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Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State

Ed Grant -- Video Business, 3/2/2005


Color/B&W;, NR (mature themes), 288 min., DVD only $34.98

DVD: interview with writer/producer Laurence Rees, follow-up discussions

Street: March 29, Prebook: now

First Run: PBS, Jan. 2005

Directors: Dominic Sutherland, Martina Balazova, Detlef Siebert


"There was no god in Auschwitz--there were such horrible conditions that god decided not to go there¸" says one survivor of the camp where 1.1 million inmates died, 1 million of whom were Jewish. This six-part series, a BBC and KCET co-production by respected BBC producer Laurence Rees, is an unflinching, often difficult to watch documentary that is disturbing not so much for what it shows--there's barely any atrocity footage--as for what it says. Survivors of the camp recount the horrors of imprisonment and watching loved ones "disappear," while ex-Nazis (interviewed today) make declarations that they were doing what they "believed in at the time." An interview with Rees included as a supplement finds him admitting he realizes that the series is "upsetting," but, he notes, "it should be more upsetting," as the interviewees are those who survived and those who didn't most likely endured far greater horror. A series of six follow-up interviews conducted by Linda Ellerbee for the U.S. airings of the series (which debuted on PBS in late January) produce similarly harrowing statements, as when one academic whose parents survived the camps denounces those who try to draw a lesson from the Holocaust: "The second you find a lesson, you are moving … toward finding a silver lining, toward justifying it." The other academics and a group of teen students who are interviewed by Ellerbee are less negative and in fact make a point about situating the Holocaust historically, tying it to more recent, and indeed current, genocides in Somalia, Rwanda and the Sudan. Perhaps the most stirring statement that appears in these supplements comes from a founder of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who, when asked by Ellerbee what he would tell children, replies, "Try not to be a perpetrator … try not to be a bystander … and try not to be a victim."

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