The NAZIS: A Warning from
Programme (1): Helped into Power
The programme starts with an
aerial view of a decaying concrete settlement near present day
Poland's Eastern border with Russia - formerly German East
Prussia. For three years during World War II this was the home
of Adolf Hitler. It was the 'Wolf's Lair' - the H. Q. of the
German war machine.
Concurrent with the visual images, the commentator gives some
chilling facts about the war:
55 million people died in W.W.II
Out of 5 million Russian prisoners of war, only 2 million
It was a war during which an attempt was made at 'the
mechanised extermination of an entire people.'
The programme then poses a
question, how could a man such as Adolf Hitler have come to
power and been accepted by the German nation - a nation that
purported to be cultured?
It goes on to give a number of reasons:
(1) Hitler's charisma
was the reason given by leading Nazis, but the commentary
suggests that the explanation is both more complicated and more
alarming than this
(2) The legacy of the First World War and the shock of
the armistice led to bitterness amongst the German people which
left them vulnerable to myths such as that of 'the stab in the
back' - that the Germans lost the first World War because they
were betrayed from within, by Marxists and by Jews. Bavaria
became the soil for Nazism to flourish as the Allied blockade
continued until the signing of the Versailles settlement and
soldiers returning to Germany were shocked by the poverty and
disease experienced by their families. In this context of
desperation and disillusionment, politics became polarised
on the Left, the KPD attempted to set up Soviet style
republics such as that in Berlin in January 1919 - brutally
suppressed by soldiers and Freikorps and resulting in 500 dead.
on the right, the 'realisation that Bolshevism and Judaeism
were the same thing' - a view fermented by the Freikorps, right
wing groups such as the German Workers' Party (the fore runner
of the Nazi Party) and right wing officers in the army, resulted
in scapegoatism, focusing of the Jews.
(3)The terms of the
Versailles Treaty - (28 June 1919)
the territorial losses
the restrictions on the armed services
the dual standards over national self determination
the extent of reparations
all added to the German people's feeling of humiliation and
anger and made them susceptible to someone who promised revenge
and national revival.
In 1919, Hitler and Rφhm both joined the German Workers' Party
and Hitler discovered his power as a speaker whilst condemning
the Versailles Treaty.
By 1921, Hitler was the leader of the renamed National
Socialist Party (Nazis), one of a plethora of right -wing
parties in Munich all condemning the Versailles settlement and
identifying the Jews as the group to blame. Hitler's charisma
attracted many important right-wing leaders to the Party -
In 1922 Hermann Gφering (the First World War, flying ace)
joined the party 'because it was revolutionary, not because of
any ideological nonsense'. Others, such as Heinrich Himmler,
joined because of 'the interest some supporters had with the
mystic relationship between German soil and German blood'. As a
chicken farmer, he firmly believed that, 'cowards are born in
the towns and heroes in the countryside'.
(4) Economic and social
circumstances. On 8/9 November 1923 the Nazis exploited the
French occupation of the Ruhr and the catastrophic
hyperinflation to stage the 'Beer Hall Putsch'. Four policemen
and sixteen Nazis died during the attempt to seize power but the
Nazis received little popular support and it was a fiasco. What
is, interesting, however, as the programme points out, is how
the trial which followed illustrates the nature of the Weimar
judiciary and its right-wing sympathies. As on a former occasion
in which Hitler had served a one month prison service and a term
of probation for disrupting a meeting, in this case his sentence
was very lenient. The same judge, George Knighthag gave Hitler a
nine month prison sentence. As the programme emphasises, this
incitement to murder
the robbing of a bank by his followers.
By 1924, however, Nazism seemed irrelevant and remained so
during the 'Stresemann Years' and the period of superficial
economic recovery achieved by Weimar policies and the Dawes
(5) The strategies of the Nazi Party During this period,
however, some Germans continued to disapprove of the so called
'Weimar decadence' and called for a return to 'simple
traditional values'. Such sentiments resulted in the formation
of a number of non-political societies such as the Wandervogel
Movement who claimed to be 'protesters against the bourgeois
The Nazis tried to capitalise on these nationalist sentiments,
and also to appeal to those who subscribed to the 'fantasy of a
world Jewish conspiracy'.
By the mid 1920's, the party was small but radical, combining
policies of anti-Semitism and violence. At this time, the Brown
Shirts were an indispensable part of the party's appeal, playing
a tripartite role:
intimidating the followers of other parties
protecting Nazi speakers at meetings
drumming up support.
Simultaneously, party organisation evolved on the 'Fuhrerprinzip'
in which Hitler's central role was crucial - a structure which
would remain not only when the Nazi Party achieved power, but
also when Germany was at war. The programme's commentary
emphasises the incompetence of Nazi administration and of Hitler
in particular (citing his lateness as an example), but stresses
that his belief in natural selection and the survival of the
fittest was an inspiration to the Party. His leadership
encouraged the emergence of strong individuals, but those who
remained personally loyal to him because their own success was
intrinsically bound up with his.
(6) A national crisis - the impact of the Wall Street
Crash. By the late 1920's it was clear, however, that without a
national crisis the Nazi Party could not gain ground. The Nazi
Party only received 2.6% of the vote in Reichstag elections and
not everyone was as vulnerable to Nazi propaganda as some
selected primary evidence might suggest. Such a crisis was
provided by the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 and the
earlier agrarian slump. Therefore, circumstances are essential
in explaining Hitler's rise to power.
economic and social deprivation resulting from the
1931, major banks crashed and 20,000 businesses failed with a
tremendous impact on the middle classes.
the loss of confidence in the Weimar government.
lack of unity amongst centre political parties.
(7) Nazi propaganda in
the context of short-term economic and social distress. - The
Nazi Party successfully took advantage of modern media and
communication developments. For example, during the 1932
presidential campaign Hitler visited twenty cities and despite a
lack of coherent policies established himself as a credible and
His appeal was as 'the bringer of salvation', offering order,
discipline and personal devotion to the good of the country.
Therefore, by 1932 most Germans in voting for right or left
wing parties were voting for the overthrow of democracy and
Hitler did not conceal from them in his speeches that a vote for
the Nazis was a vote for dictatorship.
In July 1932, 37% of the German people chose the Nazis, but in
August 1932, President Hindenburg refused to appoint Hitler as
a) The Nazi Party did not represent the majority of Germans
b) The values of the party such as intolerance and violence
(8) Backstairs political intrigue and ambition -
Ultimately, however, Hindenburg became susceptible to
circumstances (an army report had suggested, that it would be
incapable of suppressing internal political revolt and
safeguarding Germany's borders at the same time) and the
plotting of other right-wing politicians such as von Papen and
General Schleicher. Ironically at this time the Nazi Party also
had its own problems and reasons for urgency:
the resignation of Strasser
a drop in the Nazi vote in the November 1932 Reichstag
but in the end, the aristocratic von Papen's proposals for 'the
taming of Hitler' were accepted on 30 January 1933. Hitler was
appointed as Chancellor with two other Nazis, with von Paper as
his Vice Chancellor in combination with six other right wing
Therefore political miscalculation and personal ambition are
the final ingredients to explain Hitler's rise to power.
Although a few primary sources question people's failure to
anticipate what would result from Hitler's appointment, the
torchlight procession through the streets of Berlin on the day
of his appointment as Chancellor epitomises the feelings of many
Germans. Expectations were high of what would follow, especially
amongst the business community.
