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
United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2.4 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital Stereo ), English ( Subtitles ), SPECIAL FEATURES: 2-DVD Set, Black & White, Interactive Menu, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: Examines the reality behind the seemingly well-structured and ordered Nazi party in government, and how despite the regimented displays and image of the dictator Fuhrer the actual rule of government was more haphazard. Covers the disposal of Rahm and bureaucratic set ups and rivalries within the main government building. Looks at how ideas and policies often came about through rival party officials jostling for influence and favour with Hitler and formulating policies based on what they thought he wanted and on vague ideas or statements from Hitler. It also considers how the Gestapo could not have worked so effectively without the support or information from the populace, and looks at many surviving examples of letters sent to the authorities denouncing neighbours or relatives, including an interview with a woman who wrote such a letter. Also looks at how the policy of official euthanasia for mentally or physically handicapped children and adults came into being and at attitudes to anyone who was 'different' in any way. SCREENED/AWARDED AT: BAFTA Awards, ...The Nazis: A Warning from History - 2-DVD Set (UK)