LOS ANGELES (Jan. 18)
Three video documentaries, two from the German perspective, provide fresh insights into Hitler, his henchmen and the people he led to defeat.
Perhaps most chilling and hypnotic is “The Specialist,” consisting of footage culled from 500 hours of testimony taped during the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem.
In one of the great courtroom dramas of all time, Eichmann, who organized the evacuation and transportation of Jews and Roma, or gypsies, to concentration and death camps, shapes a picture of himself as the ultimate organization man.
Looking every inch the part of a middle-level bureaucrat, Eichmann describes himself as an “idealist” who sought a “constructive” solution of the Jewish “problem,” but was thwarted by superiors whose orders he had to follow.
Another documentary, “The Double-Headed Eagle,” documents Hitler’s rise from an unknown face in the crowd in 1919 to triumphant German chancellor reviewing a torchlight parade of stormtroopers in 1933.
Through newsreels and archival footage, the documentary tracks the evolution of an increasingly strident and self-assured Hitler.
For contrast, there is Berlin’s frenetic 1920s nightlife, with guest appearances by dancer Josephine Baker and actress Marlene Dietrich.
Some historical events are omitted, most noticeably the failed 1923 Nazi putsch and the setback of the Nazi Party in the 1932 elections.
Two parallel charts are constantly on display, showing that as German unemployment figures went up, so did Nazi Party membership.
The correlation — and the omission of the 1932 election results — give Hitler’s assumption of power a false, and historically incorrect, inevitability.
“Mein Krieg” — translated as “My Private War” — is the oddest of the three videos.
It was mainly shot by six German infantrymen who took their home movie cameras to war, somewhat in the spirit — and with the amateur skills — of youngsters going on a field trip.
Initially, there are scenes of basic training, visits by parents and pictures of pretty nurses.
With the invasion of Russia, the scenery changes, though not the attitude.
German troops march past burning villages, “liberate” a pig for dinner and watch a semi-striptease by a Russian woman.
But as the war progresses, the amateur films take on a darker tone.
Comrades are buried, Russian women shovel dead villagers into mass graves, and six Jews dangle from gallows for “having agitated” against Hitler.
Counterposed against the wartime shots are interviews 50 years later with the amateur photographers.
Not a very introspective lot, they look back on the comradeship of wartime with a certain nostalgia.
One of the men all but admits having shot Russian prisoners of war, but his fellow veteran proclaims, “My conscience is as clear as crystal.”