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Sleep inducing, hypocritical, self-contradictory + with confusing timeline
on 14 October 2012
By the time I got to episode eight (Disc 2 of 4) I had found this series to be a very shambolic and confusing presentation, but it does get steadily better after disc 2. The poor presentation is a shame as there is a great deal of interesting and well-researched information here that goes into detailed aspects of Third Reich organisations that was unknown to me before. The problem is I found it so badly put-together and presented as to be hard to follow. (And I say that as someone who is starting to become a bit of a WW2 history buff, so come with some degree of knowledge already). Plus the commentary (although excellently read by Robert Powell) leaves a lot to be desired (more on that later).
Many episodes repeat the same footage and even sometimes the exact same information. That would be acceptable if there was some kind of clear timeline, but each episode jumps all over the place in terms of chronology, so it is hard to keep track of when anything being presented actually happened. We often get maps with the country written in giant bold capital letters. But as most of us easily recognise the UK, Austria and Germany, etc., on a map, I think it would have been more helpful to have had occasionally the year in big bold letters.
Then the footage accompanying the commentary at times seemed chosen very arbitrarily, to on occasion being quite wrong and out of synch with what we are being informed of.
E.g. 1. colour footage of Hitler in a grey raincoat putting on his gloves as he walks down the steps with Linge to his car at the Berghof (presumably from about 1941) is used over and over and over again. Sometimes for commentary of events from well BEFORE the outbreak of war AND also after. Confusing.
E.g. 2 In each episode on the first disc, everytime we get a mention of Bruno Gesche (which is often) we get shown the same photo's from the late thirties-early forties but with commentary referring to anywhere from 1920's onwards. (A. There DO exist photos of him from earlier not used and B. thus the need to visually clarify the timeline somehow)
E.g. 3. Everytime Josef Dietrich gets a mention (which again is in most every episode I have seen so far) we get the same Berghof colour footage from the 1940's again and again but used to go with commentary talking of anywhere from 1928 onwards.
Is this due to lazy picture-research, or perhaps a decision was taken to use the best footage available whenever possible, despite its relevance time-wise to what is being discussed? I presume the latter for which I give this such a low rating.
Then there's the background music which I found over-dramatic, repetitive and so dominant as to be irritating after a few episodes.
Then there's the speculation.
The commentary often describes what individual body guards were thinking on specific occasions. (How did they know. Did all these guys keep diaries?) And we are told that "everybody" hated Hitler and are informed it was amazing that he "cheated death for so long". And yet we repeatedly see footage of him strolling amongst adoring crowds shaking hands and receiving flowers. We are shown much film of him driving through apparently happy, flag-waving, flower throwing crowds in major cities, and after the Anschluss driving all the way from Berlin to Vienna in open-topped cars standing up so everyone can see him. All this but with never a protecting gun in sight. Gosh! How did he manage to stay alive so long when evrybody hated him and "many" wanted to kill him?
Then the hypocrisy.
The executions/murders of the SA leadership for treason/political manoeuvring (Night of the long knives) is presented as the action of simply 'murderous thugs'. Whereas when someone like the British Military Attaché in Berlin Mason-Mcfarlane is contemplating and suggesting to his superiors murdering Hitler in 1938 (before the outbreak of war), it is presented as a great chance regrettably missed. Hmmmm? So, when is political assassination the action of 'murderous thugs' and when is it the proper thing to do? This is typical of the victor-propaganda mentality prevalent throughout this series - the excusing and glorifying of ALLIED immorality but the condemning in exaggerated language of similar activities by Germans.
Then there's the bias and occasional distortion of History.
Poor old Mr. Chamberlain, he gets a slanted, partial and retroactive drubbing in Episode 6. (Ah, the beauty of hindsight.)
