The 13-episode, four-DVD set Nazi Collaborators offers yet another fascinating perspective on the events of World War II. It has been common knowledge for decades that the Nazis had important collaborators in all sorts of fields. Without help, it is highly unlikely that they could have gone as far as they did. Some of the collaborators are well known, while others have managed to hide themselves to a certain degree.
Each 50-minute episode of The Military Channel series is concerned with a particular player in the horrible saga. The program seeks to answer the simple question: “How could anyone have collaborated with Adolph Hitler and the Nazis?” It has been over half a century since Der Fuehrer committed suicide in his bunker, yet the Nazi legacy still haunts us. This is certainly one very big reason why anyone (be they individuals, businesses, or governments) would prefer to disavow any links to the regime.
As the documentaries explain, there were many enticements for the collaborators. Some were wooed by promises of financial gain, preferential treatment, even the idea that cooperation would lead to better treatment of Jews. The Nazis even found co-conspirators who were as anti-Semitic as themselves. The fact is, there were an astonishing number of people who were willing to do Hitler’s bidding.
One of the elements that makes Nazi Collaborators so impressive is that the producers had access to over 4,000 hours of archived footage to work with. The high quality of so much of this material was completely unexpected as well. It is almost all black and white, but considering the age and the nature of the films, the fact that so much of it is in such good shape is surprising.
A common denominator in the series is what could be termed "misplaced trust." At least that is the “official” reason cited most often. There is a certain logic to the idea that by cooperating with the Nazis, lives may have been saved. But this was a deal with the Devil, and never worked for the cause of good, no matter what the initial intentions may have been.
“Chaim Rumkowski - The Polish Jewish Ghetto” is the first episode, and it provides a prime example of the idea of appeasement. When the Nazis invaded Poland, their first order of business was to round up the Jews. Hitler’s intent to literally wipe the Jewish race off the face of the Earth was so beyond the pale that nobody really considered it at the time. To facilitate relations between the Nazis and the Polish Jews the first order of business was to appoint a Jewish representative. A man by the name of Chaim Rumkowski was chosen for the task. He managed to convince some 250,000 Jews to relocate to the Jewish ghetto, an area of just a few square blocks. Cooperation was Rumkowski’s idea of dealing with the enemy.
As the world later discovered, the Nazis had already begun building the death factories. Rumkowski’s defenders say that he was told that these were simply labor camps where the workers would be housed and well-fed. So he convinced thousands of his fellow Jews to board the trains. Although we will never know for sure, it is said that when the Allied victory was becoming obvious, Rumkowski was offered a seat on a train that would take him to safety. The story goes that this train actually took him to a concentration camp, where his fellow Jews tore him apart limb from limb.
The case of Sean Russell and the IRA is a curious one. He and his fellow Irish Republican Army soldiers evidently subscribed to the old adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Since the IRA considered themselves to be occupied by the British, he thought of Hitler an ally. It should come as no great surprise that things did not go quite as planned in this joint venture.
Although every program is worthy of mention, I found the final “Hitler’s Killer Police - The Schutzmannschaft Squad” to be the most disconcerting. The events that it focuses on are ones that I was not previously familiar with. For me, this was the most shocking episode of the series. The Eastern European countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are at the center of the tale, and it is a very ugly one.
The citizenry of these lands were technically under the rule of Josef Stalin, who brutalized them. His basic ideology was to starve the people to death. The footage of these skeletal humans is as hideous anything I have ever seen.
When the German army occupied these countries, the people were elated. In this case, the Nazi enemies were seen as liberators. Hitler’s plan for them was not much different than “Uncle Joe’s,” although he saw them as a disposable work force. The people were given a little food, and in return were expected to work until they keeled over. I guess it was a step up for them, but still pretty awful.
What is truly shocking though is how many of these citizens shared Hitler’s extreme anti-Semitism. There is footage in this episode which I wish I could erase from my memory. Either to impress their new leaders, for “fun,” or for god knows what reason, there is scene after scene of Lithuanian citizens bashing the living hell out of Jews, right in the middle of the street. The narrator states that the SS enjoyed this business so much that they filmed it for their own entertainment.
When it comes to these types of documentaries, some of the footage is very difficult to watch. It sort of comes with the territory in dealing with such atrocities. Thankfully, Nazi Collaborators does not dwell on this type of material, and the disturbing scenes are shown very quickly.
There are no extras included in the set, just the 13 episodes. I must say that the series is very well done, and is a worthy addition to any WWII buff's film library.