Thursday, March 7, 2024


I watched The World at War as it was being broadcast on PBS in the 1970s and later purchased the DVDs. I used several episodes in my US History classes when teaching the Second World War. The toughest one for students to watch—and for me to watch again and again—was titled "Genocide." It first screened fifty years ago and was one of the first films to document the Holocaust. From History Today:
First broadcast on 27 March 1974, "Genocide" is credited with introducing the Holocaust (a term still not yet in common use) to the British public. It helped to inculcate an awareness of the Nazi "Final Solution" as a crime directed against a specific group. The episode was screened over four years before the US-produced television miniseries Holocaust, often cited as the televisual milestone promoting Holocaust awareness on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Genocide" provides an account of the Nazi persecution of Jews and the Holocaust that is succinct and accessible, yet not oversimplified. This is even more remarkable given that it preceded much of the foundational scholarship on the subject. It included themes such as the influence of racial science and eugenics on Nazi ideology, the rise of the SS, the role of the Einsatzgruppen ("special task forces" – mobile killing squads) in perpetrating what became known as the "Holocaust by bullets" in the eastern occupied territories, and the "Aktion Reinhard" death camps – Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. ....

"Genocide" was directed by British filmmaker Michael Darlow. The World at War’s producer, Jeremy Isaacs, had initially wanted to direct "Genocide" but, given that members of his family had been murdered in the Holocaust, decided against it, fearing that he would be too "emotionally involved". ....

"Genocide" succeeded in its aim to educate a British public still largely ignorant about the nature of the Holocaust. It would also be unfair to judge "Genocide" by the standards of present-day Holocaust scholarship and memorial culture. In some respects, it was a product of its time, but in many, it was far ahead. The episode’s most significant achievement was to clearly explain who the Nazis targeted and why, and how this persecution developed from exclusion, to expulsion, to extermination. However, "Genocide" also inadvertently encouraged a degree of understanding, perhaps even sympathy, for those who perpetrated the Holocaust. These men were allowed to position themselves as mere "cogs" who had been placed in an impossible situation by a brutal, totalitarian regime; a regime in which the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" was conceived, masterminded, ordered, and approved of by a tiny coterie of the most senior Nazis.
This episode of The World at War can be seen on YouTube but, as you can see, only on YouTube as it is age-restricted:

Joseph Cronin, "Holocaust at 50," History Today, March 3, 2024.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.