The programme concludes with two observations which sum up the
'warning from history' in its title:-
that of some contemporary Germans who, with hindsight,
emphasise the danger of economic and social crisis - 'out of
crisis comes danger'
Ludendorff's words in a letter to Hindenburg following
Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, 'I prophesy to you solemnly'
that this accursed man will take our Reich into the abyss'.
The programme considers how it was possible for a man such as
Adolf Hitler to come to power in a supposedly cultured country
such as post First World War Germany. It gives a number of long
term and short term factors to explain the Nazi phenomenon:
1. Hitler's charisma.
2. The legacy of the First World War.
3. The terms of the Versailles Treaty.
4. Economic and social circumstances.
5. The strategies of the Nazi Party.
6. The impact of the Wall street Crash.
7. Short-term Nazi propaganda in the context of social and
8. Back-stairs political intrigue and ambition.
The KEY QUESTION raised by the programme focuses on the
issue of lessons from the past and is encompassed by its title,
'The Nazis - a Warning from History'. In considering the Nazi
era and Hitler's rise to power it becomes clear that, 'out of
crisis comes danger'. This leads on to the question of whether
it is possible to learn from the specific example of a society
in the past and thereby to avoid succumbing to such a regime in
The NAZIS : A Warning from History
Programme (2): Chaos and Consent
The theme of the programme
focuses on the paradoxical nature of Germany under Nazi rule - a
society obsessed by order and yet characterised by
administrative inefficiency. It opens with daunting images of
Nazi crowds and the comment that the Nazis were obsessed with
images of order which they attempted to illustrate and promote
in their careful propaganda and yet, the programme claims, it
was 'an illusion of order'.
1. The Consolidation of
In January 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, those
who could conform to the Aryan image of the 'true German' were
filled with hope. Non conformists, however, experienced a
variety of tactics designed to eliminate or control them,
carried out in an 'atmosphere of chaotic terror' and often
'avoiding the prescribed channels. For example:
a) Concentration Camps - Communists, socialists and many others
were sent to concentration camps (Dachau was opened in March
1933) and Goering commented that 'old scores were being settled'
- referring to the myth that these actions were not novel or
unique, citing Britain's treatment of the Boers in the South
b) Anti-Jewist Strategies - as early as April 1933 boycotts of
Jewish shops were taking place and arbitrary attacks on Jews by
Nazi Storm Troopers.
2. A variety of propaganda exercises actively promoted
support for the regime
- public book-burning
- The Night of the Long Knives (June 30 1934) - this was partly
carried out to placate the army leadership which feared the
rival Brown Shirts and amongst additional reasons resulted from
Himmler's specific dislike of Ernst Rφhm. Himmler suggested to
Hitler that Rφhm was plotting against the Chancellor, which
Hitler believed, and on this pretext, Rφhm was arrested and shot
two day's later.
3. The army had to swear an oath of personal loyalty to
Hitler, once he became Fuhrer, having amalgamated the
positions of President and Chancellor following the death of
Hindenburg in August 1934.
4. The promotion of Hitler's status as Fuhrer
Using a variety of primary sources, the programme illustrates
the great contrast between Hitler's private and public image. In
the complex above Bertesgaden - the Eagle's nest or Eerie - the
Nazi regime was determined by Hitler, and yet on the evidence of
these sources (including that of his personal adjutant - Fritz
Wiedemann) he was a very indolent (lazy) man. Otto Deitrich, his
Chief Press Secretary states, 'In the twelve years of his rule
in Germany, Hitler produced the biggest confusion in government
that has ever existed in a civilised state'.
But this was behind the scenes, the public image, carefully
promoted, was very different and that of 'the all powerful, all
knowing leader'. The programme emphasises the paradox between a
society in which there is no collective government and yet there
is a dictator that doesn't work all the time. It sees Germany at
this time as experiencing 'a unique and peculiar form of
government'. Hitler was surrounded by acolytes whose role was to
formulate plans to fulfill Hitler's visions, which in themselves
did not constitute coherent policies. What this meant in
practice was, that decision making during the Nazi era was often
arbitrary and dependent on how Hitler's ideas were interpreted
by those who had succeeded in winning his support.
5. Economic Policies
If Hitler's plans in relation to some aspects of Nazi policy
were vague, this was not the case in relation to the economy.
Economic recovery in order to rearm was Hitler's priority. The
programme comments that in the first year of Nazi power the Army
budget was increased so much that the Army wasn't able to spend
it all. It describes the Public Works schemes such as the
building of the Autobahn, which were designed to solve
unemployment, but explains that these were successful
short-term, rather than long-term solutions to Germany's
problems. In the longer-term and without the Second World War,
Nazi economic strategies were inflationary and likely to have
produced considerable economic difficulties.
6. Violation of the Terms of Versailles also helped to
convince the German people that Germany was regaining her
international status and that life was improving. Hitler
reintroduced conscription and in 1936 he reoccupied the
7. Anti-Jewish Policies
Many public pagents, designed to encourage feelings of unity
amongst the German people, took place throughout the Nazi era.
One rather amusing example illustrated by the programme was the
Night of the Amazons, involving a procession of floats through
the streets of Berlin, carrying naked women in a variety of
poses! BUT, such pageants could only be participated in by
Aryans. For Jews, life in Nazi Germany was very different.
Jewish synagogues were destroyed and Jews were systematically
excluded from everyday life. Policies such as the 1935 Nuremburg
Laws were justified by the belief that 'the Jews had gone too
far', but no one asked why it was that the Jews were confined to
such professions as the legal profession and the theatre, in
order to realise that it was because they had been banned from
other professions for hundreds of years. Systematic
discrimination and anti semitism was carried out by the Gestapo,
resulting in widespread Jewish emigration from Germany before
the outbreak of the Second World War. What the programme makes
clear, however, (supported by those such as Robert Gellately and
Daniel Goldhagen), is that given the small number of secret
police in any one region, the public co-operation and
enforcement of anti Jewish policies must have been extensive. In
fact, the Gestapo's job was to 'sort out the denunciations' as
Resi Kraus puts it. Therefore a fundamental question to ask
about this period must be, to what extent the German people
needed 'manipulation from above'? Most recent evidence,
alarmingly suggests, extensive, willing and positive
capitulation from below.
To reach Hitler, it was essential to be seen to endorse his
views - anti semitism was one of these routes. In this way,
Geobbels was able to exploit the murder of a German diplomat in
Paris by a Jew, to carry out Kristallnacht on 8/9 November 1938.
Symbolically, this was the anniversary of the 1923 Munich Putsch
- 800 lives were lost and 1000 synagogues destroyed. Primary
reminiscences of the event suggest public shock, but why then
was there no denunciation of Nazi policy or sympathy shown to
Jews by non-Jews? The programme suggests that as Hitler
personally never spoke out about Kristallnacht in public, people
could believe that he was not personally responsible and carry
on supporting him.
8. The Policy of Dualism
In 1938 a new Chancellory was built in Berlin to symbolise
strength and order, but behind the scenes 'dualism' and
administrative chaos persisted. For example, five offices
managed Hitler's personal life alone. Some historians have
suggested that such duplication of administrative role was
deliberately organised by Hitler to achieve 'calculated in
fighting' and to allow Hitler ultimate authority. The evidence
in this programme, such as that from the diplomat Gunter Louse
would not support this view, describing a regime characterised
by administrative inefficiency.
