Once More into the 'Never German Documentary Re-Examines 'Hitler's Holocaust' on the History Channel

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Once More into the 'Never German Documentary Re-Examines 'Hitler's Holocaust' on the History Channel


Byline: Ted Cox

If Adolph Hitler had never existed, the History Channel would have been well-advised to create him.

Even as a devoted channel surfer, I find myself snagged by the History Channel whenever it's presenting one of its innumerable World War II documentaries. There's something about Nazi Germany; it's not just the evil of Hitler the man, a megalomaniac crackpot leader of a sort the world produces all too regularly, it's the duplicity of the entire nation, or at least an abiding majority. That's what led not just to a cataclysmic world war, but the Holocaust, and that's what remains so inexplicable today.

So the History Channel, reinvigorated by National History Day earlier this week, returns to familiar territory with "Hitler's Holocaust," a new six-part documentary beginning at 8 p.m. Monday. It makes a new effort to explain not just how the Holocaust was formulated in the minds of a few sociopaths and Hitler himself, but how it grew naturally out of the brutality on the Eastern Front in Europe in WWII.

The German-produced miniseries, which debuted last fall to huge ratings in Europe, has been criticized by some sensitive souls for using "home movies" taken by German soldiers and also for drawing from Nazi propaganda films of the era. Yet, just because the source of the footage might be questionable doesn't mean it can't be used to tell a fuller version of history today. Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal took part in the production, as did an international panel of historians.

As the miniseries points out in the third episode, "Ghetto," much of this footage was repressed by Nazi government officials because it made the Jews and their suffering sympathetic. That natural human response resonates many times over today.

What's more, the documentary doesn't shy away from the old excuses and rationalization. Again, we hear a German woman explain that a high-ranking relation in the German army was just following orders, and a German pilot repeats the popular thinking of the era that Eastern Europeans - especially Jews -"are subhuman, and they need to be exterminated to give us living space."

Yet, the most damning new aspect of "Hitler's Holocaust," from Monday's opening segment, "Invasion," is the way it shows the carnage progressing logically, step by step, in Eastern Europe. The Germans and Soviets were ideological enemies, and there were no holds barred on the Eastern Front. The Germans allowed 2 million Soviet POWs to starve. As they moved into Lithuania and Ukraine, they found evidence the Soviets were exterminating political prisoners. This justified their belief that Eastern Europeans were subhuman, and encouraged them to use the same tactics. Ukrainian anti-Semites were all too eager to join the Germans in hunting down Jews.

It was "a war based on mass murder," says Roger Mudd, who narrates the U. …

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