The Nazis: A Warning From History
exposes the popular myths surrounding the rise and fall of the Third Reich. The series explores how the Nazis came to power, how they ruled, how they treated their occupied territories and above all, how a cultured nation could be responsible for such acts of inhumanity.
Through compelling interviews and archive film and records, the series paints an astonishing and often unpalatable picture of Nazi rule. Contemporaries recall the true extent of Hitlers power, eye-witnesses describe the horrors perpetrated on the Eastern Front, specially shot film in Lithuania reveals the development of the Final Solution and ordinary Germans shed new light on the relationship between the Party and the people.
Arguably one of the most important documentary series ever made, 1997's The Nazis: A Warning from History
sets out to show that, far from being a uniquely German aberration, Nazism fed upon and was fostered by the prejudices and lemming-like inclinations of ordinary people. Although culminating with the atrocities of the Holocaust, these programmes are equally good on the motives of otherwise perfectly normal people, who needed only the tacit encouragement of the regime to perpetrate horrors against their enemies, their neighbours, or their own family. When confronted with evidence of their Nazi past, elderly former party members are often unable to find any other justification for their actions than simply that they could get away with it. Far from being a monolithic dictatorship which compelled the citizenry to act in rigidly prescribed ways, the Nazi state just allowed people to give their worst inclinations free reign.
Hitler, it turns out, was a profoundly lazy man who rarely got out of bed before midday, and preferred to leave affairs of state to sort themselves out. He subscribed fervently to the doctrine of survival of the fittest as applied to all social and political matters, and actively encouraged in-fighting among his subordinates. The result was an organisational vacuum at the centre of state, which super-ambitious acolytes were only too eager to fill, often acting on nothing more than the Fuhrer's off-the-cuff remarks. One small example is revealing: after reading a letter from the father of a disabled child, Hitler agreed that it would be best for the boy to die. From this single statement arose a nationwide policy of euthanasia for all disabled children, carried out willingly and without compulsion by the doctors and "carers" themselves. It needed nothing more than the Fuhrer's nod. The message is clear and shocking: it happened in Germany, it could happen anywhere.
On the DVD: The Nazis: A Warning from History has six episodes spread across two discs. Picture and sound are standard TV quality; notable is the evocative use of Brahms's German Requiem as the series' theme. Other than subtitles, there are no extra features. -Mark Walker