9. The mentally ill or subnormal
One of the most frightening aspects of the programme concerns
Nazi policy towards the mentally ill and it illustrates how
Hitler himself could be manipulated. During the Nazi era, many
personal appeals were made to Hitler by letter, attempting to
achieve ingratiation. One such letter resulted in the
development of Nazi policy into one in which mentally subnormal
babies and then children were systematically murdered. The
programme cites the example of Aplerbeck a hospital regime which
was completely unfettered. Killing such as those illustrated by
the case study of Manfred Bernhart were disguised as death
resulting from minor infections such as measles.
The programme states that, 'The catalyst for his death was a
chance letter directed by an ambitious Nazi; and it concludes
(as the Warning from History), that any idea in this system, in
combination with a leader who spoke in visions and a population,
anxious to please, grew to radical extremes.
The programme illustrates the paradoxical nature of public and
private Germany and explores different ways in which the Nazis
consolidated power in the pre-war era. It identifies eight
examples of Nazi policy and illustrates each one:
1. Tactics against non Aryans
3. The Army oath of loyalty to Hitler
4. The promotion of Hitler's status as Fuhrer
5. Economic policies
6. The violation of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles
7. Anti Jewish policies
8. Policies towards the mentally ill or subnormal.
Key Questions raised by the programme focus on a number
1. The paradox of German society - a society promoting order and
yet characterised by chaos.
2. The role of Hitler in the Nazi state and the coherence of his
3. The extent of public complicity and support for Nazi
The NAZIS: A Warning from History
Programme (3) The Wrong War
The programme starts, with
Hitler in his retreat in southern Bavaria, watching feature
films about the British Empire - supposedly, these offered proof
of the superiority of the Aryan Race! In 1941 he said 'Let's
learn from the English - what India was to the English, let
Russian territories be to us'. The programme then asks the
question - How did Hitler end up fighting the wrong war? - a war
against both the English and the Russians.
It gives a number of reasons:
(1) To fulfil the promises
made when he became Chancellor - that he would achieve a new,
dynamic foreign policy.
(2) To achieve VOLKSGEMEINSCHAFT and to subdue the German people
by demanding supreme obedience to his will, something formalised
in the Army oath of personal loyalty to the Fuhrer.
(3) Preparations for war and specifically rearmament, solved a
number of short term problems:
it achieved an end to unemployment
appeased the army
overcame the humiliation of the surrender in World War One.
Re-armament was financed by
loans engineered by Schacht and illustrates very well Hitler's
lack of specific policies. At first Schacht was given a very
free hand in his policy making and only when his cautious
economic strategies failed to produce rapid re-armament was he
replaced by Goering.
Hitler's approach to the appointment of ministers is a
reflection of his much more fundamental beliefs about nations
and mankind expounded in Mein Kampf. In Darwinian terms, Hitler
believed in the survival of the fittest and therefore approved
of individual initiative and assertiveness. On a macro level he
believed that the entire world was locked into a permanent
struggle for survival and in this sense national frontiers were
both restrictive and unnatural because they inhibited man's
natural inclinations. In looking to Russia and the bordering
states for expansion he believed that Germany was fulfilling her
destiny. Lebensraum was necessary for a nation whose territory
was too small for her expanding population.
(4) To right the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty. In particular,
Hitler sought to regain lost German people, lost territory and
to achieve the right to national self determination and unity
which had been denied to the Germans at Versailles.
(5) The desire for a Gross Deutschland - was of particular
appeal to young Germans and it was a policy OPENLY stated by
Hitler at public rallies.
Hitler and Goering hoped that England could be made part of Nazi
plans and in the 1930's, many English people did support the
idea of revising, what were now considered, the harsh terms of
Versailles. Certainly there was the view that there was a need
to 'accommodate the Germans'.
The programme goes on to describe the ways in which the Germans
attempted a rapprochement with the British in the 1930's,
looking in particular at the role of Ribbentrop.
In 1935, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement allowed Germany to
break the terms of the Versailles Settlement by increasing the
size of her navy.
In 1936, following this success, Ribbentrop was sent to England
to organise a formal Anglo-German alliance. Ribbentrop, however,
was unpopular both in England and abroad and his uncouthness
contributed to Britain's refusal to sign such an alliance.
In England, Ribbentrop was not considered 'a gentleman' and this
snobbery is reinforced by Goebbels' observation that, 'He had
bought his title'. Mussolini is reputed to have said about
Ribbentrop, 'You only have to look at his head to see that he
has a small brain.'! Interestingly, however, Hitler supported
Ribbentrop and the commentary explains this by suggesting that
he knew how to win Hitler's acclaim. Hitler admired initiative
and Ribbentrop was always willing to offer radical solutions to
Hitler's problems, even if they were turned down. In Schacht's
case, however, his warning that, 'The economy was overheating'
led to his being sidelined and in 1936 Goering became Economics
Minister. His appointment resulted in an escalation in Germany's
re-armament and preparations for war, but the programme makes
clear that by 1938 Germany's inflationary economic policies
caused many people to believe that the regime was likely to face
severe economic crisis in the future.
But, what did Hitler really want in his foreign policy?
In 1936. the German re-occupation of the demilitarised
Rhineland, made clear his intention to re-claim territory lost
In 1937, at a secret meeting
with army generals, recorded in the 'Hossbach Memorandum',
Hitler explained his desire for territorial expansion.
Interestingly his aims were not greeted with broad enthusiasm
and following the meeting, half-hearted generals were dismissed
on trumped up charges, or marginalised. Hitler appointed himself
as Commander in Chief of the Army and claimed that his great
ideas came to him in the Berghof in Bertesgaden. Primary sources
suggest that he was a 'dreamer' and that in his isolated retreat
he indulged himself by designing the cities he would build in
Germany and by watching two feature films every evening -
Goebbels always guaranteed him escapist entertainment!
In the Spring of 1938, Hitler decided to capitalise on the
domestic problems in Austria to embark on his dream to re-unite
all German speaking people. After guaranteeing the
non-intervention of the other powers, German troops entered
Austria on 15 April 1938, where they were welcomed by the
majority of Austrians who had suffered as a result of the
Versailles settlement, - the programme sinisterly shows
swastikas being thrown as confetti over the German troops as
they marched through the streets of Vienna.
Many Germans too, supported
the occupation as the fulfilment of a great dream - the reversal
of six hundred years of history and Austrian rule of German
speaking people. The programme includes very interesting
contemporary evidence from Germans who explained that they
believed that German expansion was her destiny. It also
describes Heinrich Himmler's influence in Austria and his ideas
about the future role of the SS. Like knights of the Round
Table, he saw them playing a crucial role in a greater Germanic
empire, an empire that would be larger than any other which had
preceded it. As evidence from those such as Walter Kammerling
makes clear, Himmler was responsible for the fact that in
Austria, German rule was one of 'intolerance and cruelty'. Jews
were made scapegoats and given tasks designed to humiliate them.
This resulted in a mass exodus of Jews from Austria, 'after the
SS had robbed them of most of their money'.
Following the German invasion
of Austria, Hitler returned to Germany to a tumultuous welcome -
Germany now comprised 80 million people.
Hitler's attention then turned
to Czechoslovakia and at this point some Germans such as General
Beck foresaw war and secretly communicated their fears to the
British, asking for support against Hitler from Britain and
France. Primary evidence, such as that from Sir Frank Roberts a
diplomat at the Foreign Office 1930-1968, makes clear that
Britain's response was to reply, 'You do something'. As Hitler
became increasingly successful, however, such internal plotting
seemed more and more unlikely.
