Friday, February 13, 2009

Report from the Netflix queue: 'The Nazis'

I've been watching The Nazis: A Warning from History, which is probably not the best way to dispel a dark mood in the dead of winter. Especially with the world as we know it now atilt, and the objects on it trembling slightly toward the edge.

OK, maybe I exaggerate. I'm not one of those dummies who equates every small bump in the road in America with Hitler's Germany; I hate when people do that. But this two-disc BBC documentary (1997) does seem alarmingly current in its calm portrayal of something that happened 70 years ago. And it's not reassuring to see how normal, under normal circumstances, so many of the perpetrators were. In interviews, they are just old people with their memories and their reasons -- and chillingly devoid of convincing regret.

One former businessman seems almost wistful as he recalls bleeding the Jews of the Lodz ghetto of everything they owned in exchange for ever smaller amounts of food. For him, it was just the time-honored law of supply and demand. Another Lithuanian man just shrugs when asked how it was possible for him to shoot women and children. "What can I say?" he asks blankly.

Watching stuff like this, you might hope to learn why something like the Holocaust could never happen again. Instead you see again how little it takes: a dash of paranoia, a pinch of chaos, and someone strong to say it's OK. It makes you think of Rwanda and Srebrenica and Darfur and a dozen other places where the same thing has happened since, although on a much smaller scale.

The Nazis is thoughtful and instructive, but not if you're prone to depression in the wintertime. Maybe keep it low on the Netflix queue for now. For now, if you must see something with Nazis in it, try renting The Sound of Music instead.

1 comment:

Jessie K said...

Your commentary reminds me of Kate Winslet's character in The Reader. She plays an ex-Nazi guard who's completely dispassionate or remorseful about killing innocent people in the past. It goes to show how shaky "morality" is.