Evil has a face, watch to never forget : The Tribune India

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Evil has a face, watch to never forget

Evil has a face, watch to never forget

When Karoly Kozma imitates Hitler, it’s difficult to tell him apart from the real Hitler.

Parbina Rashid

A trip to the Buchenwald Memorial in Weimar, Germany, made me aware of two things — the horror of the Holocaust and the lingering national shame. A mention of my plan to visit the concentration camp made my German hosts uncomfortable. I didn’t quite understand the reason. Joe Berlinger’s ‘Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial’ explains it now.

As the six-part docu-series recounts the horrors unleashed by the Third Reich on Jews and their supporters, it makes a powerful point — a handful of evil men carrying out an evil design is bad, but an entire nation playing into their hands and helping them execute the sinister plans is worse. My hosts understood it.

Berlinger, who chronicles the rise and fall of Hitler within the context of the Nuremberg Trials, highlights how Hitler encashed on the feelings of alienation and desperation stirred after Germany’s loss of power in World War I with the promise to ‘make Germany great again’.

“I began to comprehend it did not matter so much what he (Hitler) said, but how he said it. In such an atmosphere, every lie pronounced is accepted as high truth itself,” says American journalist William Shirer (Balazs Kato), who was in Germany from 1934 to 1940, documenting the rise of the Nazi party and once again in Nuremberg as one of the 400 journalists who reported the proceedings.

The series begins with Adolf Hitler (Karoly Kozma), one of the most malevolent figures in history, and his long-time partner and photographer Eva Braun (Anna Szilvasi) killing themselves inside an underground bunker in Berlin as Germany is about to surrender to the Allied Forces. It was April 30, 1945. Eva bites a cyanide capsule, choosing a ‘ladylike death’, while Hitler shoots himself.

The scene soon shifts to the trials of top Nazi officials like Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Albert Speer that started in November 1945. After US Chief of Counsel Robert H Jackson delivers his famous opening statement, it takes the International Military Tribunal about two years to bring the perpetrators to justice. At least, some of them!

As the show goes back and forth, we are transported to the days when a defeated Germany attempts to start a new republic called Weimar Republic amid social and economic unrest. We see Hitler from the days when he was called Adolf Schickelgruber, a name later changed by his father. Thank God for that, as one of the talking heads takes a dig, “Imagine how difficult it would have been to say ‘Hail Schickelgruber’.”

The puny lad from Austria has a dream — to become a world-famous artist. But his dream is nipped in the bud as an art school in Vienna refuses to take him in. He survives by imitating artworks and later migrates to Germany as he considers the Germans superior to the Austrians. A brief stint with the Bavarian army and he gets drawn to the anti-semitism sentiment that spreads across 20th century Europe.

“Without WW-I, there would be no Hitler,” says one of the experts.

What follows is the formation of the Nazi party and a failed attempt at toppling the government in the 1920s. The attempt, known as the Beer Hall Putsch, is a major milestone in his life. He is persecuted and made to serve a light prison sentence, thanks to his oratory skills and the generosity of a right-wing judge. The jail term proves to be a boon in his case — he writes his autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’ and gains overwhelming popularity.

Shirer, who died in 1993, serves as the unofficial narrator of the series, with AI recreating his voice to read out passages from his many books on the subject. We hear his real voice, too, from his radio broadcasts. There are insights from historians and journalists, archival footage, audio recordings from Nuremberg Trials and recreated scenes that capture Hitler’s rise to power and horrors committed by the Third Reich. All the source materials blend seamlessly in Berlinger’s expert hands. The same goes for the casting too.

When Kozma comes on screen imitating Hitler’s aggressive body language, it’s difficult to tell him apart from the real Hitler. Similarly, it is difficult to say whether it is Hermann Goering or actor Gabor Sotonyi playing Goering. That makes for an excellent viewing experience as the flow is never disrupted.

There are plenty of heavy scenes as Berlinger takes us through Nazi Germany’s wars with the neighbouring countries, including the Soviet Union, and takes us inside the concentration camps in Austria, Germany and Poland. Gloomy yes, but there is never a dull moment throughout the six-hour runtime. Even in the dramatic re-creations, the actors don’t speak their lines. Their visuals are clubbed with voices reading out from actual writings and audio recordings. It ensures authenticity.

Talking of authenticity, the musical score for the series is derived from the compositions of Holocaust victims. Music that once gave vent to the pain and hopes of thousands of Jews now amplifies William Shirer’s words, “We can’t let it happen again.” A powerful message conveyed through a power-packed presentation.


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