Rise of the Nazis, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, directed and produced by Julian Jones

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I wasn’t sure about the three-part series Rise of the Nazis. Documentary-dramas rarely rise above mediocrity. I was brought up on the gold standard, World at War series, shown on BBC.  Then, of course, we’ve got Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Hitler, cut and pasted and ad-libbed on the internet to sell everything from books to 1000 years of the Third Reich. That got me thinking what happened to the other two Reichs? Where they like those buses that come one after the other? Well, it seems, one was the Holy Roman Reich, which at least gets marks for originality. The Second Reich was really the Bismark era, before the First World War (we no longer use capitals for world wars now, downgraded, first world war). You probably remember it from history lessons as the time when the Germans invaded and occupied France, 1872, post- Les Miserables Paris, if my memory serves. Bismark helped unite Germany. He advocated a Kulterkamf against Catholics. Germany had a bit of previous here.

I’m also reading Friedrich Kellner’s Diary, A German against the Third Reich. He pretty much nails it. Hitler’s support was until 1930, largely rural, peasant farmer with a long history of hating Jews. In Laubach, were Kellner was working as justice inspector, for example, Jews often acted as the middle-man in cattle trading, and advanced farmers credit in lieu of goods.   Here we have the beginnings of ideology, the death of German democracy and rise of the Nazi dictatorship. Kellner shows how quickly this happened. ‘Heil Hitler’ became the enforced greeting of 80 million Germans. Discovery of his diary would have meant his death and that of his wife.

In the Rise of the Nazi’s  we look at one of the few who did resist Hitler. I guess that’s to add a bit of lop-sided balance. Josef Hartinger was one of the righteous. A public prosecutor who challenged official versions of death in custody and the legitimacy of the Nazi Party apparatus.

But most Germans were supporters of the ideology of Aryan Supermen and inferior races having little more than use value. That’s what Kellner lived through. He suggests less than one-percent of Germans offered any kind of resistance.  As early as 1941, Kellner also reports it was also common knowledge that Jews and Russians, men, women and children, were being exterminated in the East. The I-didn’t-know, post-war, lie of amnesiac German citizens was fake news, before fake news existed.

Rise of the Nazis isn’t fake news, or revisionist history. Boris Johnston’s attempt to prorogue British Parliament is not Herman Goring giving orders to burn the Reichstag and blame the Brexiter Communists. But it is an attempt to thwart Parliamentary democracy by an unelected British Prime Minister claiming he’s acting on the will of the people.

Paul Von Hindenburg was dismissive of the little Austrian colonel in the same way we can be dismissive of Johnston. President von Hindenberg had been a decorated general during the first world war, Hitler as Chancellor, was a pawn in the great game of state politics, ensuring the right-wing aristocracy and rich businessmen kept the Communists in check. Hitler’s allies put von Hindenberg in checkmate.

Rather than cut through bureaucracy, in Goring and Himmler, we see layer and layer added  and the spoils of German office going to Nazi sympathisers. German Jews were less than one-percent of the population, but in the East, genocide, mass murder and the Final Solution were played out. Dachau, here, is shown as the first of Himmler’s concentration camps. Capacity 5000. Cancerous growths spread quickly.

Watch these programmes and learn how easily it all slips away. A belligerent and successful foreign policy and double-downing on enemies at home sounds familiar.  George Santayana’s quote: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it is beginning to sound more and more relevant. Heil Trump. Heil little-fart Trumpter, Johnston. History is on a loop. Make Germany great again. Remember that old line?

1864 BBC 4 iPlayer.

battle of dybbol

1864 BBC 4 iPlayer.

The Germans always win. I’ve spent eight hours on a Saturday night watching the clock wind down – and you got it, the Germans won. They won so decisively against the Danes that their king, in defeat, tried to join the German Confederation. The Machiavellian Bismark joked with his Emperor that they didn’t speak German, and anyway the Danes were a sour lot and soon they’d been turning their defeat into a kind of victory. But this is to jump the gun.

In the first episode the Laust and Peter’s father returns to South Funen to work the land. It’s 1851 and although he’s been injured in the three-year war against Prussia who had attempted to annex Schleswig into their nation, but had been unsuccessful. The Danes had been the victors sowing the seeds of nationalism and jingoism that were to grow arms and legs later. Into the closed world of peasants and aristocracy comes Inge, daughter of the estate manager, who runs the land holdings for the baron up at the big house. Inge is a tomboy, Adam and Eve, and the catalyst for change. Didrich, the baron’s son, has also returned from the war against Prussia, an officer, but not a gentleman, his rank has outfaced his cowardice and disgrace. His frog-like face arrogant manner and his attempts to seduce Inge whilst she is still a girl identifies him as the baddie.

War, of course, is the real villain. 1864 is narrated through Inge’s dairy. She tells of her great love for Laust and Peter, and equally them for her. She exchanges heated kisses with both, but with the former she had a bastard child.

The modern back-story is told by Claudia, an outsider like Inge, who refuses to play the game and conform, whose brother a soldier has been killed in another pointless war in Afghanistan. Severin, the old man she tries to take nurse and take care of in the big dilapidated house that was once the Funen estate, loved Inge and wants to re-hear the story of that time. Claudia finds through the narrative that they are related. She has inherited the gypsy blood of Sofia, who was raped by Didrich and had a son Peter, the same name as her great, great, great, grandfather and one of the two great loves of Inge’s life.

The road to war is marked by Macbeth, or more precisely Lady Macbeth played by the acclaimed theatre actress of the time, Johan Louise Heidrich, swapping blood-red hands with the future Prime Minster Monrad. The declaration of war against Prussia, when it comes, is celebrated across Denmark. Laust and Peter are swept away and forced to enlist. Didrich tries to winkle his way out of it, but he too is caught in the jingoistic net. All from Funen are sure to meet up again.  It’s all about honour or such naff notions of nations that has modern resonance.

As Auden put it “When Statesman Gravelly Say, ‘we must be relistic’./ The chances are that they’re weak, and therefore, pacifistic,/ But when they speak of Principles, look out, perhaps/ Their generals are already pouring over the maps.”

The principle here is that the citizens of Schleswig should speak Danish, should be Danish, even though they speak German. The great bulwark against German expansionism at Dannevirk cannot be breached, will not be breached. It is abandoned by the Danish generals as indefensible.

Monrad and the king demand a greater sacrifice of the young. Dybbol with its connotations of damnation cannot be breached, will not be breached. It’s 1864 and we know the denouement will be bloody as Jaws after a shipwreck.

One of the great characters in this is Johan. He has seen the first war against the Prussians and is involved in the second war against the German Confederation.  He can see so much more, what will happen in the future. A messianic wanderer that has attached himself to Laust and Peter and their colleague’s wellbeing. Johan can kill or cure, but even with his foresight, he cannot save the unsaveable Laust from the wandering soldier that will ultimately kill him.

Didrich, of course, survives. His lies live on and he marries his great love Inge, telling her the Laust and Peter are dead. Peter returns from the grave and claims little Laust from the orphanage where he has been held in an act of spite.

I love Danish drama such as this. This is the bones. Put the flesh on it and watch it yourself. What’s eight-hours in your life?