On September 1938, Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, went
to Munich to sort out the Czech problem and in a final act of
appeasement signed the Munich Agreement. This allowed Hitler to
have the German speaking Sudetenland. Roberts suggests that in
making the agreement, Chamberlain was responding to public
opinion and the view that people in Britain and the Dominions
would not be willing to fight to stop the reunification of
German speaking people. Following the Munich meeting, Hitler is
reputed to have said, 'They have cheated me of my war'. A
contemporary home movie from the period shows extensive support
for the German occupation from Sudeten Germans and amongst the
German army. The army had reason to be pleased as they now
controlled the Czech border defences and the rest of
Czechoslovakia was 'naked' before the German army.
In March 1939, Hitler met the Czech President for talks -
humiliating him by keeping him waiting while he ironically
watched a film called 'A Hopeless Case'. When Hitler informed
Hacha that he was about to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia,
Hacha had to capitulate. Therefore in March 1938 when Hitler
invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia he finally violated the
Versailles Treaty without being able to claim that he was
uniting German speaking people. This time the invading army was
watched by a silent crowd and Hitler was finally confirmed to
both Germans and the rest of Europe as an imperialist.
Following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia it was clear
that Poland would be the next target and Chamberlain pledged to
In May 1939 Hitler demanded the return of the German speaking
city of Danzig, but when in response Britain signed a Grand
Alliance with Poland, Hitler's hopes of an understanding with
Britain were gone. Facing the probability of war with Britain
and France, Hitler then embarked on an alternative radical
solution and sent Ribbentrop to the USSR, (so what happened to
the anti-Bolshevik sentiments expressed so vehemently in Mein
On 29 August 1939 the Germans signed a non aggression pact with
the USSR. Against the background of an awesome and momentous sky
at Bertesgaden, Hitler was now allied to his ideological enemy.
On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland.
On 3 September 1939 Britain and France declared war on Germany -
The Second World War had begun.
The programme explores the build up in the 1930's to the Second
World War. It considers some of the reasons for Hitler's foreign
1. To fulfil the promise for a new and dynamic foreign policy
made when he became Chancellor.
2. As a means of achieving VOLKSGEMEINSCHAFT.
3. As a solution to Germany's short term economic and social
4. To right the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty.
5. To achieve a GROSS Deutschland and to unite German speaking
6. To achieve Lebensraum for the German people.
7. To fulfil his imperialist aims for a German empire.
It goes on to explore Hitler's personal aims in foreign policy
and describes the links between his aims and his ideological
beliefs such as in Social Darwinism. It concludes with a
chronological outline of the steps towards the Second World War,
which illustrate Hitler's violation of the 1919 Treaty of
The introduction of conscription and Germany's rearmament.
1935: Anglo German Naval Agreement
1936: Re occupation of the demilitarised Rhineland.
April 1938: Occupation of Austria.
September 1938: Occupation of the Sudetenland
March 1939: Occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia.
May 1939: German demands on the city of Danzig.
August 1939: Nazi Soviet Pact.
September 1 1939: German invasion of Poland.
September 3 1939: British and French declaration of war on
The KEY QUESTION posed
by the programme is to ask how Hitler ultimately became
embroiled in a war with both Britain ad the USSR, when he
clearly wanted to avoid war with Britain and even to work with
her if possible.
THE NAZIS: A warning from History
Programme (4): The Wild East
This programme focuses on the
experience of Poland during the Second World War, a country that
suffered more than any other under Nazi occupation and where one
in five people died. In particular, the Poles suffered the most
brutal acts of ethnic cleansing'.
This is the story of the first twenty months of the war and of
one of the chief architects of Nazi policy, Arthur Greiser, who
claimed at the Nuremburg Trials that he had 'been acting under
orders' ... but he lied. During the war men like Greiser tried
to turn Poland into a model Nazi state, something he was able to
do because of his status, which was comparable to that of an
independent feudal baron.
On 1 September 1939 the Germans invaded Poland and within five
weeks, the Polish army had been crushed and many buildings
destroyed. This conquest resulted in the soaring of Hitler's
popularity amongst German soldiers who saw him as the man
responsible for the reclamation of the lost lands in the east.
It was regarded as an act which had restored Germany's status as
a Super Power.
The Germans created three states within German occupied Poland
and Hitler demanded that two of them be 'Germanised' and
ethnically cleansed. In line with his theories about the
survival of the fittest and individual initiative, he asked no
questions about the methods used to achieve these tasks by those
1. The initial task carried out by the Germans following
their invasion of Poland was to categorise the population in the
occupied territories. This was necessary before a policy of
ethnic cleansing could be carried out. Essentially, the
categorisation depended on 'how German' people seemed to be,
something often established using criteria such as looks,
language and attitude. Those Germans living in the former German
areas lost at Versailles could be instantly 'Germanised' and
most welcomed the German invasion as the forerunner to the
establishment of a Grossdeutschland.
Other groups were regarded as 'dirty and without culture' and
most Poles were regarded as sub species and treated in a variety
they were deported to concentration camps in other parts of
they remained as slaves
they became victims of violence and genocide carried out by
indigenous Germans, encouraged to settle old scores.
One primary source states, 'Greiser strove to make as many Poles
as possible suffer, he took away their hope'. It is clear from
the evidence that in these parts of Poland, the SS could do
anything they liked and that they were responsible for many
atrocities against the Polish people. One contemporary
recollection by a German soldier suggests that he was shocked
and ashamed at the time and felt that he no longer wanted to be
German because what they were doing was so awful. He describes
acts of genocide in which music was played 'because of the
screaming'. The alternative view, however, was that 'the Poles
had brought those crimes on themselves'. When doubts were
expressed by some leading army generals about German policies in
Poland and one view got back to Hitler (therefore, he did know
what was going on) he dismissed their qualms as 'childish
squeamishness' and said that a war could not be fought with
'Salvation Army methods'.
Hitler's policy of non intervention meant that the policy of
ethnic cleansing in Poland was carried out very differently in
different parts of the country.
In Danzig West Prussia, Albert Forster's (later found guilty of
war crimes) methods were very different from those of Greiser.
He was not committed to Hitler's racial theories and was
determined to carry out Nazi racial policies as quickly as
possible, rather than as thoroughly. His method was to declare
that whole groups of Poles were now Germans (a policy accepted
by 80% of the Poles affected) and could be put on the 'Germanised'
list. This meant that extended families could have a very
different experience of Nazi occupation dependent on which zone
they were in.
The rivalry between Greiser and Forster led to complaints by
Greiser to Himmler, that Forster was effectively 'cheating' in
his policy of Germanisation and that his success could only be
regarded as superficial. Greiser like Himmler believed that it
was possible to scientifically identify Germans in order to
distinguish them from non Germans. Forster had been heard to
joke that if he looked like Himmler 'he wouldn't go on about the
idea of race so much!', but Himmler criticised his strategies on
scientific grounds. He warned Foster about the implications of
his policies and stressed that a non systematic approach would
result in contaminated blood and make it impossible to achieve a
pure, Aryan race. But, with a direct link to Hitler, Forster
believed that he could ignore Himmler and continue in his own
way - and he was right, thus proving the limits to Himmler's
2. The second task facing those in charge in the occupied
zones, and a task which became increasingly difficult as numbers
increased, was to find homes for ethnic Germans who were
relocated to Poland, under a deal with Stalin. Propaganda films
show Polish Germans welcoming the new arrivals, but 'the reality
was very different'. Contemporary accounts make clear that the
Polish Germans looked down on the immigrants; a view summed up
by the statement, 'we almost took them as Poles'. But if the
indigenous population were critical, those they condemned were
equally disappointed by their new homeland and by the fact that
they were not living in the former Kleindeutsch, Reich. Many
were forced to live in very poor conditions in transit camps,
which were often former schools which had been stripped, strewn
with straw and in which no segregation was possible.
