How could a political party as fundamentally evil and overtly racist as the Nazis come to power? This remains one of the most enigmatic questions of the last century. Acclaimed historian Laurence Rees examines what led a cultured nation at the heart of Europe to commit the atrocities it did. In so doing, he exposes popular myths and encourages understanding of the real forces that led to one of the darkest chapters in modern history. Was it simply the hypnotic power of Hitler's rhetoric? Did the Gestapo really impose themselves by terror on an unwilling population? Through interviews with witnesses and perpetrators, along with archive film and records, this six-part series unveils a more chilling reality.
Far from just being the usual retelling of familiar historical events, this six-part British documentary goes so much deeper. A lot of the pictures and film footage haven't been seen before, and many of the people interviewed were actual higher-ups in the Nazi Party or Wehrmacht, instead of just interviewing regular soldiers and civilians. Other people interviewed are those who lived under the Nazi occupation in Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania. A number of the very elderly Germans, as well as a Lithuanian who was a member of the Einsatzgruppen, are pretty matter-of-fact and unrepentant about what they did, even with so many decades of historical hindsight and knowing what we do now. There's also a lot of information that hasn't been brought to light before about many of the topics covered.
- Helped into Power
The historical background that gave rise to the Nazi Party, starting with the humiliation of losing WWI and the skyrocketing inflation and demilitarisation that resulted, and going on to how this minor insignificant party would, within the span of a decade, become as large and powerful as it became, and how it eventually won almost unanimous support.
- Chaos and Consent
The true chaotic inner-workings of the Nazi Party, showing that beneath their veneer of order, they were really disorganised and unmotivated leaders, spending more time on infighting (much of it encouraged by Hitler) and playing around than conducting serious business. It also covers the topic of the mass murder of the mentally disabled, a policy which chillingly started when a man wrote to Hitler asking if his disabled son could be euthanised.
- The Wrong War
The start of WWII and how it wound up being the war that Hitler had not originally wanted, since he'd long admired Great Britain for how well they controlled their vast empire in spite of being such a relatively small people, and had also long viewed the Soviet Union as Germany's enemy, yet wound up fighting against Great Britain and allied, at least temporarily, with the Soviets.
- The Wild East
The brutal treatment of Poland and the Poles in the wake of the Nazi invasion. Poland was the nation which suffered by far the most; about one in every five Poles was murdered. In the wake of incorporating Poland into Greater Germany, ethnic Germans who lived in other areas were encouraged to move in, but as the survivors who are interviewed recount, this wasn't nearly as happy and cheery as the propaganda films suggested, even for the ethnic Germans, who soon found that they weren't moving into some paradise where everything was automatically provided for them.
- The Road to Treblinka
The Einsatzgruppen (the mobile killing squads that massacred the Jewish communities in the Baltic states, Belarus, and the western regions of Russia and the Ukraine), experiments into mass extermination by gas, the Polish ghettoes, and the infamous Treblinka itself.
- Fighting to the End
1943 through to the end of the war, when Germany's former Italy surrendered to the Allies, overthrew their own dictator and got their king back, and began fighting on the other side, as untold amounts of slave laborers from Poland were brought into Germany to work, as people were tortured and murdered in concentration-camps, as an assassination attempt was made on Hitler's life, as Germany suicidally fought on to the bitter end and even began turning against its own loyal citizens, and finally as Germany came under a horrible occupation by the Red Army.
The lessons to be learned from this series truly do serve as a warning from history. Most people today like to think that such a thing couldn't ever happen again and can't even understand why it happened in the first place, but as it's demonstrated, the Nazis didn't come about and eventually rise to power, wage a world war, and commit horrific atrocities overnight or in a vacuum. It's up to us to remember and learn from history so that such things won't ever happen again.