The Nazi Party and the time of The Third Reich are staples of history TV channels and documentary series, in fact it's hard to think of any era in history that's been covered more. The fascination with the people involved and the events that unfloded during this time are so horrendous that they deserve not only closer examination but also repeating ad nauseum so that we never forget them. It's bad enough that a militaristic and fascist society grew from the wreckage of the Great Depression, but that an entire nation then embarked on a state sponsored campaign of exclusion and violence against those who didn't fit in with the Nazi ideals is absolutley sickening. Genocides have happened over the centuries, but the beaurocratic minds of the Nazi's were the first to turn mass killing into a form of mechanised industrialisation.
The Nazi's killed over 6 million people in their network of concentration camps over a period of about 3-4 years, which is an horrendous achievement but not their only one. Earlier they had embarked on a campaign of euthanasia, killing the disabled, disfigured and those with mental health problems in an attempt at racial purity, stemming from their overlying belief in Eugenics and the Aryan ideal. They also utilised slave labour for their big industrial projects such as building defences against invasion and also ensuring their armaments industry had enough labour to keep the arms flowing to the frontlines. And on top of this, some of their combat units were so vicious in battle or occupation that they thought nothing of executing prisoners or massacring the odd village.
Here is the latest documentary series that examines all of the above in one form or another, episode listing as follows:
1. Hunting the Nazi Rocket Scientists
Not a hunt for vengeance, but one for knowledge. Tells the story of the American search for rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, the man who helped the US reach for the stars and walk on the moon.
2. The Hunt for Martin Bormann
Bormann was Hitler's secretary and money man, his primary job to ensure that Hitler was not personally associated with any of the bad side of National Socialism. Disappearing from the Fuhrer Bunker just prior to the end of WWII, it's been an enduring mystery as to his fate...
3. Justice SAS Style
In 1944 over 100 SAS men were dropped behind enemey lines to cause havoc and await the advancing Patton and his forces. Delays and an intensive hunt by a Nazi doctor led to numerous deaths, but the SAS weren't finished and picked up the hunt for justice at war's end.
4. Peiper: The Butcher of Malmedy
Joachim Peiper led the 1st Panzer SS Division as Germany's youngest regimental Colonel (or Commanding Officer) and was a highly decorated combat vet. On Dec 17 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, his regiment took a US convoy of thrity trucks prisoner and executed 84 US soldiers, leaving their bodies frozen in the snow for the advancing US forces to find.
5. Death Camp Kommandant
Treblinka concentration camp could kill 12,000 Jews in a single day, this 'feat' of industrial execution earned commander Franz Stangl the Iron Cross for his efficiency. Of the 750,000 Jews sent to Treblinka, only 70 made it out...
6. The "Good" Nazi?
Albert Speer was not only Hitler's architect but also his Minister of Armaments and War Production. The mass use of slave labour and his meticulous organisational skills meant the German war machine was able to see through the Allied carpet bombing campaign without skipping a beat.
7. The Angel of Death
Josef Mengele, chief medical officer at notorious concentration camp Auschwitz, was top of the Nazi hunters list. Not only did he contribute to the efficiency of killing inmates, he also had a love of Eugenics and the purity of the Aryan race, performing bizarre and obscene experiments in the quest for racial purity.
8. The Jewish Avengers
The Jewish Brigade was initially part of the British Army but went rogue, rounding up several hundred suspected war criminals and executing them. Another group had a plan to poison the drinking water of 6 million Jews in revenge for the death of 6 million Jews in the camps.
9. Killing Reinhardt Heydrich
This ambitious and ruthless top Nazi was the mastermind behind the Final Solution. Assassinated in Czechoslovakia in 1942, his death led to the execution of hundreds of innocents and the razing of a complete village.
10. Hunting Adolf Eichmann
Despite an unsuccessful early career, a head for numbers and meticulous attention to detail led Eichmann to run the huge logistical operation of transporting Jews from all over occupied Europe to the Nazi death camps.
11. The Monster & The Butcher
The two quite different hunts for justice for Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon and Ivan The Terrible, a sadistic Ukrainian guard nicknamed The Monster of Treblinka
12. Goering, The Star Exhibit
At the end of WWII, only one top Nazi was left standing, Hermann Goering. Head of the Luftwaffe, Goering was also Hitler's annoited successor and is credited with igniting the idea of The Final Solution.
13. Who Killed Heinrich Himmler?
Himmler was the vicious leader of the SS and despite being captured by British Forces, mysteriously died shortly afterwards. What happened?
As with modern documentary series, this uses a mixture of images to make its point. The biggest use is the old grainy black & white footage, but there is also use of coloured footage where possible that includes modern new footage and interviews as well as colourised old footage. There is also the use of modern documentary re-enacted footage, but not too much of this really.
Alastair Simpson's narration is nice and simple, easily understandable, but as with so many modern documentary series is prone to a fair amount of repetition. Disappointingly there are no subtitles.
Not a bad series actually. Personally I didn't learn an awful lot from this, but I did get a few things so it was well worth watching from my perspective. I think that a better series would have focused on the work of the Nazi Hunters themselves rather than the personality driven episodes on individual Nazi's, which we've seen time and time again. I used to love reading about Simon Wiesenthal and Mossad hunting Nazi's in my youth, and a series centred around their work would be fascinating. Also it would be great to learn more about husband and wife team Serge and Beate Klarsfeld or Efraim Zuroff (someone not covered here).
I'd recommend this series for anyone not overly familiar with the era or the personalities involved but this isn't really for those of us who know more than enough about this era already, with the majority of this just another repeat airing of Nazi Germany greatest hits - so to speak. It's almost like your typical 80's compilation CD, it's another outing for all the well known hits but you've seen them all already - what you're really interested in are the more obscure hits that also made their mark or would have done if they weren't so low key.
Still, I can't really lower the mark based on what I'd have preferred to see as what is presented is pretty good for the average viewer.