reunion
Intern
Intern
Intern
Footage archives
Footage archives
Footage archives
Footage archives
Footage archives
Footage archives
Footage archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Still archives
Bookkeeper
Legal
Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein and Selz
Legal
Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein and Selz
Legal
Hughes, Hubbard and Reed
Legal
Hughes, Hubbard and Reed
Legal
Hughes, Hubbard and Reed
Publicity consultant
ANIMATION
Anim cam
Anim cam
COLOR PERSONNEL
Film laboratory
Colorist
SOURCES
SONGS
"My Buddy," by Walter Donaldson & Gus Kahn, courtesy of the Walter Donaldson Family, the Gus Kahn Family, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., vocals Louis Price.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 October 1992
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 23 October 1992
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
88
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

African American World War II veterans recall their experiences as tankers and engineers in the 761st Tank Battalion and 183rd Engineer Battalion. Despite the “separate but equal” doctrine upheld in 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision, “Jim Crow” segregation, and rampant racism throughout the U.S., many African American men felt a patriotic duty to fight in the war. The U.S. Armed Forces remained segregated despite the efforts of Mary McCleod Bethune, a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unofficial “black cabinet,” and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. However, President Roosevelt did lift a ban on black soldiers in certain parts of the military, including the Marines, and made them eligible for officer training. William H. Hastie, an African American judge and educator, was appointed to oversee “Negro” military affairs. The changes represented civil rights progress, as African Americans had previously been limited to lowly military positions such as messman, orderly, and cook. However, injustice still prevailed. For instance, the first black combat hero, a messman named Dorie Miller who took up a fallen soldier’s gun and shot down at least two Japanese planes, was never promoted before he was killed in action two years later. Military training camps were primarily located in the South, and often run by racist white officers, who sometimes treated German prisoners of war better than their African American recruits. Paul Parks, who served in the 183rd Combat Engineers unit, went into town for supplies one day during training and was confused when the storekeeper told him to hide under a porch. He then realized that the African American soldier who had accompanied him into town ... +


African American World War II veterans recall their experiences as tankers and engineers in the 761st Tank Battalion and 183rd Engineer Battalion. Despite the “separate but equal” doctrine upheld in 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision, “Jim Crow” segregation, and rampant racism throughout the U.S., many African American men felt a patriotic duty to fight in the war. The U.S. Armed Forces remained segregated despite the efforts of Mary McCleod Bethune, a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unofficial “black cabinet,” and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. However, President Roosevelt did lift a ban on black soldiers in certain parts of the military, including the Marines, and made them eligible for officer training. William H. Hastie, an African American judge and educator, was appointed to oversee “Negro” military affairs. The changes represented civil rights progress, as African Americans had previously been limited to lowly military positions such as messman, orderly, and cook. However, injustice still prevailed. For instance, the first black combat hero, a messman named Dorie Miller who took up a fallen soldier’s gun and shot down at least two Japanese planes, was never promoted before he was killed in action two years later. Military training camps were primarily located in the South, and often run by racist white officers, who sometimes treated German prisoners of war better than their African American recruits. Paul Parks, who served in the 183rd Combat Engineers unit, went into town for supplies one day during training and was confused when the storekeeper told him to hide under a porch. He then realized that the African American soldier who had accompanied him into town was being dragged down the street from the back of a car. Parks watched in horror as his friend was murdered by racist Southerners. Due to ongoing segregation in the military, William H. Hastie eventually resigned from his position. When African Americans adopted Winston Churchill’s “V for Victory” symbol, it was dually symbolic of wartime patriotism, and of their struggle for civil rights at home. Leonard “Smitty” Smith and E.G. McConnell, members of the 761st Tank Battalion, also known as the “Black Panthers” unit, recall when General George S. Patton chose their battalion to support his Third Army in the Battle of the Bulge. Patton told the unit he selected them because of their reputation as excellent fighters. McConnell felt great pride at the time, although Patton later expressed racist views in his autobiography, stating his belief that African Americans lack the necessary reflexes for armored combat. The 761st eventually liberated inmates from the Buchenwald concentration camp. Almost fifty years after they liberated the camp, they visit Buchenwald with Benjamin Bender, who survived the Holocaust but lost both his parents and brother. Many concentration camp survivors saw black faces for the first time when they were liberated, but they viewed them as heroes and liberators, not second-class citizens as blacks were often treated by white Americans. Bender thanks Smith and McConnell for saving his life and planting the seeds for future generations to thrive. The men are touched by his gratitude. Remembering the day they entered the concentration camp, they recall the shock and horror of seeing emaciated and tortured human beings, piles of naked, dead bodies, and torture chambers. Some discovered jars of human body parts kept by “mad scientists” working at the camps, and bodies that had been frozen to death to determine how long German soldiers might survive in freezing conditions. The atrocities reminded them of lynching and race-related violence and hatred in the U.S. African American soldiers saw the evils of Nazism in a unique light due to their own oppression. E.G. McConnell laments that, although they were responsible for many accomplishments, including shutting down the Brussels-Bastogne Highway, the 761st Tank Battalion’s role in the Battle of the Bulge was not acknowledged for a long time after the war. He recalls receiving a purple heart from a racist general, who ignored his head wound and suggested McConnell was being treated in the military hospital for venereal disease. The recollection is painful, and reminds McConnell that bigotry persists regardless of his sacrifices. William McBurney, another soldier in the 761st, recalls the irony of returning home a war hero and being subjected to Jim Crow laws. It took thirty-three years for the 761st to be awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism – the highest award any unit can win – from President Jimmy Carter. The enduring gratitude of Holocaust survivors, and the opportunity to meet with them and share stories, provides a positive outlet for African American veterans. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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