The World at War is a British television documentary consisting of 26 hour-long episodes. I don’t remember seeing the documentary when it was first shown on TV in 1973. I had lived through World War II and in 1973, I was watching shows like the Brady Bunch and the Mary Tyler Moore show with my family.
The World at War is currently being shown on the Military channel, and last night I watched Episode #20 which is entitled Genocide. It starts off with a young Heinrich Himmler who is concerned with turning the German youth into a strong, healthy “superior race.” Himmler is shown as the founder of the SS, which is described as a superior fighting force. The documentary is narrated by actor Sir Lawrence Olivier who has a cultured, upper class British accent.
One would think that what Himmler was doing was a good thing. What country wouldn’t want healthy young people and a strong, loyal army? Yet there is a sinister undertone to Olivier’s voice that signals to the viewer that what Himmler is creating will result in the worst crime in the history of the world: the genocide of the Jews.
The documentary shows Nazi propaganda posters in which Jews are depicted as ugly caricatures. It mentions that the Germans considered the Jews and also the Slavs (Russians and Poles) to be untermenschen or sub-human people.
The photo above was published in Julius Streicher’s newspaper “Der Stürmer.” I couldn’t find any of the Nazis posters that were shown in the documentary.
Jews are shown being forced into ghettos where, we are told, they were deliberately starved to death. Then we see the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto and the famous photo of the little boy with his hands up, which was not taken in the Warsaw ghetto. You can read more about the photo below on my scrapbookpages web site here.
We see some real film footage of the Einsatzgruppen shooting the Jews in pits, and a woman survivor describes how she was shot and how she fell into a pit of blood, but she didn’t die. Another person, who spoke on camera in the documentary at that point, was Wilhelm Höttl, one of Himmler’s associates, who testified at the Nuremberg IMT after the war. Höttl said something about Himmler being dissatisfied with the shooting of the Jews because it was “not enough.” I was expecting Höttl to tell the famous story of Himmler’s leather coat being hit with bits of brains as the Jews were shot in the head only a few feet from where he was watching, but he didn’t. This story is usually told to explain why Himmler decided to use a more humane method of killing the Jews. More humane for the German soldiers who had to do the shooting, that is, not more humane for the Jews.
In any case, this led into how Himmler made the decision to use gas chambers instead of shooting the Jews. But first, Höttl repeated his hearsay testimony at Nuremberg by telling about the time that Adolf Eichmann told him that 4 million Jews had been killed in the gas chambers and 2 million had been killed by the Einsatzgruppen, who shot the Jews in pits. Apparently, the Germans didn’t think that there was anything wrong with shooting 2 million Jews because they recorded the whole thing with their movie cameras.
The photo above is shown in the documentary, and the camera zooms in on the face of the victim.
In the documentary, Himmler is credited with ordering a conference in 1942 to discuss the “Jewish Problem.” The exact date of the conference (January 20, 1942) and the exact title are not given, but I knew that this was a reference to the Wannsee conference, which was authorized by Reichsmarshall Hermann Göriong in a letter to Reinhard Heydrich, dated July 31, 1941. The title of the conference was “die Endlösung der Judenfrage.” The English translation of the title is usually “the Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” but Göring said, in his testimony before the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in 1946 that what he had really meant was “the complete solution to the Jewish Question.”
Jewish web sites like to use the expression “Jewish Problem,” rather than “Jewish Question.” For example, the Shoah Education web site has an article about “die Endlösung” which you can read here. Question or Problem? What’s the difference? The Shoah Education web site says that “Hitler and his men” had discussed the “Jewish Problem” for years. No, what everyone in Europe had discussed for years was the “Jewish Question” which was whether or not the Jews should have their own nation within a nation. Hitler didn’t care if the Jews had their own nation, as long as it was not within the German nation. He was fine with the Jews going to Palestine and setting up their own nation, but at that time, Palestine was a British protectorate and the British were severely limiting the number of Jews who could settle in Palestine. In 1934, Adolf Eichmann was put in charge of sneaking German Jews into Palestine, but of course, the documentary doesn’t mention this important information.
As soon as I heard “Jewish Problem” instead of “Jewish Question” in the documentary, I knew that the British were being disingenuous in telling the story. Sure enough, the next thing I heard was something about the “decision” to gas the Jews, which the documentary says was made at the conference. Wrong, wrong, wrong! There is nothing in the minutes of the Wannsee conference about gassing the Jews. Of course, it is possible that Adolf Eichmann, who wrote up the minutes of the conference, left that part out, but that’s not what we were told in the documentary. You can read about the Wannsee conference on my scrapbookpages web site here.
Moving right along, we next see Karl Wolff, who was Heinrich Himmler’s adjutant. He tells us that he accompanied Himmler when he visited Auschwitz in 1942 and that he personally saw Zyklon-B being thrown through the roof of a gas chamber. You can read all about Himmler’s visit to Auschwitz here.
I was watching the documentary in a darkened room, so it is hard to read my writing on the notes that I made, but I wrote that it was mentioned that the gassing at Auschwitz was done by climbing up a ladder and putting the Zyklon-B poison gas through a hole in the roof. I can’t remember which witness said that, but that person had obviously never been to Auschwitz. The gas chamber in the main camp is on level ground, but has dirt piled up against the sides of the building. A person can walk up the pile of dirt to get onto the roof; no ladder is needed.
The roof of two of the gas chambers at Birkenau was only three feet above ground, so a ladder was not necessary. Two other gas chambers at Birkenau were on the ground floor and the Zyklon-B was thrown in through the windows.
Two famous Holocaust survivors, Primo Levi and Rudolf Vrba, are shown in the documentary. We also hear about the gas chambers from a Polish guy named Dov P. (I didn’t write down his last name) who describes the gas chamber in Krema I in the main camp. What really caught my attention was when he said that the gas chamber in Krema I was disguised as a shower room, and right at that point in the documentary, a photo of the door into the gas chamber at Dachau was shown. Above the door is the word “Brausebad” which means shower bath.
In 1973, most people had never visited Dachau and Auschwitz was behind the Iron Curtain where no Westerners were allowed to go. In the documentary, Dov described how the Auschwitz Krema I gas chamber was filled to capacity and then little children were thrown in on top of the heads of the adults. After the prisoners were gassed, Dov said that it only took 15 minutes to burn the bodies.
The gassing of the Jews at Auschwitz took place around 30 years before the documentary was made. Dov, a Polish Jew, looked no more than 40 years old in the documentary. He must have been a child of 10 when he witnessed the gassing of prisoners in Krema I at Auschwitz. Children under the age of 15 were gassed upon arrival at Auschwitz, according to Holocaust historians, but Dov did not explain why he wasn’t gassed.
Lots of photos from the Auschwitz Album, taken in May 1944 when a train load of Hungarian Jews were brought to Birkenau, are shown in the documentary, but there is no explanation given about how and why the photos were taken.
On April 3, 2010, I blogged about the opening episode of The World at War in which the story of Oradour-sur-Glane is told from the viewpoint of the Allies. You can read it here.
I haven’t worked my way through all 26 episodes of The World at War yet, but what I have seen so far is completely disingenuous and not the least bit objective, as history should be.