Universal Diptych

Universal Hotel

is a meditation on eleven photographs and two drawings of a Polish prisoner of war who was forced to participate with a German prostitute in a deep cold and rewarming experiment conducted by Dr. Sigmund Rascher at Dachau in 1942. The film leads to the evidence in several countries and searches for an appropriate interpretation and remembrance of the event. In the collection of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial and shown there regularly for international study groups. Director: Peter Thompson. Cinematographer: Peter Thompson. Editor: Greg Snider. 1986. 23 minutes.

Universal Citizen

is a meditation on attempts to film a smuggler in the Peten Jungle of Guatemala. The smuggler, an ex-inmate of Dachau, refuses to be filmed except at a distance. The filmmaker's pursuit along jungle roads and through Mayan ruins leads to the discovery of the true subject of the film. Director: Peter Thompson; Cinematographer: Peter Thompson; Editors: Peter Thompson, Greg Snider, Sherrie Gal. Video, color, 23 minutes. 1986.

Selected Reviews

"As the Director of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, I have had the opportunity to view a considerable number of documentaries recalling the fate of those resisting or suffering the Nazi regime. Often filmmakers are striving to reconstruct history on a large scale…. Your film uses a completely different approach. Indeed, you offer the viewer a new mode of vision. Using only a few photographs and drawings which you collected from different people and in different countries, you concentrate on one person, only. With minimal sources, underlined by the account of your search for information, the film becomes an extraordinarily moving experience…. Visitors from more than one hundred different countries visit Dachau each year. Most are young people. There are many discussions and seminars where these young people coming from different cultural backgrounds try to find the meaning of the lesson that can be learned in Dachau today. Your film "Universal Hotel" has proven to successfully stimulate intercultural discussions. Spectators are moved by this small, forgotten piece of history presented in an unconventional way. It might help them to understand and perhaps learn from the past."

Barbara Distel
Director of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial
Letter to filmmaker, July 3, 1989

"To complete this film, Thompson had to visit six separate archives in seven countries to find the complete sequence of 12 photographs."

Robert A. Cohn
St. Louis Jewish Light, Sept. 20, 1989

"Thompson sees himself (and, by implication, everyone) living between the dynamics of family and history. For Thompson, the tendency to render the individual anonymous, the inevitability of personal loss, and the delicate transitoriness of human relationships are the benchmarks of universal citizenship."

Steve Harp
Afterimage, Summer 1988

"An ambitious and dense interweaving of objective and subjective elements yielding a complex personal travelogue."

Jonathan Rosenbaum
"Critic's Choice", The Reader

"As Thompson puts it, 'Universal Hotel/Univesal Citizen' deals with three main themes: 'the emotional thawing of men by women, the struggle to disengage remembrance from historical anonymity, and unrecoverable loss.... Thompson’s family proves to be as relevant to this investigation as his aloneness with his ideas over years of reflection; the mysterious coalescence of disparate strands in a varied life is one of the many byproducts of this sustained and haunting historical meditation."

Jonathan Rosenbaum
ARTPAPERS, Sept./Oct. 1989