The practical implications of this policy of recolonisation for
those such as Geiser and Forster, were immense. How were they to
provide homes and jobs when they didn't exist?
In Geiser's district, Polish families were forcibly evicted from
their homes, often at night and without warning and removed to
concentration camps, in order to make way for incoming Germans.
Empty properties were then distributed randomly. Families would
be given a map and a key and told to find their new home.
Primary reminiscences give the feelings of those obtaining new
homes in this way. As the properties usually showed that they
had been abandoned very hastily, it might be expected that the
new families felt sympathy for those that had been forced to
leave. In fact the evidence suggests that instead the new
occupants felt 'fears of revenge and recrimination'. Although
the new people now had homes, they still had no jobs. Sometimes
however it was possible to achieve a home and a job
simultaneously. In one example, a restaurant was 'repatriotised'
although in this example the new tenant expressed some concern
about the fate of the former owners and says that it was,
'unnatural' and 'really shouldn't happen.
In the 'hidden' countryside, the evictions were more total. In
the example of Odrowgz, a whole village was emptied during which
many atrocities were carried out. An interpreter, Franz Jagemann,
who helped carry out the evictions, describes his ambivalance at
the policy. He explains that although he went ahead with the
process, he later warned other villages of what was ahead. 'It
was the only way I could live with myself', he says. Therefore,
in this way, Polish Germans were often responsible for
slaughtering Poles they had previously lived with as friends.
Under Arthur Greiser, 700,000 Poles were evicted in this way in
one year. Many were deported to the third German zone in Poland,
in the south east, 'the Nazi racial dustbin' under the control
of Hans Frank's General Government.
3. The third issue raised by the colonisation process was
therefore that of deportation and what was to be done with those
Poles evicted from their homes. There are many primary accounts
of what happened, which describe how people were transported for
eight or nine days in closed wagons with very little food or
water, often to concentration camps. Dr Fritz Arit, a senior
Nazi Officer in the General Government, describes how as many as
15,000 people a month could arrive unannounced in this way. When
asked whether he is ashamed to have been a Nazi, Arit answers
that it was a decision taken after careful thought and that he
isn't ashamed. He goes on to describe how Hans Frank was enraged
by the fact that his region was being used as a dumping ground,
but despite his sycophancy towards Hitler, when he complained to
him, his appeal was countered by Himmler and the policy
continued. Arit also makes clear that even Ethnic Germans
suffered if they resisted an aspect of Nazi policy and they too
could be sent to a concentration camp.
4. Policy towards the Jews was the fourth aspect of the
German occupation of Poland. When the Germans invaded Poland
there were three million Jews living there. In the early months
following the occupation, the initial Nazi policy towards these
Jews was to gather them together and transport them to ghettos
within the major towns. At this stage, it is clear that the
Nazis had no concrete policy towards the Jews. The programme
gives the example of Lodz in Grieser's district, in which in one
of the biggest ghettos, 2 square miles, 160,000 Jews were
gathered together. The programme includes many contemporary
reminiscences, backed up by primary film footage. Once in the
ghettos, the Jews were sealed in behind barbed wire fences and
once their food stocks were exhausted they had to buy supplies
through the fences at inflated prices. Money was extorted from
the Jews and many Poles and Germans got rich as a result. When
the Jews had nothing else to sell, they starved to death. A
contemporary, recalls that he was upset at the fate of the Jews,
but that he continued to exploit them - 'what else could you do?
You would be killed too!' By the summer of 1940, many more Jews
in the ghettos were dying and the Germans embarked on a new
strategy, instead of letting the Jews die, they were kept alive
(at least temporarily) and used as slave labour. In this way,
people could continue to make money out of the Jews. The
programme claims that therefore Greiser was the greatest
beneficiary of Hitler's policy when he chose to be a thief and a
The programme concludes with the sinister observation that, 'in
the first twenty months of their occupation of Poland, the Nazis
had shown that they were amongst the cruellest conquerors the
world had ever seen ... but that even worse was to come'.
The programme's focus is on the first twenty months of the Nazi
occupation of Poland. It explores four main aspects of Nazi
1. The categorisation of the population in the occupied
territories prior to the introduction of 'ethnic cleansing' and
the treatment of the non-German people in these areas.
2. The policy of re-colonisation, in which ethnic Germans from
the East were relocated in Poland, following an agreement with
3. The treatment of Poles evicted from their homes in order to
4. The Policy towards Polish Jews.
THE KEY QUESTION is again that of responsibility for Nazi
policy and the extent of popular support and endorsement for the
way in which non-Germans in the occupied territories were
The NAZIS: A Warning from History
Programme (5): The road to TREBLINKA
The programme starts with a
view of a railway line, followed by the view of a field. Between
July 1942 - August 1943 this area became a 'killing factory'.
This is TREBLINKA, one of six extermination camps set up in
Poland by the Germans to tackle the Jewish Question'.
The theme of the programme is to ask, 'How did it happen? How
could such places ever come to exist?
Following the German conquest of Poland, the Germans adopted a
number of temporary solutions to deal with the 3 million Polish
Jews living there (see programme (4) ). The Jews, who were
regarded as racially inferior were brutally persecuted.
Propaganda promoted the view that the Jews were carriers of
Bolshevism; people who were plotting a world wide political and
economic conspiracy. However, despite the rhetoric about 'racial
destruction', as late as the end of 1940, the Nazis had no
systematic plan for the mass elimination of the Jewish race.
Instead, the emphasis was on expulsion from conquered lands and
their possible re-settlement in a new Homeland (such as
Madagascar from France) in a German Police State.
However, in the Spring of 1941, Hitler's radical decision to
invade the USSR, necessitated a change in Nazi policy towards
the Jews. On June 22 1941 the Germans embarked on 'Operation
Barbarossa', 'an ideological and imperialist crusade'. The
primary evidence presented by the programme confirms that this
was a new type of war, 'a war without rules'. The order from the
top was 'to destroy everything' with no scruples no
stubbornness', and the order was reinforced by careful
propaganda. Although one contemporary, Adolf Buchner explains
that some soldiers were repulsed by the new German tactics
against the Russians he confirms that most people were
influenced by Nazi propaganda which described the Jews as
'parasites'. It was argued that the Jews had undermined thousand
year old cultures and their influence would bring about crime,
corruption and chaos.
Germans entering Soviet territory were organised into Einsatz
Groupen - 'killing squads' - organised by Reinhart Heydrich,
Head of the Security Police. Their orders were to clear the
conquered areas of undesirables' ready for re-settlement by
ethnic Germans. He gave orders as to who should be executed
during this process and the list included all officials of the
Comintern, officials of senior and middle rank, all Jews in the
service of the party and the state and people's Commissars. It
was made clear that no steps should be taken to stop purges that
began spontaneously and were carried out by the indigenous
population - in fact, these were to be encouraged. Heydrich is
described by one witness as a cold blooded murderer' who
'thought himself a man of culture'. A friend of Heydrich,
Christine von Amsberg, however describes him as 'charming' and a
gentlemen'. When asked how she could reconcile this view with
what she now knows about him, the reply was that 'there is a
logic in it, because he was a conscientious worker'.
