Top positive review
427 people found this helpful
on 26 April 2006
Many documentaries exist regarding the concentration and extermination camps but not many have Sir Ian Kershaw as the script supervisor. To have the world's authority on the Nazi state work on such a project speaks volumes for its quality.
This 6 part series focusses on the emergence of Auschwitz as a detention centre for political prisoners and eventually its transformation as a killing centre for the Jews of eastern europe. It's flawless in its design and presentations. Even the music used at times, for me in particular, the Symphony of Sorrowful songs, really hit home the gravity of the whole thing.
The series used computer technology to recreate the gas chambers and crematoria with striking accuracy. These reconstructions are based around documents only recently found. This part in particular I found fascinating. It is one thing to look at maps of Auschwitz in books, but quite another to be taken on a virtual tour down dimly lit corridors to a huge gas chamber.
Interviews are given from a huge variety of people ranging from SS guards who (allegedly) did not like working at Auschwitz, Polish prisoners, Jewish prisoners, Slovakian guards, gypsies and Soviet prisoners.
Some of the stories the people interviewed tell are genuinly moving, such as the story of the SS guard who fell in love with a Jewish woman (interviewed) and his determination to save her sister for her but unfortunatly could not save the children. The Jewsih woman expresses that she hated the guard but eventually admits she loved him for what he did and gave evidence on his defence at his post war trial. Another story was of a Nazi official who, upon realising the ghetto was to be liquidated, hid as many Jews as he could, and actually risked his life by driving into the ghetto with trucks and simply driving the Jews elsewhere. He is now remembered in the Avenue of the Righteous in Jerusalem. Such acts of humanity among the seemingly endless stories of evil stick with the viewer.
Other stories made me wonder about the mentaility of those telling them. Some, such as the Slovakian guard, show no remorse at their past deeds and even smirk while telling their stories. Their defense 'they were convinced that the Jews deserved it'. Sickening, but nonetheless represents the mentaility of the perpetrators. We will never understand their actions, but their comments show their pattern of thought.
This series also made cry at times. In particular the Jewish woman who claimed the worst part of what she had to deal with was going home. She claimed that the thought that some day she might go home gave her the drive to survive, but when it finally did happen, it was the worst thing she had to deal with as her home was no longer hers, and the town's inhabitants were as hostile to her as the Nazis were. Another story was one of Dr Mengele's twin children used for experimentation who remembered being liberated by the Soviet Army and being given chocolate. She said that they soliders also attempted to cuddle them and that meant more than anything because they had been starved of love for so long.
The footage of tiny children going to the gas chambers, or going to Dr Mengele's labs, was enough to make me sick to my stomach but as one of the Jewish men interviewed said 'this must not be forgotten. What happened must never be forgotten'. He's standing in a muddy field and looks around him, turns to the camera and says "My father and brother are buried here, you know." On a similar note, an ex-SS guard interviewed said a similar thing. That the only reason he was appearing was to emphasise that what happened at Auschwitz must be remembered so that it does not happen again.
What is so refreshing about this particular telling of Auschwitz's story is that almost every party involved has the chance to have their say. Too frequently such documentaries are obviously anti-German but this is not the case. The series looks at many of the countries of Europe in turn and how they gave up their Jewish citizens to the Nazis. It was shocking in particular to hear that the Slovaks had paid the Nazi state to have their Jewish citizens taken away. It was also striking to hear the lengths the people of Denmark went to in order to protect their Jewish citizens. Another area I was disgusted at was being shown a telegram from the British Government who by that point knew the goings on in Auschwitz. They had been offered 1 million Jews in return for military trucks. They refused, believing it to be blackmail. The telegram goes on to mention that they did not want Germans unloading Jews onto Britain (paraphrasing). Horrific. One Jewish lady interviewed stated that the whole world forgot about them. It's sad to say I think she was right.
What struck me the most was the fact that almost every party states what happened so frankly. The Slovakian guard giggles when he tells of the time he helped himself to the Jews' possessions once they had been sent away for "evacuation". A Jewish prisoner just shrugs when he is asked why he smothered an apparent German prisoner during transportation, having spent years in Auschwitz. When confronted about their actions, both act in a similar way. They look away from the camera as if it all happened in another lifetime, to another man. One man interviewed, a Polish political prisoner if I remember correctly, said when describing Auschwitz; "Death. Death. Death. Death in the evening. Death in the afternoon. We lived with death."
Auschwitz is unbiased and broad in terms of verbal sources and also offers insights into the mind of Rudolph Hoess using his journals.
I could go on forever reviewing this series but to be honest, all that needs to be said is this in a very well written and presented piece of work. You will not find a broader ranging source for the development of Auschwitz anywhere. Nor will you find one created around the expert advice of Ian Kershaw.
Absolutely first class and should be mandatory viewing for everyone.