Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution
BBC2, begins 9pm, Tuesday 11 January
The BBC’s new series Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the biggest of Hitler’s extermination camps, where it is estimated 1.1 million Jews lost their lives.
From the makers of The Nazis: A Warning From History, with acclaimed Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw as script adviser, it is an attempt to “tell the story of the origins of the Nazi policy of extermination and of the people who made it happen”.
The first episode covers the origins of Auschwitz, initially a camp for Polish political prisoners that was peripheral to the Nazi’s plans.
The camp was massively expanded when the German corporation IG Farben decided to move into the coal and lime rich area, and needed slave labour.
Meanwhile, doctors on German psychiatric wards began to use “euthanasia” on a mass scale, telling patients the carbon monoxide chambers were showers.
The supposed “safeguards”—three doctors would each have to independently recommend death—were outweighed by the eagerness of these doctors to please Hitler by condemning as many as they could. Some 70,000 were killed this way by the summer of 1941.
It was with the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler’s “war of annihilation”, that these methods spread. The SS Einsatzgruppe units were ordered to kill all commissars and Jewish males on the spot. They were gunned down after digging their own mass graves.
Senior officers felt that the SS was being mentally destroyed and began searching for “cleaner” methods of execution.
While the commanding officer was away, a guard at Auschwitz used the delousing chemical Zyklon B on some prisoners. Auschwitz as we know it was born.
This is no compilation of general interviews and archive footage thrown together at the last minute to add weight to a season’s scheduling.
The series looks in great detail at the particular events that led to the Holocaust happening in the precise way it did.
The attention to technical detail feels emotionless at times, but scenes such as the interview with a former SS officer who had few regrets and found it easy to kill “uncivilised” people more than compensate.
Other series deal with the context in which Nazi race biology ideology gained power and how SS officers such as this one came to exist. This series deals with how, within this context, individual actions and bureaucratic methods made the “Final Solution” happen the way it did. Episode one does this well.