Between them, Himmler and Heydrich were responsible for, 'a
quantum leap forward in Jewish policy', it was they who ordered
the 'collective murder of the Jews'.
There were FOUR Einsatz Groupen, each containing between 600 -
1,000 men and led by 'educated' Germans.
A= Dr Walter STAHLECHER = The bloodiest group operating in the
B = Arthur NEBE
C = Dr Otto RASCH
D = Otto OHLENDORF
Group A followed the German army into the staunchly Catholic
Lithuania, an area already suppressed by Stalin. Ironically,
because of this, at first the invading army was welcomed as
'liberators'. The 'killing squad' immediately began the
destruction of communist symbols - such as statues and posters,
but they also embarked on programmes against the Jews, because
of their supposed Communist sympathies.
Wilhelm Gunsilius, who was part of a German reconnaissance unit
in 1941, remembers one such programme, the 'KAUNAS massacre' -
but this was genocide carried out by the local population. He
describes how a group of Jews was bludgeoned to death and how
someone then stood on the pile of bodies with an accordion and
played the Lithuanian national anthem. The majority of programs,
however, were carried out by the Nazis; 'all men, not just the
leaders, would be rounded up, taken out of the towns and shot
In August 1941 Himmler made a propaganda visit to group (A) and
his appointment book records for 15 August - 'Minsk - attend
execution'. Such executions were not recorded officially, but
some footage of such executions does exist, such as that
recorded by Walter Frentz, cameraman at Hitler's Head Quarters
in 1941. The programme shows an execution in Latvia and includes
Himmler's explanation of it the same evening, 'If we don't do it
to them, they will do it to us'. Such views became the
justification for the extension of Nazi policy towards the Jews.
Every single Jew now became a potential military threat and it
was argued to justify the killing of women and children, 'that a
generation, of avengers could not be allowed to grow up'.
But Himmler was worried about the psychological effect of his
policies on German soldiers and he was warned of the likely
adverse consequences by Arthur Nebe, commander of Einstatz
This meant that the Nazis began to experiment with 'a more
humane way' of killing the Jews to protect the executioners. The
solution would be poison gas, but while the experiments with gas
took place the executions continued. In the summer of 1941, the
Lithuanian village of Butrimony exemplified this extension to
German policy. Primary evidence from a woman who escaped,
explains how Jews who had previously been tolerated were
expelled and executed - 'villagers watched out of curiosity and
67 men 37 women 303 children were therefore killed by Lithuanian
On the same day in Alytus, 1,279 people were murdered. On 10
September 1941, 854 people were executed in Merking and 831 in
In the Baltic states at this time, it is estimated that 80% of
the killings were carried out by local people. Petras Zelionka
recalls how so called 'volunteers' were given Vodka to encourage
them. (He ended up in a Soviet Gulag, having given evidence
against his comrades who were then executed). When asked,
'Didn't you think you shouldn't do it?, Zelionka replies 'that
it is very difficult to explain today, .... This is a tragedy, a
big tragedy, but it's a kind of curiosity, you just pull the
trigger, he falls and that's it'. When questioned as to why he
feels no guilt, his answer is to argue that he has paid his
debt, 'I served a twenty year sentence'. But what about your
conscience' 'I'm not going to explain anymore'.
Policy towards the Jews in Germany.
Throughout the war, Hitler continued to direct policy from 'the
Wolf's Lair' and by September 1941 his policies were becoming
increasingly extreme. For example he declared that Leningrad
should 'vanish from the surface of the earth', but this was a
public policy statement. Behind the scenes his private comments
focused on his desire to take revenge on the Jews, especially if
they pushed the USA into the war. Even before America entered
the war however, Hitler had already extended his policy towards
German Jews. In September 1941 it was made obligatory for all
Jews in Germany to wear the yellow star of David and primary
sources suggest that people were aware that a shift in policy
had taken place, because suddenly all Jews were on show. Gunther
Ruschin states 'Hatred grew and was felt', especially when Aryan
Germans claimed that German Jews were not German.
The continuing War in the
During the Autumn and Winter of 1941, the war in the USSR became
increasingly difficult. The Germans were 'bogged down in the mud
of the East' and in December 1941, following Pearl Harbour, the
US entered the war.
On 18 December, Hitler met Himmler to discuss the Jewish
question ('Judenfrage') and Himmler's appointment diary records
- in 'camouflage language' - that the Jews were 'to be
exterminated as partisans'. The entry is written by Himmler and
clearly links Hitler with the killings.
In January 1942 a second meeting took place on the outskirts of
Berlin, clearly called to finalise details of Nazi policy
towards the Jews. Hitler, had already authorised the deportation
of Jews and the meeting was chaired by Heydrich, who months
earlier had been asked to compile a plan for the 'Final
Solution'. The minutes of the meeting were taken by Adolf
Eichmann and were deliberately, euphemistic, talking about
'evacuation' ('evakmering'), but this was code for
extermination. After the meeting, Hans Frank told his officials
in Poland that 'liquidation' would be the outcome for the Jews.
Deportations were carried out throughout Germany as amateur
footage filmed in Dresden confirms. This was the culmination of
Nazi policy towards the Jews which had begun as soon as Hitler
became Chancellor in 1933.
1. The Jews had been denied Reich citizenship
2. The Jews had been denied the right to state education.
3. Jewish property had been confiscated.
4. Jews had become victims of violence and internment and were
physically identified by the yellow star.
5. Jews were deported to work camps, 55,000 Jews were deported
from Berlin - more than from any other city.
One contemporary recalls that
it was 'an atmosphere of big fear'. Some Germans helped; Erwin
Massuthe was an example of someone who didn't. He explains that
'everyone assumed that they were being taken to work, but
growing knowledge and fear meant that you kept a low profile'.
'If you resisted, you risked your life and your job'.
But, how big a secret was Nazi Policy?
Alfons Schulz who worked at Hitler's Head Quarters 1942-1945
recalls a conversation overheard by a switchboard operator,
between Bormann and Himmler. Himmler is reputed to have referred
to the 'liquidation ... err evacuation ... of 20,000 Jews',
producing an angry response from Bormann who insisted that all
such discussions should be carried out through 'special
courier', to avoid being overheard.
What the programme does make clear is that the Jews learnt of
what would happen to them through ordinary Germans. 'Didn't they
tell you yet?', workers at Frankfurt station are reported to
have said to Jews as they were being loaded into wagons for
Therefore, how many Germans did know what was happening to the
A Nazi secret intelligence report from the period, records
disquiet amongst Germans in Southern Germany as reports of
'shootings' in Russia reached them. As uncertainty about a
German victory in the war increased, so did fears of revenge.
But by this time, six extermination camps had been built in Nazi
These were camps designed to eliminate not just German Jews, but
all Jews in occupied Europe and any other groups (such as
European gypsies) that the Nazis considered a racial or
TREBLINKA - a case study.
A reconstruction of the physical layout of the camp and of the
camp routine has been put together using evidence from
survivors, such as Samuel WILLENBERG. During the period in which
it was in use, there were only seventy survivors from the camp.