But to call him "the best bodyguard Hitler ever had" I thought a quite contemptible slur and the writers should be thoroughly ashamed of that distortion of history. Then in episode eight we get misinformed that Hitler was intent on world domination. (The view that Hitler wanted to conquer the entire world including the Western Hemisphere and Asia is a meme that has been created by Hollywood and largely biased historical texts and has little truth. He did not even want a war with Britain and sought hard to achive a peace agreement even after defeating Britain at Dunkirk.)
Then there's the quite ridiculous self-contradiction to distort our perception of historical fact.
For example this one, which is repeated at the beginning of EVERY episode:
"Winston Churchill had very few bodyguards while Hitler had thousands: he needed them! ...fate and the small number of hand picked bodyguards helped this evil genius to cheat death on so many occassions".
Huh? So,... Was it "thousands" or "a small number, hand-picked"? We are not told, and it is left as a repeated self-contradiction, the intention presumably being that we are to understand Adolf was 'evil' and 'hated' while Winston was 'good' and 'popular'!? Sheesh! what insultingly over-simplistic drivel.
Another example of the weakness of this documentary is how we are shown footage of the joy of the Austrians at the Anschluss (repatriation of Austria to Germany) yet hear it being explained away as Hitler's dastardly "land theft". How to reconcile that with the disconcerting accompanying footage of deliriously happy Austrians greeting the 'invading' German Soldiers with kisses, flowers and handshakes. Work that one out?
Then there is the example of propaganda relevant to today. I'm talking of the footage of the exile of German Jews to the Palestinian territories in the late 1930's. It comes with an accompanying commentary telling us that the Arabs who resisted the influx did so not because they resented the unwelcome European immigrants (who had no rights to their land but were being given residency status purely at the behest of the controlling British). No, we are informed that they objected simply because the unwelcome influx of large numbers of foreign immigrants were Jews. Oh, so that was why the Arabs were complaining...?! They were just anti-Semites? So, it had nothing to do with cultural and national identity resisting foreign land theft? Hmmmm?
Then we have epithets like 'evil genius', 'brutal thugs', 'street gang brawlers' being thrown at any and all of the German characters from Göring down to the lowliest body guard. Hmmm? Well... Being the son of a British Officer stationed in Germany in the early seventies and then living in Bavaria in the nineties I actually met some German war veterans: including a Prussian Count who had been a cavalry officer, and my girlfriends Dad who as a 19 year old lost an eye at Stalingrad and was one of the last wounded flown out. I found them all to be all quite normal people and not 'evil' at all. The Prussian Count in particular was an extremely decent, fine and more-than-average noble human being. I think its a shame that the series couldn't reflect that obvious truth instead of further perpetuating an ironically racist belief that denies that many of the German people were no better or worse than the Brits, or the Russians, or the French. Acknowledging that obvious and simple fact does NOT make someone some sort of neo-Nazi.
So for me, the worst aspect of this series is the dreadfully biased, hypocritical, sometimes self-contradictory and speculative commentary. Perhaps the most obvious example of this aspect of the series being sensationalised, shallow, propaganda parading as history would be how Hitler's own words are spoken to us. They are read with a quite ridiculous German accent made to sound like some sort of exaggerated pantomime evil villain. So not only are we are told at the beginning of every episode that Hitler was an 'evil genius', solely responsible for the deaths of 55 million, (didn't Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill have a part in that then?) but he even has to sound like some deranged horror-movie madman. The only thing lacking was a manic evil laugh at the end of his quotes.
I regard this series is an example of how societies re-write the past to inform and shape the future.
George Orwell had it right when he wrote in his book '1984':
"He who controls the present, controls the past.
He who controls the past, controls the future."
For the price I perhaps have complained to much as at 6.5 hours, it gives value for money. It just seems a shame that after all the work compiling this information these aspects so badly let it down. I hope that in years to come it will be seen for what it is, viz. the last remnants of lazy, easy 'demonisation' and victor propaganda. Watch it, but with awareness so as not to be indoctrinated with the mind-manipulation and misrepresentation of history.