Matthew Nash is an associate professor of photography at Lesley University's Art Institute of Boston and director of "16 Photographs at Ohrdruf," a documentary about the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by U.S. troops. The film won the Founder's Choice Award at last weekend's GI Film Festival in Alexandria.
How did the film come about?
When my grandfather died in 1991 we found these pictures that he had taken during World War II that he had never talked about it, and it showed the liberation of a concentration camp. It was Ohrdruf. My grandmother was really upset by the pictures and threatened to destroy them, so my sister and I made copies. A few years later I decided to take them out of the boxes and look at them again, and once I did it was kind of this rabbit hole that got deeper and deeper. The film is me trying to figure out what the pictures tell us.
What was the final product?
I started trying to find historians and other people who might be able to tell me what I had. I ended up focusing not on the camp. I didn't want another "Nazis are evil, Jews are victims" story, so I focused on the liberators instead, the American GIs. So I tracked them down to get their stories. It's the story of the other guys who were there, and I tried to put the viewers in the boots of those guys.
How did it feel to take home this award?
It feels great, obviously. But really it's the story of what these guys did and what happened in April of 1945. Any award for the film is mostly an accolade for these men. I just feel lucky I got to share their story. On the personal side, I understood my grandfather better, and more generally I understood why he and a lot of people who served then didn't talk about it after.
- Steve Contorno