He explains that the station at Treblinka was made to look 'as
normal as possible'. From the station, Jews were taken to
'undressing barracks' where they were segregated, having been
told that this was a 'hygiene stop'. A connecting path ('the
path of death' or 'the route to heaven') led from the barracks
to the gas chambers. Willenberg claimed that it was the
Ukrainians who pushed the Jews into the gas chambers. Jews that
were ill were taken to a building marked with a red cross. Once
through the door they were shot and buried in a huge pit. The
vast majority of those who came to Treblinka were murdered
within three hours of arriving. The pits they were buried in
were dug by diggers and were massive - 200 m x 300 m. They were
made to contain as many as 875,000 bodies. Willenberg states,
'it is difficult to believe that such a crime could be carried
out in such a small space. The scale of the crime is beyond
comprehension'. But the Nazis didn't just kill they stole as
well. Clothes and valuables from the dead were sorted and
plundered and sent back to Germany.
By 1943, their work completed the Germans tried to conceal what
they had done, often by attempting to recover bodies from the
burial pits in order to burn them. This usually wasn't done out
of guilt, but out of fear, because by this time Germany was
losing the war and it was realised that their crimes would be
discovered if the Russians started to win. Himmler made his
position clear when he addressed SS colleagues on the subject of
the Final Solution. He said, 'it is one of most glorious
chapters in our history which has not, and may never be
The theme of the programme is to consider how the 'Final
Solution' came about and how extermination camps ever came to
exist. Taking a chronological approach the programme traces the
experiences of Jews in Germany and the occupied territories from
1941-1943. It considers a number of issues:
1. The impact of Operation Barbarosssa
2. The organisation and methods of the Nazi 'killing squads'.
3. The influence of Himmler and Reinhart Heydrich on Nazi
4. The issue of responsibility for the Final Solution.
5. The case study of Treblinka.
The KEY QUESTIONS are incorporated in the programmes
underlying theme which is to consider how such a policy as the
Final Solution ever came into being. As in previous programmes
the most sinister issue raised by the evidence concerns
responsibility for what happened.
The NAZIS: A warning from history
Programme (6) : Fighting to the end
The programme starts with the
observation that because Italy was 'the birthplace of fascism',
an alliance between Rome and Berlin in the 1930's therefore
seemed natural and not unexpected. The two countries fought
together in the first years of the Second World War, but on 19
July 1943, the 'unthinkable happened' Rome was bombed. By this
time 200,000 Italian soldiers were dead or missing, the Axis
alliance was a disaster and they wanted to get out of 'the war
which was lost'. On 24 July 1943, the Grand Council expressed
its lack of confidence in Benito Mussolini and made clear its
desire to return to the monarchy (an institution not abolished
by Mussolini), which was to have control of the armed forces. On
25 July, Mussolini met with Victor Emmanuel and he was dismissed
as Prime Minister and subsequently imprisoned. There was
immediate popular support for the new government, which
surrendered to the Germans and then in October 1943 declared war
on Nazi Germany - 'not a very honourable thing to do', as Mario
Mondello, an Italian diplomat points out, 'but typical of the
Having considered the Italian experience when faced with defeat,
the programme then goes on to compare Germany with Italy and to
ask two questions:
1. When it was clear that Germany was losing the war, why didn't
the Germans remove Hitler as the Italians had done to Mussolini?
2. Why were the German people prepared to fight to the end?
It goes on to suggest a number of reasons as to WHY the Germans
behaved differently from the Italians:
1. Hitler's personality, status and inaccessibility
during the war.
The first task for anyone seeking to remove Hitler physically,
from power was to gain access to him. This was not an easy task
when he hid himself for most of the war surrounded by mines,
barbed wire and SS guards in the Wolf's Lair, and only spent
time with his generals.
A second problem when dealing with Hitler, as primary sources
suggest, was how to avoid being seduced by the force of his
personality. Karl BoehmTettelbach, a General Staff Officer at
Hitler's Head Quarters in 1944 talks about his 'respect' for
Hitler, and 'the tension he felt in his presence'. He goes on to
talk about Hitler's 'flair' and the way he was 'an inspiration
to others; a very strange thing'. Another Staff Officer, Ulrich
de Maziθre says that 'Hitler could even inspire those who had
given up to try again'.
2. The nature of the War
By the end of 1943 it was clear that Germany was losing the war.
In November 1942, the area of German control in Europe was at
its peak, but a year later:
the Russians were advancing in the East
the Americans and British were pushing up through Italy
troops were gathering in England in preparation for D Day.
The programme suggests that a second reason why the Germans
fought on under these circumstances was because of their actions
in Poland and the Soviet Union. As in earlier episodes, the
programme makes clear that the war in the East was very
different from that in the West. In the East, the fact that the
Germans believed that they were fighting 'subhumans' meant that
Hitler had aimed for 'annihilation'.
Adolf Buchner remembers the 'brutality' of the Germans towards
those in the occupied Eastern territories. Partisans were
executed wherever they were found and the war became an excuse
for the local population to eliminate anyone they didn't like.
Therefore, the Nazi leadership could not conspire against their
Fuhrer when they had known about, and approved of, the policies
of 'barbarism and killing', because they themselves were
implicated in what had taken place.
3. Hitler's strategy of leadership. Hitler's
encouragement of personal enmity between individuals and the way
in which he promoted in-fighting between groups in his 'policy
of dualism', meant that the leadership all hated and mistrusted
each other. This was especially clear in the relationship
between Ribbontrop, Goebbels, Goering and Borman, who fought
each other for Hitler's support and favour. What Hitler's
strategy meant in practice, however, was that conspiracy against
him was unlikely. In addition, the military all swore an oath of
personal loyalty to Hitler so that any plot against him would
have to be very secret and would be difficult to co-ordinate.
Hans von Herwarth an officer involved in the one serious attempt
to kill Hitler - the von Stauffenberg Plot, explains the
problems facing the conspirators. He survived the plot and
avoided execution because he was not later betrayed by those
arrested. He says that the plotters all realised that the only
way to succeed in killing Hitler was to carry out a Kami-Kazi
type attack. As such, Klaus von Stauffenberg, took a bomb in a
suitcase into Hitler's office as Hitler was being briefed. It
exploded at 12.42, but Hitler survived with only minor injuries
because he was standing behind a table which took the brunt of
the blast. The conspirators were immediately searched for,
rounded up and executed. In the early hours of 23 July, Hitler
addressed the German people on the radio. In talking about his
miraculous escape he said, 'I take this as confirmation of my
assignment from Providence ... and I will continue to pursue my
life's goal'. Later that day Hitler visited those injured by the
blast and Otto Klimmer, a Nazi Youth Officer at the time, talks
about the 'relief' he felt that Hitler was still alive and 'the
general feeling of outrage at the killers'.
4. The influence of propaganda In effect, the von Stauffenberg
plot proved a 'propaganda coup' for Hitler. In fact, however, it
only enhanced the deep roots of loyalty to Hitler which had been
so carefully nurtured by Goebbels' propaganda campaigns in the
eleven years since the Nazis had come to power.
