“There was no shouting or wailing,” recalls a Nazi army veteran in wonder after watching Polish Jews digging their own graves before being machine-gunned. “There was a deadly silence.”
The observation is among the hundreds of telling remarks and casual asides by ordinary German soldiers and their officers who participated in or witnessed the day-by-day unfolding of the “Final Solution,” as documented in the History Channel’s “Hitler’s Holocaust.”
The six-part miniseries, starting June 18, was made by German television producers for German audiences.
“Hitler’s Holocaust” is remarkable on two accounts.
It lets the perpetrators — not the masterminds, but the ordinary “willing executioners” — tell their stories.
The documentary also illustrates how even the greatest horror ultimately became part of a daily routine — not just for the murderers but also, in some measure, for the victims.
As one Latvian collaborator puts it, after a while, the killing of Jews “just became work to be done.”
Besides death and starvation, the victims faced a constant degrading psychological pressure. One survivor recalls that “We started to believe ourselves that we were really Untermenschen,” or subhumans “and that they were really the Herrenrasse,” or the master race.
The six segments, some shown in tandem on the same night, are “Invasion,” “Decision” “Ghetto,” “Mass Murder” “Resistance” and “The Final Toll.”
In one episode, no less a witness than Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal recalls that while imprisoned he was called to the side of a fatally wounded SS officer, who demanded to see a Jew before he died.
When Wiesenthal entered the hospital room, the SS man grabbed his hand and asked him for forgiveness. “I withdrew my hand and walked out,” says Wiesenthal.
The lifestyle of some Nazi higher-ups who benefited hugely from the conquest of Poland is also examined.
For instance Hans Frank, the governor-general of occupied Poland, was so notoriously corrupt that his subordinates came up with a pun: “In the West, there is France, and in the East, Frank is getting rich.”
While programs about the Holocaust are common, this miniseries is recommended for serious students of the mind- set of the perpetrators of the “Final Solution.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.