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Posted October 1, 2010
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Just When You Think Know All About The Nazis...
One of the most astonishing things about the history of World War II is that once we think we know all we need to know about the Nazis, historians manage to find out something else about them. And that something else only makes them more evil and horrifying than we expected. When the BBC made "The Nazis: A Warning From History" in 2004, it attracted huge ratings, which is almost unheard of for a documentary. There are many reasons for that. One of them is that there still remains a great interest in the topic. Just the title alone is enough for me. The horrible legacy that Adolf Hitler and his kind left behind serves as a warning for all of us. Another reason for the series' success is what it reveals about The Nazis, some of which has never been known before.
The first installment of the six-part series is called "Helped Into Power" and the title is appropriate. It shows how Hitler managed to escape serious jail time in the 1920's thanks to a judge sympathetic to the Nazi cause. A cause that had its roots not only in anti-Semitism but also in the misleading notion that many Germans felt betrayed by the end of World War I, feeling that they were no more responsible for the war than anyone. By this time, however, the country's fragile democracy was ripped apart by The Great Depression; poverty and unemployment now found Germans tilting towards either Communism or Fascism.
Since the Nazis were obsessed with strict order, another episode, "Chaos and Consent", details how Hitler developed a "law of the jungle" atmosphere even among those who worked for him, making underlings ruthlessly battle each other for job positions and for Hitler's affections. This constant need for Hitler's approval would lead to a medical decision which prove to be as disturbing as the Holocaust.
Not suprisingly, there is an episode about the Holocaust, "The Road To Treblinka" and I was amazed at how unlike Dachau and Auschwitz, there is very little remaining of the Treblinka death camp. There are interviews with some who witnessed (and participated) in this atrocity and hardly any of them show pangs of conscience. More unsettling, though, is "The Wild East", a terrifying look at Nazi rule in Poland in just the first two years of occupation. Here the Nazis treated the Polish people just as badly as the Jews, in which the slightest infractions like talking back lead to immediate executions by the thousands. We learn, among other things, that this is where "ethnic clensing" got its name.
As the series comes to its end, we realize that the Nazis couldn't stop fighting for a number of reasons. One of them was that, unlike the Italians who replaced Mussolini with their king, Hitler abolished all political parties and left the Germans with no other choice. Another reason was that the Nazis committed so many atrocities among the Russians that this would come back to haunt them in the final days of the war. The interviews with those who suffered when the Russians advanced towards Berlin are heartbreaking.
For anyone who likes "Victory At Sea" or "The World At War", this series comes highly recommended. Because, as the title suggests, no democracy is safe. And that it could happen again anywhere.
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Posted May 22, 2014
Posted January 31, 2010
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