Hitler now ordered that the armed forces be drawn more deeply
into the Nazi fold. He said, 'We are now political soldiers and
our task is to defend our national socialist idea'. Otto Klimmer
says as a result of the propaganda that he saw himself as part
of 'an invincible fighting force' and he goes on, 'we felt we
5. The nature of German Society and the wider influence
of Hitler's views. Another factor which meant that the Germans,
unlike the Italians, were unlikely to abandon Hitler, was the
fact that Germany was a racist society, whether as a result of
propaganda or not. This meant that anti-Semitism was not just
Hitler's view, but a belief shared by the majority of Germans,
who therefore gave Hitler wide spread and positive support. in
addition, support for Hitler's ideas, and thus for him extended
beyond Germany to include all Aryans who profited from the slave
labour of 'subhumans' in the occupied territories. Henrik
Skrzypinski a Pole who worked as a forced labourer between
1940-1944, gives evidence about the harsh conditions of those
forced to work by the Germans. His description is reinforced by
other primary sources from those in charge. One witness makes
clear their attitude when he says, 'well, they were Poles and we
By August 1944 there were seven and a half million forced
labourers working for the Germans, of whom nearly 700,000 were
Poles. It was the Jews, however, who suffered more than anybody
else as slave labourers and the case study of a chemical works
in Silesia, supplied by Jews from Auschwitz, illustrates what
happened at the camp. He says that new arrivals were separated
into two groups - those who could work were sent to the labour
camp and those who couldn't mostly women and children - were
sent to the gas chambers. The men usually worked in groups of
five and he explains that it was usually safest to be in the
middle, so as not to be hit by the SS. In general, however, to
be sent to a labour camp achieved only a temporary postponement
of death, for on average three months.
The programme maintains that even if the German people were
ignorant of what went on in Auschwitz, they certainly knew that
Germany had become a racist state. The belief that a 'true
German' was a superior being was illustrated and promoted by
propaganda films, but this led to a paradox. If the Germans were
superior, why were they losing the war? Did they not have enough
superior beings in the army? In order to overcome deficiencies
in the army, German propaganda was extended to those outside
Germany in an attempt to recruit racially acceptable foreigners
into the Waffen SS. It was a successful strategy and thus
Hitler's survival was prolonged by the 4,000 foreigners who
fought alongside the Germans, motivated by anti-Semitism and
fear of Communism. Evidence from Jacques Leroy, a Frenchman who
fought alongside the Germans, illustrates how people were
motivated by 'an ideological repulsion of Bolshevism'. The
extent of his commitment, and German desperation, is shown by
the fact that even when losing an arm and an eye be begged the
SS to be allowed to continue, and they agreed.
6. Fear of Communism and of the USSR. If Hitler was able
to capitalise on ideological fears in order to guarantee his
survival, he also benefited from the German people's specific
fear of Soviet soldiers and their experiences as civilians in
the last period of the war.
In the last fifteen months of the war, as the allied bombing
intensified, 350,000 died as a result of urban bombardment.
Three times more civilians were killed than in the previous
three years of the war by 'Churchill's murder boys'. But still,
the German will to fight to the death. Survived German news
reels showed the Germans retreating for the first time and the
commentators tried to put the retreat into 'some new strategic
light', emphasising the need for continuing loyalty to the
Fuhrer. The effect of such footage was to increase the popular
fear of Soviet advance, and simultaneously to increase the
German commitment to fight. By 1945 it was the job of the Nazi
'guidance leaders' to inspire small groups of Germans in the
will to continue. Walter Fernau, one such leader, describes his
ways of doing this. He says that his approach was to describe
the situation candidly and to be explicit about allied land and
air advances on Germany. He would admit he says, that 'it's all
shit', but then go onto say that because the Fuhrer must see it
too, 'if he asks us to do our duty, then this is what we must
do'. The programme shows footage of Goebbels addressing the
Volksturm (Home Guard) which comprised six million men who were
either too young or too old to have joined up initially. To
inspire them he told them that they were 'the last bastion
against the Bolshevik hoards'. In his last radio broadcast on 30
January 1945, Hitler reinforced this view when he emphasised the
need for continuing sacrifice, especially against the advancing
7. Fear of other Germans. In the last months of the war,
an additional reason for continuing to fight became the fear of
other Germans. In order to discourage dissent, Nazi terror
against German civilians increased dramatically if they
criticised or resisted policy demands. The programme offers the
example of the village of Zellingen, in which after a 'flying
court marshall', a farmer was hanged from a tree. The
prosecuting officer at the time, who served six years in prison
after the war, and claims that by the end of the war 'he was a
madman', denies, however, that under the circumstances such
actions were to harsh. A lesser sentence, he argues, such as six
months in prison, would guarantee an individual's survival,
given the imminence of the end of the war. The only way to
guarantee national loyalty was therefore to deter disloyalty
through the fear of execution.
The ruins of Berlin became Hitler's final bolt hole as the
armies advanced West and at this stage, even Goebbels'
propaganda could not conceal the final reality. By this time
Hitler was ill, with shaking paralysis in his right arm
(Parkinson's disease?) and forced to wear blue tinted glasses
because of his poor sight. Eye witness accounts, such as those
by Virich de Maziere, suggest however that even at this stage,
'Hitler had lost none of his demonic charisma. He goes on to
say, 'He was mentally ill in the sense that he suffered from
excessive self-identification with the German people and he
really lived out this self-identification ........he was
convinced - and I heard him say it - that after the end of him
and of National Socialism the German people could not survive.
The action would be destined to collapse. That was mentally
But, even under these circumstances, in the last desperate
months of the war, Hitler remained the undisputed leader of
Germany. Unlike the Italians, the Germans no longer had a king
to whom they could turn. Hitler as Head of State and Chancellor
held all the levers of power. The Germans paid a heavy price for
his leadership, as the Generals had been told to close their
hearts to pity and to act brutally, and in the final months of
the war their actions proved that they had learnt their lessons.
On 30 April 1945, the Russians occupied and destroyed the East
German town of Demmin. During the attack, the soviet soldiers
carried out many brutal atrocities and multiple rapes on the
civilian population, thus seeming to confirm the Germans' fear
of bolshevism. As a result, nine hundred people, including whole
families, committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner. On
the same day shortly before 3.30 in the afternoon, with the
Russians yards from the Bunker, Hitler shot himself.
Nazism and its leader had been destroyed, but at a terrible
The programme concludes by citing the two most crucial reasons
why the Germans fought to the end:
1. They were unable to rid themselves of Hitler.
2. They had been so well indoctrinated to see the Russians as
sub human and to fear them.
Hitler had said that when he died he would leave a great and
strong Germany behind him, instead his legacy was to leave a new
knowledge of what human beings are capable of .... backed up by
gruesome primary footage.
The philosopher Karl Jaspers, who was himself persecuted, wrote
after the war,
... that which has happened is a warning, to forget it is guilt.
It was possible for this to happen and it can happen again at
any minute ...'
This is the warning from history, the lesson from the past.
The theme of the programme is to compare Germany with Italy when
faced with defeat and to ask why, unlike the Italians, the
Germans remained loyal to Hitler and were willing to fight to
the end. A number of reasons are put forward to explain the
1. Hitler's personality, status and inaccessibility during the
2. The nature of the war.
3. The effect of Hitler's strategy of leadership.
4. The influence of propaganda.
5. The nature of German society and the wider, European,
influence of Hitler's views.
6. Fear of Communism and the USSR.
7. Fear of other Germans.
The KEY QUESTION raised by the programme is therefore to
ask why the Germans failed to reject Hitler, even in the final
months of the war, but the more fundamental issue is that raised
by the scenes as a whole and encapsulated in its title. That is,
whether examples of society's inhumanity should be forgotten, or
whether instead, to learn about them is to enable lessons to be
learnt from the past in order that such horrors can be a warning