Though it was made in 1997, the six-part BBC documentary, Nazis: A Warning from History should be required viewing for not just World War II history buffs, but everyone. I don't say this lightly because "required" is a loaded word, and what one person believes should be required is another person's propaganda.
But I will make an exception for this.
Laurence Rees wrote and produced this series, and if you know who Rees is, you'll realize you're dealing with an expert in World War II history. In short, he's brilliant. In addition, Sir Ian Kershaw, one of the most noted historians on the Third Reich, was the historical consultant. What does this mean? It means you will get an objective, honest, no-holds-barred look at the Third Reich from two men who know its history inside and out.
Broken down into six parts, this documentary takes an in-depth look at how the Nazis came to power in Germany, the structure of their government (very disorganized), their relentless propaganda, Hitler's bizarre hold on everyone from children to high-ranking Nazi officials, the origins of the Final Solution, and how Germany became a racist state.
Archival footage, photographs, and recordings of Hitler's speeches sometimes make for hard viewing, but it is necessary. The series also draws on Nazi documents that were discovered in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union that offer further damning evidence to Nazi atrocities.
Survivors of the Nazis' brutality are interviewed, but it is the interviews with former Nazi party members, Wermacht soldiers, SS men, and even one of Hitler's secretaries that make this a truly original piece of documentary history. Though years have passed, many still justify their behavior, and it is fascinating to see how some skirt the question of responsibility.
One of the conclusions drawn from this documentary is that ordinary Germans were allowed to undertake and express sadistic fantasies against other human beings simply because the very morality of their government not only did nothing to stop it, but encouraged it. When the moral framework of a society disintegrates, those who wish to exercise their dark sides have free reign. Those who want to stand up against it must have incredible courage to do so.
But herein lies the question that continues to plague us all - how could such a cultured nation stoop to such horrors? My theory: Because they allowed the collapse. Indeed, it was easier to let the State do the thinking for them then to think and judge for themselves. Critical thinking skills disappeared as they allowed themselves to be swayed by propaganda and hero worship of a man who sought to control them. They voted to end their democracy, and that is exactly what happened.
What the series does is ask a very important, simple question: Could this happen again? The answer is an unequivocal yes. To this day, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, we have those who continue to deny the Holocaust happened, downplay its severity, point to ridiculous Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracies, or continue to harbor anti-Semitism. This is why the Nazis are a warning from history, as this documentary so ably shows, and this is why we can never forget how and why they were able to create hell on Earth.
For those interested in viewing this documentary, it is available on YouTube or on the website, www.documentaryheaven.com